Project Management 101

11 min read

Every professional should know the basics of project management, whether you’re a company leader, a corporate team member, or even a freelancer. Project management is vital for the short-term and long-term success of every enterprise.

What is project management?

In simple terms, project management is the process of forming and following a plan to accomplish a mission. Using a project management system allows you to break down a massive endeavor into clear, manageable steps. 

Every organization’s projects vary in scope, length, demand, strategy, and targets but always rely on effective administration.

A strategic approach can help you and your team tackle complex projects like developing a new product, creating new software, or renovating your storefront. You’ll need forethought, expertise, skills, tools, and proven methodologies to achieve objectives and deliver new goods or services.

What is the difference between project management and program management? Program management looks at improving internal operational processes to achieve objectives, while project management focuses on producing external deliverables to customers. Optimal project management relies on a healthy environment cultivated by effective program management.

Still confused? We’re here to help you understand project management and how it can benefit your company or career.

Why Project Management Matters

Project management is necessary whenever you intend to launch, expand, or revise a part of your business’ offerings. Why is project management important? You’re more likely to achieve value-add objectives while minimizing internal costs.

Specifically, effective project management:

  • Unifies the initiative under a project manager: Having a leader in charge ensures someone has a comprehensive vision and monitors progress for setbacks.

  • Establishes clear goals and milestones:  You should never begin a venture without establishing practical project goals and intermediate objectives.

  • Ensures project costs and timetables are realistic: Create a project plan that follows a reasonable timeframe and accurate projection of expenses.

  • Keeps everyone united and focused: Staff members follow an efficient workflow thanks to methodical task allocation throughout the project schedule.

  • Efficiently uses time and money: Minimize the potential for wasted capital and labor that don’t contribute to the main objectives and result in going over budget.

  • Improves communication and collaboration: Streamline daily tasks and interactions within and among teams and external stakeholders.

  • Produces quality deliverables: The complete project will more likely result in an outcome that meets your standards and benefits you and your customers.

In the simplest terms, effective project management sets you on a path to reach your targets.

Building a Project Dream Team

You can’t complete a project on your own; it takes a group of skilled, dedicated professionals to fly the plane. That’s why you need to build a squad that’s committed to bringing your goals to fruition. 

A certified project management professional is an asset for any project because victory depends on quality management guiding the operation.

What is a project manager? A project manager is the team leader who oversees and guides an endeavor through the entire project lifecycle.  They require project management skills like change management and organizational leadership to establish project objectives and communicate them to gain stakeholder buy-in and loyalty. 

The project manager role is crucial in every organization, whether you’re a small startup or a large corporation. Project managers can work individually or as part of an external project management office (PMO).

The Project Management Institute (PMI) identifies 10 areas that every project manager must direct:

  • Project time

  • Project cost

  • Project risk management

  • Project scope

  • Project procurement

  • Project integration

  • Project quality

  • Project stakeholders

  • Project resource management (including human resources)

  • Project communications

Beyond the project manager, there are a handful of other important project team roles that facilitate the project’s completion. Depending on the size of the team and the whole organization, these can be in-house staff, external consultants, or augmented staff that take on these roles for an interim period.

  • Project sponsor: This role is higher than the project manager, typically filled by a senior management officer who can make big decisions and provide high-level assistance beyond the manager’s abilities.

  • Business analyst: Understands the business processes of the organization and gives insights that can facilitate the project’s progress. They gather any information needed to make decisions and verify the value of deliverables for customers.

  • Coaches and mentors: Provide lower-level team members with resources, encouragement, examples to follow, and counsel when performing tasks.

  • Product owners: Those in charge of the deliverables’ development and modifications should be included in the project team to provide their perspective.

  • Communicators: Members dedicated to documenting and transmitting the communications that occur within and among the team. They facilitate the interactions within the team and ensure any memos or directives are distributed to people who need to know.

Members of the project team can have varying roles and responsibilities, but they must all exhibit teamwork and work together to achieve success.

The 5 Phases of Project Management

According to the PMI, project management is done by following a sequence of stages from the beginning to the end of the endeavor.

What is the project management process? The five stages of project management are Initiate, Plan, Execute, Monitor/Control, and Close.

Here’s a closer look at each of these phases.

1. Initiate

You have an idea of what you’d like to achieve, but you need to develop that concept into realistic, measurable goals to determine if the undertaking is worth pursuing. This step is essential in practical risk assessment and risk management.

Begin the project initiation phase by creating a project charter, which helps you define the project scope, project constraints, and value for your business case. Identify your resources and main stakeholders that can help you realize your ambitions. With these in mind, form a projected budget and maximum spending limits.

2. Plan

If your initial assessment affirms the value and feasibility of your project, you can proceed to the planning phase. This is when you create a project roadmap. A valuable project plan should include: 

  • A project schedule including intermediate milestones and target completion dates

  • A more detailed breakdown of the budgets by creating cost plans

  • A list of tasks and activities needed to complete the objective

  • A roster of chosen team members and their responsibilities 

  • An assessment of communication methods and frequency

  • A thorough catalog of dependencies and additional needs, such as team augmentation

You can use the critical path method to organize all required tasks and interconnected dependencies into the fundamental course of execution. 

Don’t rush this phase; a lack of careful, thorough planning can ruin a project.

