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Your complete guide to project management in 2021

Shira Bar-Joseph

    With all of its different frameworks, jargon, and concepts, the realm of project management can have you saying to yourself, “It’s all Greek to me.” That said, project management functions a lot like a language, with key structures and details that result in real meaning.

    Project management (not to be confused with program management) is the process that guides a team’s work to accomplish all project goals within certain parameters.

    The goal of project management is producing a complete project that meets objectives. In this guide, we’ll break down how to effectively use project management — all in plain English.

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    What is project management?

    Project management (PM) is defined as the framework used to guide your team to success—this includes your team objectives, tools, and techniques both over the long-term and your day-to-day work.

    Why is project management important? 

    Project management is important because it provides the leadership, motivation, and roadblock-removals that help teams introduce new products or services, grow revenue, and meet other company goals.

    According to a study by the Project Management Institute:

    By prioritizing the use of effective project management methods and frameworks, organizations can proactively and continuously improve their workflows to avoid overspend and mistakes. During these fast-moving times, the companies who rise to the top rely on solid project management to remain efficient and productive.

    Now that we know what project management is and why it’s important, where do you start?

    Is there a process to project management? Yes—and we break down all five phases

    The Project Management Institute (PMI) breaks down the project management process into five phases that are relatively well-agreed upon in the project management space:

    Entire books have been written on the above structure and what each step comprises of—but we’ll give you the high-level information you really need to know:

    1. Initiating

    As with any good project, preparation is vital to ensure it will be completed on time and within budget. During the initiation phase, determine the following to create the project foundation:

    • Project scope: the specific limits and boundaries for the project. It essentially covers what will be accomplished in the project and what will not (i.e project objectives). Establishing these boundaries prevents something called “scope creep.” You can learn more about it here.
    • High-level project overview: This considers the resources, time, and goals required to complete a project. Included in the overview is a way to monitor these requirements over time.
    • Budgets: How much is needed to achieve a successful project?

    For larger projects, a project charter or “Project Initiation Documentation” (PID) might be established.

    2. Planning

    During this phase, key milestones and dates are set, including the final project completion date. By getting clear and intentional about project timing, you can help ensure that all team members move towards the same goal. This will also save you a road of confusion ahead when you encounter roadblocks.

    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). We’ll get into more specifics around some of these later in this guide.

    The planning phase also includes:

    • Selecting the team members
    • Outlining deliverables
    • Estimating resources
    • Determining associated activities

    3. Executing

    At this point, it’s all about getting stuff done. During the execution phase, you will carry out the details of your project plan (or project deliverables) to deliver your products to your specific stakeholders. This stage occurs simultaneously with the monitoring and controlling phase and might involve:

    • Managing workflows
    • Recommending changes and corrective actions

    4. Monitoring/Controlling

    This is crucial in any project life cycle as it helps project managers answer the question: where are we at any given point in the project vs. where should we be according to the project plan? Effective monitoring requires:

    • Regular, consistent project “check-ins”
    • Use of proper project documentation and tracking tools or frameworks (such as Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and team stand-ups). The more visual and real-time this is, the better as you can then easily communicate it to key players and adjust.

    5. Closing

    This final step, sometimes known as “project delivery,” is when you wrap up all activities and deliver the final product to the client (an internal team or external stakeholder).

    Some additional components could be:

    • Conclusion of any formal contracts or agreements
    • 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.

    8 tips for successful project management

    When managed right, projects allow companies to develop new products or services, transform internal business processes, and produce value for customers. However, without the right building blocks in place, they can lead to a lack of innovation and drain on your time and money.

    Here are 8 tips for successful project management that propels your organization instead of holding it back.

    1. Invest in the initiation and planning stages

    When it comes to answering, “Why do projects fail?”, many of the reasons can be traced back to poor planning and research—crucial parts of the initiating and planning stages of the project life cycle. By establishing, syncing, and agreeing on key aspects such as organizational priorities, objectives, and requirements early on, there is less of a chance for confusion on them later.

