Project management is often the invisible hand guiding an organization forward. It exists on all levels, from your daily to-do list to your overarching business plan. Here, we discuss the basics of project planning and management, and how to implement these processes.
What is project management & why is it important
According to the Project Management Institute, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the requirements. But what does this mean exactly?
Simply put, project management is the process that makes sure that projects are done completely and on time. In the case that a project can’t get done, a project management system identifies and dismantles the project’s blockers.
Many of us manage our own projects on a day-to-day basis. We decide what to prioritize, how to communicate a project’s status, and when a project is complete. Yet, when a project contains multiple stakeholders and requires multiple resources, a project management process becomes a necessity.
Project management is radically candid communication. It is what allows teams to collaborate and propel the project forward.
Why do you need a project management plan?
The first step in project management is the project plan. This is an outline of what the project sets out to accomplish. Without a project plan, the project management process is rudderless.
When you begin a project, you’ll want to define a few key parts of your project management plan.
What you are going to do with your project is just as important as what you are not going to do. Defining the scope of your project means that you define the exact objective of the project—no more and no less.
How will you know if you complete the scope of your project? Goals—small and large—allow you to benchmark your success along the way to completing your project.
How much money do you have to invest to complete your project? How much of that comes from each team? And, how much is the time of team members valued at? These questions allow you to forecast a realistic cost of completing a project. This is crucial when determining your project’s ROI.
When will you achieve each of your project’s goals? How will you manage the time? And when will your project be complete?
When the project is complete, what will you hand over to detail and explain the work done?
The steps of effective project management
Most projects can easily be broken into four phases:
Defining the Project
This includes the items above. Yet, it may also include preliminary staffing plans, sample deliverables, and notifications to senior leadership.
Planning the Project
The project plan is the next level of detail. Your project plan should contain checklists explaining how to reach each goal. It will detail the budget for each part of the project. It may also contain extra detail assessing risks and threats to the project. The project plan should be the roadmap that all stakeholders can refer to when completing the project.
Executing the Project
Once all the pieces are in the place, your teams can start to implement the project plan. This phase could take anywhere from a few days to a few years. With proper planning, the execution phase will have milestones throughout to benchmark progress.
Closing the Project
Once the goals have all been completed, the project can be closed. This means finalizing the deliverable and communicating the project’s success to all stakeholders.
What can go wrong & how to respond
Despite following best practices, project management is never an exact science. The process does its best to wrangle workplace conditions and personal motivations. Yet, project management will still be thwarted under less-than-perfect conditions.
Here are a few ways that the project management process can go wrong, and how you can respond and correct the process.
Under-resourcing your project
It has happened to everyone. A project requires more time or money than was originally budgeted for. How do you adjust when you’ve run out of resources? The answer is rugged prioritization. Project managers, senior leaders, and stakeholders must align. Then, they can determine where to allocate resources in order to complete the most crucial projects.
In the same vein, many projects suffer from bloat. Scope creep means someone adds an extra task, goal, or deliverable to your project. This impacts your timeline, budget, and entire plan. Good project managers fiercely block against scope creep in order to complete their projects on time.
Mismanaging team input
Delegating tasks can be a tough job, especially if a project is taking your team away from other work. It’s a balancing act to assign work to team members. It can often feel like a project might be done faster if you just do it yourself. However, clear communication throughout each detail can help. It’s also especially crucial for project managers to remain calm with their teams. This allows for a culture of honesty and accountability within a project.
How to manage projects during uncertain times
Over the past year, project management has certainly undergone some changes. With the transition to remote work, we’ve lost the ability to check in casually about a task’s status. We’ve also lost the ability to get all the stakeholders in the same room and hash out problems and solutions.
Yet, the project management process forges on, and is more important than ever. Here are a few dos and don’ts for managing projects remotely.
Do check in more than you think you should. Consider Slack, email, or hopping on the phone with your team on a near-daily basis. This isn’t babysitting or micromanaging. Checking in is a crucial step in the communication process for your project.
Don’t expect normal working hours. Many remote workers are dealing with unprecedented changes in our day-to-day lives. They may be working at night or early in the morning. This means they won’t be able to communicate on the same schedule as if they were in the office.
Do have flexibility with deadlines. Many teammates may feel the stress of competing priorities. Having flexibility with timelines is crucial to get projects completed.
Do rely on technology. You may have sidestepped using advanced project management tools when in the office. Having an in-person team can usually pick up most of the slack (no pun intended). But, technology can ease these burdens of miscommunication and dropped tasks.
Don’t take your eye off the prize. Even in a remote environment, we are forging forward. A project manager’s job is to lead the project to success and is encouraged to make adjustments along the way.
Project management is the way things get done. Both in-person and remote work requires people dedicated to this process. With these project management basics, you can start developing a clearer method for your team.
How to Write a Comprehensive Project Management Plan [+ Examples]. Midori Nediger. Venngage. July 10, 2020.
What is Project Management? Project Management Institute.