Everyone involved in the project should understand their responsibilities and buy into the plan. A lack of consensus can undermine a project, so don’t proceed until everyone formally approves of the project management plan. 

3. Execute

Once you establish your objectives and outlined your game plan, it’s time to take action. This phase will take the bulk of your company’s time. 

The difference between project management and project execution is that execution is a step within the overarching project management process. During this phase, everyone involved will enact the measures prescribed in the project plan; this is when your tactics will be implemented.

Collaboration and comprehension are crucial during this part. Everyone should be on the same page and work together to remain efficient and productive.

4. Monitor/Control

This phase occurs concurrently with the execution phase as the leader monitors project progress and steps in as necessary to keep it on course. 

The project manager should perform regular check-ins to gauge progress, distinguish hurdles, and recommend any necessary workflow improvements. No contributor should be operating in isolation; someone needs to ensure everyone remains on task and is communicating properly.

Keep a detailed record of the progress and milestones as they’re reached. Closely monitor costs to ensure the project doesn’t exceed the budget or fall behind schedule. Periodically distribute group updates to inform both staff and stakeholders of the project’s advancement over the course of time.

5. Close

Congratulations; you’ve completed a successful project! Now what should you do? Wrap everything up with the closing phase. 

You’ll perform this step after you’ve reached your goal. This last stage involves tying up all loose ends, including noting final expenditures, returning borrowed resources, terminating independent contractors, and creating a detailed report.

The closing phase of the project involves more than just tidying up the paperwork after project delivery. You should meet with everyone involved to reflect on the project. What went well? What went poorly? What unexpected roadblocks did you face? Answering such questions will help you assess the endeavor so you can increase the chance of future project success.

Don’t forget to recognize the efforts and achievements of key contributors!

Choosing a Project Management Framework

An organizational project framework provides structure for managing the elements of a project. It identifies the standards, tools, and procedures for completing a project from start to finish. They help project managers and members of the organization stay focused.

What are the types of project management? The most common project management methodologies are Agile, Waterfall, Scrum, Kanban, PMBOK, and Lean, although many others exist. Each of these frameworks is suited to different types of projects or industries to facilitate success in certain contexts. Here’s a brief look:

  • Agile: Agile project management allows participants to adapt as needed to achieve goals. It’s dynamic and gives lots of room for mid-project change because it takes an iterative approach to processes.

  • Waterfall: This highly structured methodology constantly pushes the project forward through a series of predetermined tasks that flow downstream. These are tracked via Gantt charts.

  • Scrum: This approach involves short, simple projects in the form of “sprints.” It’s suited best to small teams with straightforward undertakings like software development.

  • Kanban: Use openly displayed boards within the workplace to visually communicate workflow and progress to all team members. These Kanban boards provide a methodology in themselves or can be used as tools within other frameworks.

  • PMBOK: The Project Management Institute (PMI) produces the Project Management Body of Knowledge that outlines its own terminologies and practices. It’s a good framework for any company, as it can be adapted to many different contexts.

  • Lean: Check out lean management if you prefer a framework that prioritizes efficiency when increasing deliverable value. It’s been a long-used approach in the manufacturing and service industries for trimming excess while increasing user satisfaction.

Consider these factors when deciding which project management methodology is right for your next endeavor: 

  • Size of organization/number of members 

  • Anticipated project budget

  • Project scope and timeline

  • Project requirements, including available and needed resources 

  • Complexity of project

  • Flexibility in execution and timeline

  • Nature of the deliverables

Project Management Tools and Software

You need an arsenal of project management tools regardless of which structure you choose. These tools give you the oversight, progress tracking, scalability, reporting, communication, and cross-platform integration necessary to complete a project.

Project management software will provide you with documentation and tracking tools beyond what simple Excel spreadsheets can offer. For example, they include real-time dashboards that display dependencies and track task statuses as well as templates for logging the latest expenses. 

When choosing software, think about your:

  • Preferred functionality capabilities, such as integration with email, calendars, and mobile apps

  • Budget

  • Staffwide computer expertise

  • Project management methodology

  • Other active projects

Also look into the reputation and reviews of the software developer.

Project Management Principles

Another important facet of project management is a collection of defining ideologies that unite participants and guide the endeavor. There isn’t one universal catalog of project management principles, but many organizations recognize the importance of these:

  • A project must have a specific definition following a formal structure.

  • The objectives must be achievable and specifically defined, including a completion timeframe.

  • An experienced, invested manager must lead the endeavor.

  • Management sponsors must support and give authority to the project manager.

  • Roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined for all members.

  • A communication plan must guide operations. 

  • Changes must be able to occur as necessary to achieve the goals.

  • A focus must be kept on the deliverables by all participants.

Starting a project?

If your company is launching a new project and looking for more hands on deck, MVP Match can connect you with freelancers to get the work done. We help clients successfully launch products, expand their businesses, and restructure their organizations. 

Let us connect you to experts with the skills to guide your organization through its next big project.

About the Author

Match wants to bridge the perspectives of talents and companies, and Marta’s job is to blend all the elements without burning the engine. She translates backstage know-how into practical insights and stories. What can’t be written on a blog will land on socials as a meme. She believes that shaping the #futureofwork is all about transparency and courage in communication. While collaborating with writers and authors from all over the world, she makes sure that everything that ends up on the Match blog makes the bridge stronger than ever.