    2. Pick right framework or methodology for your project

    The second step toward successful project management is finding the right framework or methodology. Project management methodologies describe a set of guiding principles and processes that are used to plan, manage, and execute projects. Whether you choose the critical path methodology or Waterfall, these frameworks determines how work is prioritized and completed, as well as the way it is visualized.

    3. Promote a culture of transparency and ownership

    Transparency can make all the difference when managing a project as complexities and sensitivities arise. With a strong culture of transparency in place, team members and leaders can rely on each other to raise flags or take ownership for their work regardless of how granular or stressful your plans get.

    This starts with clear communication, so each contributor can understand your long-term goals, KPIs (key performance indicators), and plans—as well as where they fit into the puzzle. One way to achieve this is to involve every employee in the planning process (at some level), and give them ownership over tasks and deliverables by using a solid project management workflow, which you can create with monday.com Work OS. An added perk of this culture? Employees tend to self-manage more effectively (so long, micromanaging) and with a greater sense of accountability, their motivation to perform their best will also rise.

    4. Decide on a realistic scope

    Scope creep is one of the main challenges project managers face. 52% of companies experience scope creep or unforeseen changes to the scope during a project. While this could be related to uncontrollable factors throughout a project, having the right people at the planning table can help you more accurately define project scope from the start. By including experienced stakeholders and team members in the initiating and planning stages, you can avoid a lot of frustration later. You can even refer back to old project data to help set the scope stage more clearly.

    (Image Source)

    5. Get wise about scheduling

    If you want your team to stay productive, you need to create work schedules that are realistic to your team’s workloads and the intended delivery date. While it’s almost impossible to develop the perfect project management timeline, balancing these two factors is a worthwhile investment. With a Work OS like monday.com, you can see individual or team workloads with Workload View in the same workspace that you manage calendars, timelines, and resources.

    Proper and clearly communicated schedules help mitigate delays and other costly setbacks. The type of project management methodology you use can also impact the way your team uses its time to reach a goal or several smaller goals. If you use an Agile framework like Scrum, you will focus on the short-term and smaller deliverable increments. It’s also important to schedule time for things you don’t plan for in a project.

    6. Practice effective resource management

    Resource management is an important tenet of project management and describes the process of pre-planning, scheduling, and allocating your resources to maximize efficiency. In the physical sense, resource management could be explained through the example of a contractor managing construction projects—they could decide to book a concrete pourer for two sites in lieu of having to pay the cost for two at the same time.

    For digital projects, resources often refer to specific employees or teams. A graphic designer may have several concurrent projects, so you’ll need to plan with them in order to get the job done. The list goes on to include any number of resources including people, capital, and other material goods.

    7. Get stakeholders engaged

    A stakeholder is someone directly invested in the project’s success. They could be a key client, internal product user, executive, or product manager. In order to garner their support—financial or otherwise— that fuels a project, teams and project managers shouldn’t skimp on any work needed for their projects.

    Communication and input between these two parties should be established before, during, and after a project. Why? Because each offers unique insights and perspectives relative to the organization’s goals and the team’s capabilities. A Work OS with robust features will help you to present important data and timelines in real-time you can refer back to again and again.

    8. Choose next-level project management tools and software

    No company can run successful project management if its system is built on a web of endless spreadsheets and emails. There’s nothing practical, scaleable, or transparent about a system like that.

    To succeed in the modern world of remote work, inter-departmental collaboration, cloud file sharing and 1,000 other variables unique to your company, you need a modern project management platform.

    monday.com is an easy-to-use Work OS that gives you the freedom to work in whatever project management framework you use. With views ranging from our custom table (with color-coded statuses) to Kanban board, Gantt chart, timeline, and calendar views, you can truly customize the experience to your workflow. You can also seamlessly integrate monday.com with other tools in your tech stack, and share boards, dashboards, and updates with your entire team in real-time.

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    4 frameworks to guide project management

    One of the most crucial project management decisions you’ll make is choosing a framework because it dictates how you structure your team and how you plan and monitor your projects.

