Project management is a component of all work. Whether you are a small team casually collaborating or a large enterprise with a strong, formalized set of policies, project management is playing a role. It can boost your team to success through organization and focus or hold you back with confusion and inefficiency. Getting experienced, professional help with project management is worth the effort.
An Overview of Project Management
In short, project management is the process of planning and overseeing a team’s work with specific goals and a stated time frame. In other words, it is all of the work done to manage a given project and ensure that it is completed successfully.
Typically, the main concerns and constraints of project management are scope, time, quality and budget. Scope is the definition of the work to be done and, perhaps more importantly, the work that will not be done. Time and budget are the schedule and amount of money allotted for the project. Quality is the expectations for the performance and precision of the work and end result.
Project management can take a variety of forms but it typically involves five major categories of work, according to the Project Management Institute:
- Initiating: This is the starting point of the project. During this phase, the team defines what the project is at a high level. Generally, this will involve one or more business cases that need to be addressed by the project. It also involves researching the situation and gathering requirements from stakeholders.
- Planning: Once the project has been initiated, it is time to start creating a plan for how to complete the work. Different methodologies have their own planning systems. However, goals should usually be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. This framework will help ensure that your plan is something that can be executed, tracked and managed.
- Executing: Now comes the main work involved in the project. Once a plan has been laid out, the team gets to work turning those plans into reality. During this phase, the project manager(s) should assign resources, check on the status, update the project roadmap and generally ensure that work is flowing smoothly.
- Monitoring and Controlling: Depending on the methodology, this may be in parallel with the execution of the project or happen afterward. The project manager(s) should use key performance indicators to analyze progress and ensure that quality and scope goals have been met.
- Closing: At the end of the project, there is still a little work to be done to close things up. The team should document what has been done and what hasn’t been. They should also perform a postmortem to identify lessons learned for future projects.
These phases are present in all project management methodologies. However, they don’t necessarily happen in such a linear fashion. For example, Agile emphasizes a continuing loop of planning, executing and evaluating in short sprints rather than a single workflow for the entire project. The way that you implement these phases of project management should suit your team’s needs and style of work.
The Important Role of Project Management
Project management is an inherent part of work. Any time you approach a specific definition of work in an organized manner, you are applying project management. More complex projects call for more complex management. Staying organized as an individual is easier than doing so with a group. However, even on the simplest projects, well-planned management can be invaluable.
All work in an organization should be aligned with its strategic goals. It is easy to get off track when you let your project become disorganized. This can lead to time and effort invested in work that isn’t truly aligned with the overall strategy. For example, you may add an interesting sounding feature that doesn’t support the originally defined business case.
Similarly, realism in planning is essential to producing high-quality results. In most projects, the exact definition of work changes over time. This is okay and is even encouraged by many project management methodologies. However, if unchecked, this can lead to expectations that aren’t grounded in reality. A good project manager keeps the goals of the project focused and attainable.
Maintaining consistent quality of work is another important consideration. This is a major issue for large groups but can even affect individuals. As you progress through a project, the quality of work can vary. The project manager’s job is to watch for those inconsistencies and ensure all the work is up to specifications.
Another essential aspect of project management is capturing and maintaining knowledge. On every project, team members learn new techniques, best practices and other helpful information. This can easily be lost or only learned by a single individual. Project management seeks to turn that knowledge into usable insight for the whole team.
Projects can also get expensive when improperly managed. As with all other aspects of running a business, poor planning and oversight can lead to runaway costs and unnecessary inefficiencies. One of the key goals of project management is to eliminate those unnecessary expenses.
Clearly, project management has a lot to offer. However, it isn’t enough to just apply some management methodologies. In many cases, an experienced and knowledgeable project manager can turn these potential benefits from aspirations into realities.
People Involved in Project Management
As previously mentioned, there are several different methodologies used for project management. Each one has its own set of roles that are involved in the project. Nonetheless, there are a few core roles that are involved no matter what project management style you apply. These may be named differently but their involvement is always similar.
- Project Manager: The project manager is the individual responsible for the project’s successful completion. He or she helps plan the project, organize the work, ensure the team members have the resources they need and oversee the project through to completion.
