Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about project management

DJ Waldow

Temporary and unique. Those are the two defining characteristics of most projects.

Temporary in that they’re defined by a start and end date/time and often constrained by financial resources. Unique in that they’re not “routine business operations.”

Teams are assembled to manage these various projects (“project teams”). And the “managing of a project” is what is known as project management.

Here at monday.com, we’ve defined project management as a way “to organize people, resources, and processes to achieve a goal with a defined beginning and end. The Project Management Institute has a similar spin: “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”

Here’s one more, somewhat meatier definition: Project management is a process of leading a team of individuals to complete a set of predefined tasks to reach a goal within a specified period that satisfies the client’s requirements.

No matter how you slice it, project management is an integral part of any company.

And there is data to back that up. According to a study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), 90% of respondents say project management is either critical (47%) or somewhat important (43%) to their ability to deliver successful projects and remain competitive.

Over the years, project teams have dialed in the processes and best practices for project management and boiled them down to five steps or phases.

The 5 steps of project management 

Created by the Project Management Institute (PMI), PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge, which breaks down project management into five phases:

It is relatively well-agreed upon in the project management (PM) space that all projects follow this similar flow — this 5-step process that carries each project from start to finish.

5 project management steps

Entire books have been written on the above steps, so we’ll just give a high-level overview of each one here:

Initiating: As with any good project (or plan), preparation is vital. The initiation phase is where the project scope is determined and the project foundation is created. For larger projects, a project charter or “Project Initiation Documentation” (PID) is established. The initiating process includes a high-level overview of the project, a pre-plan if you will. Project phases and overall budgets are also determined during this stage. This is where the project team is created — more on that below.

Note: If this stage is rushed, taken lightly, or skipped altogether, the success of your project is greatly diminished.

Planning: “The devil is in the details.” That phrase sums up the planning stage nicely.

It’s important during planning to set key milestone dates as well as a final project completion date. Be very clear and intentional with project timing. Dates and times can undoubtedly change based on unforeseen circumstances, but putting a stake in the ground ensures all team members are aiming towards the same goal.

project management template monday.com

During this process, it’s important to outline which project management methodology the team will follow. There are many to choose from: agile, Waterfall, PRINCE2, PMBOK, scrum, lean, and kanban (to name a few of the more popular ones). Note: We detailed several of the top project management methodologies in this blog post, and we get into more specifics around agile below.

The planning phase also includes selecting the team members (more below), outlining deliverables, estimating resources, determining associated activities, and setting (and managing) the project scope.

Creating a project scope — the specific limits and boundaries for the project — is essential during the planning stage. Two questions are key:

  1. What will get accomplished as part of this project?
  2. What will not get accomplished as part of this project?

This is the project scope. As we wrote in this practical guide to project scope management, “Without a project scope, things either fizzle or spiral out of control.” Be sure to spend significant time on that second question as it’s not just the opposite of the first. Knowing what will not be part of a project is important to avoid “scope creep.”

Executing: At this point, it’s all about getting (stuff) done. Execution. Doing. Where the rubber meets the road. During execution, the team ensures the pre-determined deliverables are, well, delivered!

Monitoring/Controlling: Where are we at any given point in the project vs. where we should be … according to the project plan. A regular, consistent, systematic project “check-in” is critical to ensure project success. A key component in the monitor/control step is having proper project documentation and tracking. This can be accomplished through Kanban boards, Gantt charts, team stand-ups, and many other means.

No matter how it’s done, keeping an eye on progress and step-completion means project teams can quickly identify when a project has derailed and get it back on track quickly and efficiently.

Note: If the scope changes at any time during the project (which is likely will!), it’s important to document the changes. Transparency is critical!

Closing: As the verb indicates, the close is the actual end of any given project. The final step, sometimes known as “project delivery.” All activities are wrapped up, and the final product is delivered to the client (an internal team or external stakeholder).

If a contract was in place, this is the time when the contract officially ends as well. If possible — and highly recommended — this stage includes a full review or audit of what went well, what didn’t go as planned, and how future teams and projects could learn from this one.

While there is some variability in the details, these are the agreed-upon five steps of project management.

And while following the process is important, setting up the “perfect” team is essential.

Creating the perfect project management team

Okay. That headline is a bit misleading. Fair. You busted me. There is no such thing as the perfect PM team; however, there are certain do’s (and don’ts!) when compiling a team.

As detailed in 5 project management strategies to keep your projects on track, one of the key strategies to ensure project success is choosing the right people to be on the team:

“A project will only be as successful as the people working on it. Each person on a team should be picked for the skills and personality they bring to the project. Not everyone will be a great fit for every project, and your best team may not even include all of your ‘best’ people.”

Also, try to limit overlapping skill sets and clashing personalities, if at all possible. Both tend to slow down, and in some cases derail entirely, projects.

And remember, the most successful project teams are ones where all team members have some degree of project management skills — not everyone has to be the PM lead, but each person on the team needs some PM skills. We recently surveyed over 1300 professionals, of which 95% said they manage projects as part of their job, but less than a third (29%) of them are project managers by title. Regardless of title, each team member is likely already a “manager of projects” of some kind.