    As promised, here are high-level descriptions of the leading project management frameworks (with links to even more comprehensive deep-dives):

    1. Waterfall project management

    Waterfall or traditional project management is focused on “perfect planning.” Before you even get started, you break down and schedule the entire project from start to finish.

    If you’re working with physical products with lots of dependencies or services where your SLA demands perfection, consistency, and set-in-stone deadlines, there’s no better alternative.

    Check out our complete guide to Waterfall project management here.

    waterfall project management

    2. Kanban project management

    Unlike the Waterfall framework, Kanban project management focuses on continuous improvement. Using a Kanban board like the one above, your team plans how to improve products, campaigns, or processes.

    Who should use Kanban? Kanban helps you visualize your work to limit work-in-progress (WIP) and quickly move work from “Doing” to “Done.” Kanban is great for teams that have many incoming requests.

    To learn more about Kanban project management, check out our guide.

    kanban project management

    3. Scrum project management

    The Scrum framework is the most popular way to implement Agile project management. It divides larger projects into shorter, 1–4 week sprints that adapt to demands as the project evolves.

    It also lays out rules for team size, team roles, planning, meetings, deliverables, and more. While popular among software developers, it’s also great for teams that seek to deliver functioning increments of their work during a project. For example, you could use it for marketing campaigns, product design, or other creative projects.

    Read our post on the Scrum methodology to learn more.

    4. Agile project management

    Agile is a project management buzzword and is often prescribed as a catch-all solution to inefficient companies. However, it has its own unique shortcomings, like the ones below.

    (Image Source)

    Agile frameworks, like Scrum, are designed to leave room for mistakes, trial and error, and unanticipated changes. In other words, if you employ an Agile approach, don’t expect your operations to run perfectly. They can also be hard to scale beyond a smaller team level. On the other hand, for many teams, having the flexibility to amend project plans as time goes on is integral to ensuring they can finish the project at all.

    To learn more about running your next project using an agile framework, check out our walkthrough. 

    We also have a great blog on top project management methodologies to further help you understand your options.

    We’ve covered the project management phases, its frameworks, and tips for success, but what about the key players who will take the project from A-Z? We’re talking of course about your team. Here’s how to ensure you choose the right people for the project.

    How can you build a productive project team?

    How you structure your project team largely depends on your framework and the scope of your project. Here are a few proven strategies for building a successful and productive team.

    1. Recruit talent across departments

    Your project team will likely come from different departments because projects benefit from and require varied expertise and input.

    Instead of hiring new talent, you can utilize existing resources and sync multiple departments on a larger organizational goal. For example, a new marketing campaign could require website designers, copywriters, and product managers.

    2. Choose a project manager wisely and define responsibilities accurately

    A project manager could be a professional PM or a subject matter expert (SME) — someone who’s extremely knowledgeable in the area of the project. You can see here a breakdown of who typically wears the project manager hat.

    (Image Source)

    A professional PM might play more of a facilitating role during initial planning. They give room to stakeholders and SMEs to shape the project plan with their hands-on experience. Smaller companies may not be able to afford a dedicated project manager role, in which case, an SME or executive is the logical choice.

    What does a project manager do?

    A project manager might look different from team to team, but overall they are responsible for day-to-day management of a project and its people. They must also manage these 6 aspects:

    • Scope
    • Schedule
    • Finance
    • Risk
    • Quality
    • Resources

    3. Set an “all hands on deck” expectation

    If the project manager has to babysit every team member and make the final call on every minor decision, the project will crawl forward at a snail’s pace. Instead, empower your team members to exercise their own judgment and push forward.

    Employees at “high-trust” companies report 50% higher productivity than their low-trust counterparts.

    Micro-managing employees slows down progress and hurts team morale. By encouraging task ownership and providing complete transparency of what’s expected at the project’s early stages, your team members will propel it forward.

    As detailed above, you’re aiming for the “perfect” team. It’s important to understand though that as time goes on, your teams will likely become more and more diverse (ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic status, and even location (the move to a more work-from-home team has only accelerated due to the global pandemic).

    While this will certainly benefit the project (the greater the diversity, the more perspectives and expertise you’ll have), it means you’ll also need flexible tools to accommodate different teams and various projects. This is where project management software comes in.