- Team Member: These are the people who actively work on the project. Ideally, they should be involved in the planning process as well as assessing progress and evaluating results. However, their main contribution is working on the tasks that will turn the plans into an end result.
- Project Sponsor: Usually there is an in-house champion for the project who represents the business interests. This person may be a senior manager but does not have to be. He or she helps to legitimize the project and represent the interests of the team to other stakeholders. The sponsor also helps to set expectations for the project.
- Other Business Stakeholders: Every project is undertaken to achieve some meaningful goal. Therefore, there are always stakeholders who are concerned with the results of the project. They may be other members of the organization, clients, investors or many other roles. They set the requirements and use cases for the project.
The specifics of each of these roles can vary, but every project should have a manager, team members, a sponsor and some other stakeholders. On some small teams, one person may fill multiple roles. In other teams, a single role may be split between multiple people. However, this basic framework helps with understanding who is involved and why.
Project Management Methodologies
There are many ways to manage a project. Historically, the most organized approach was Waterfall in which the team defines the requires of the project from the beginning and implements those requirements exactly as specified. This is generally out of favor today because it fails to handle the ever-evolving realities of most projects.
One of the main responses to the shortcomings of Waterfall is Agile. In Agile, teams are self-organizing and work cross-functionally with the involvement of customers and stakeholders. The goal is to maximize communication and adapt to the changing needs of any given project. Agile is more a set of principles than an actual methodology. Most teams use a more specific system that is based on Agile.
Scrum is an implementation of Agile. In it, a project owner represents the business stakeholders and a scrum master organizes the project. The work is then completed by team members. Scrum focuses on regular, minimally formal communication, openness and deploying work early and often. The end of each sprint in Scrum should produce tangible work.
Kanban is another agile methodology that arose from Japan. It focuses on the visualization of work, minimizing the amount of work in progress at any given time and maximizing feedback. The Kanban board is the most famous symbol of this methodology. It is a visual system for easily showing the progress of each task.
Lean is another Japanese methodology. As the name implies, it focuses on running a lean project, ones with minimal waste and maximal value. It looks at Muda, waste from non-valuable work; Mura, waste from inconsistency; and Muri, waste from work overload. The principal goal is to reduce or eliminate these three types of waste.
Six Sigma is a methodology based on reducing errors in projects. On a normal distribution curve, the sixth sigma is the 99.99966th percentile. In other words, only a tiny portion of opportunities to produce value should result in defects. Six Sigma applies a method of defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling to ensure consistent success.
Key Project Management Skills
The most effective project managers focus on a few core skills. Ideally, managers should empower their teams to complete successful work rather than trying to control the process themselves. These skills can help with that:
- Communication: As with all team activities, project management involves a lot of communication. Managers need to be clear when they speak and write and attentive when they listen.
- Leadership: One of the main purposes of the project manager is to empower others. This requires the ability to lead and inspire team members.
- Team Management: Project manager needs to organize their teams from an operational perspective. Just being able to lead strategically isn’t enough, they also need to get into the details.
- Negotiation: Working with stakeholders is a major part of project management. This can require negotiation skills to make sure the team has the right scope of work, resources, budget and schedule to get the job done.
- Organization: One of the main value additions of the project manager is keeping everyone organized. This starts with him or her being personally organized.
- Risk Management: All work involves risks. Being able to identify, foresee and prepare for those risks is an essential skill in project management.
When To Get Outside Help
Project management isn’t easy, especially when dealing with complex teams and work. The largest corporations regularly hire consultants to help them improve their project management processes. This can include learning a new methodology, identifying issues with management or even overseeing the project directly.
If you are facing difficulties delivering work on time and within the budget, you may need some outside help. Additionally, if you believe your team could be operating more efficiently, the answer may lie in your project management.
In short, if you are asking whether you need outside help, the answer may very well be yes. A small amount of help can have a dramatic impact, so it is worthwhile spending a little time learning what you could change about your project management. Even small and flexible teams can benefit from a formalized approach to managing their work.