Other keys to a reliable PM team include:

  • Transparency
  • Effective collaboration and open communication
  • A project tracker, aka project management software like monday.com
  • Clearly-defined goals
  • A level of autonomy

Let’s break each one down a bit further.

Transparency

According to Merriam-Webster, to be transparent means, you are “characterized by visibility or accessibility of information.” Simply put, transparency is “the act of being transparent.”

At monday.com, we define transparency as “making all information—numbers, roadmaps, plans, challenges, and concerns—readily accessible to everyone on your team.”

Transparency allows all team members to see the complete picture — the entire project roadmap — and (and this is key) understand how the work they are doing fits into that plan and directly impacts the end product. What each team member does day in and day out matters.

For more, read why transparency is crucial for modern project management.

Effective collaboration and open communication

In any business (or personal) relationship, open communication is important. When part of a project management team, ensuring all voices are heard in a timely matter is essential. Project trackers (more below) also can be a massive help with communication and collaboration amongst team members.

Open communication practices and protocols help the entire team and the project manager identify potential issues and address them immediately.

A project tracker (like monday.com, of course)

Using a project tracker (project management software) like monday.com helps your team manage its projects and tasks in an easy-to-follow, visual way. PM software ensures everyone stays up-to-date with all projects to ensure deadlines are met. Project trackers can also lead to better collaboration through file and idea-sharing, commenting, and other communication forms.

As we’ve said before:

“Project trackers are the most essential tool in the project management toolbox. PMs depend on them to streamline information, enhance collaboration, and stay up-to-date on progress, but they aren’t the only ones who use it.”

Learn more about how to boost teamwide project management with a project tracker.

Get started!

Clearly-defined goals

Projects don’t succeed without clearly-defined goals — overall project goals, team goals, and individual team member goals. All are equally important.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), “Well written goals provide motivation, focus attention, [and] serve as a basis for managing performance and evaluating change.”

Taskboard and checklists are two of the many ways you can break down tasks and projects into smaller “to-do” steps. At monday.com, we think of boards and lists as “guided steps to successfully achieve your goal(s).”

Bonus: Celebrate individual and team success — frequently and publicly. At monday.com, you can include animated gifs to keep things light and fun.

A level of autonomy

Autonomous:

(a) controlling your own outcome

(b) the opposite of being micromanaged

Giving your team the ability to be a bit more independent helps morale and, ultimately, the end product. According to this Cornell University study, businesses that allowed their teams to work autonomously experienced a growth rate of 200% higher than those that relied on a hierarchical style of management and experienced only one third the turnover rate.

Again, while there is no such thing as the perfect (project management) team, use the above guidelines to set yourself up for success.

A quick note on agile project management

While certainly not the only option for project management approaches, agile —  an overarching philosophy or belief system about managing projects and getting work done — is worth detailing a bit further.

Agile is a project management methodology that breaks down larger projects into smaller, manageable chunks known as iterations. 

Even though agile was not conceived until 2001, its popularity has grown exponentially over the past two decades. One of the reasons so many project management teams incorporate agile is because it’s useful.

According to the Project Management Institute:

  • 75% of highly agile organizations met their goals and business intent
  • 65% finished projects on time
  • 67% finished projects within budget

The monday.com project management teams are big-time fans of agile. Over the years, our PM teams have practiced agile as the gold standard for getting work done.

While agile is certainly the here and now of project management, the future is starting to look quite different.

What does the future of project management look like?

Many project management trends are shaping how we work. Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the biggest force with the largest, lasting effect. In fact, in PMI’s Pulse of the Profession survey, 81% of respondents reported their organization is already being impacted by AI technologies.

AI is most likely to change how meetings are planned and scheduled. But technology writer Peter Giffen believes AI “could also incorporate data analytics and automatically analyze project team data, providing clear indications about how to improve performance.”

As outlined in this Forbes article, in addition to AI, there are three other project management trends we can expect to see in the near future:

  1. Project managers will need both AI and EI skills: We’ve already discussed the importance of AI, but EI — emotional intelligence — is increasingly becoming a required skill in the PM space. The ability to understand other humans is critical.
  2. A need to adopt more customized or hybrid PM approaches: Gone are the days where a single PM methodology will suffice. We’ve professed our love for agile, but it’s likely that models will need to be flexible to accommodate different teams and various projects. We’re pretty sure there is a monday.com template for that.
  3. A more diverse team structure: As detailed above, the “perfect” team is what you’re aiming for. It’s important to understand how that team will become more and more diverse — diversity in ethnic background, socio-economic status, and even location (the move to a more work-from-home team has only been accelerated thanks to the global pandemic).

No matter what, project management (thankfully) is here to stay! But not all project management software is created equal.

Why use monday.com for project management?

monday.com’s project management software allows teams to manage all projects and tasks in a single place.

Our solution means teams can:

  • See project progress at a glance (visually)
  • Stay on top of schedules and deadlines
  • Collaborate more efficiently and effectively

Try out one of our many (many) fully-customizable templates today.

Get started!

DJ Waldow
DJ is a freelance writer specializing in all things words. He's a father of 4 (including twins), husband to one, and an alum of the University of Michigan. DJ is a self-proclaimed giphy master and #HashtagAddict.
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