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    6 steps to get the most out of project management software

    While spreadsheets, email, and whiteboards could suffice for very simple and small-scale projects, large and complex projects require a robust project management platform to succeed.

    monday.com gives you all the functionality you need, from platform-specific templates, boards, and workflow automations to collaboration tool integrations.

    Here’s how you can use set up a digital workspace like monday.com Work OS to empower your project teams.

    1. Use project documentation to speed up framework adoption

    Project documentation is the practice of recording key project details and documents required to successfully implement projects. If you are bringing multiple teams together in a specific project methodology, it’s important to make documentation clear and understandable for everyone.

    With a Work OS, you can create, share, and collaborate on documents right from within your workflow—or larger workspace. On monday.com’s workdocs, team members can explore and understand in real-time the flow of a project and their part.

    2. Create your roadmap and high-level project plan

    A project roadmap is a visual, high-level overview of a project’s goals and deliverables organized on a timeline. This is an incredibly useful tool for managing stakeholder expectations, as well as for communicating plans and coordinating resources with other teams. Project management software allows you to create a living and dynamic document that everyone can easily access. Better yet, project roadmap templates like this one from monday.com can help you get started even faster.

    3. Build an awesome workflow

    Once you have a roadmap or some other form of high-level project plan, it’s time to get more granular with your workflows. This is crucial, as it makes it easy and intuitive for your team members to execute their work and for project managers to monitor and control project progress.

    The advantage of using a Work OS  over traditional project management software to build your project workflows is that you can start with solid templates and quickly customize them to accommodate different project methodologies, incorporate different views, automations, and more.

    For example if you favor the Waterfall model, you can use what’s called a work breakdown structure (WBS) like in the image below.

    4. Encourage ownership

    On a more robust Work OS, you can add a People Column and easily assign ownership of tasks and subtasks to individual employees and teams—some project management software will only let you choose individual owners. These columns empower project managers and individuals to assign work and see it through. You can even implement automations that send notifications to task owners when a phase of the project is complete.

    In addition to assigning task owners, it’s also a good idea to give each team member simple responsibilities like reporting on progress during status meetings and identifying their own roadblocks. This helps maintain a culture of transparency and builds momentum.

    5. Get dedicated to data-driven decision making

    Take your projects to the next level with actionable insights. Depending on which solution you choose, we included a few features that will help you get the most out of your data:

    • Time tracking – this allows teams to see how long tasks take
    • Customizable statuses – any stakeholder can see where your projects get held up the most
    • Deadlines – holds every team member accountable to the project’s success

    Once you’ve created different workflows, use them as a resource and easily create reports and dashboards.  Assess project success against KPIs—this data can then be used to guide decisions or new projects.

    6. Automate repetitive tasks to speed up project management

    Automations can speed up your workflow for more efficient project management. For example, you can notify managers automatically when due dates are passed, create a new task item every week, and more.

    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.

    Technology writer Peter Giffen believes,

    “AI could 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 in the near future:

    1. Project managers will need both AI and EI skills: EI — emotional intelligence — is becoming a required skill in the PM space. The ability to understand other humans is critical. Read this article for other essential project management skills.
    2. Adoption of customized or hybrid PM approaches: Gone are the days where a single PM methodology will suffice. It’s likely that models will need to be flexible to accommodate different teams and various projects.
    3. A more diverse team structure: As mentioned above, your team will grow more diverse. Though ultimately a positive trend, increasingly diverse teams will also create a broad range of challenges as teams collaborate effectively and efficiently.

    No matter what, project management is here to stay! But not all project management software is created equal. The best project management software for you depends on your needs. We’ve outlined which we believe is the top choice below.

    project management boards

    Why use monday.com for project management?

    monday.com’s Work OS goes beyond project management software because it 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
    • Build their dream workflows

    Try our platform now, the first two weeks are on us. To dive in right away, check out our Advanced project management template.

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    Shira is a project manager who believes in leading with simplicity to facilitate any cross-company projects that improve internal processes.
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