Project management refers to using specific tools, knowledge, skills, and expertise to achieve desired objectives and deliver something valuable. In other words, you use the available resources to acquire an intended result within a specific timeframe and budget.
What does project management look like?
Project management gets work done worldwide. But depending on the work, project management will look slightly different. For instance, you may use project management to build a skyscraper in the middle of a city or to develop software for a school.
While each project will have unique steps the team would follow from start to finish, every project will follow a pattern — or project cycle. Let’s explore that below.
Project Management: Project Cycle
The project cycle comprises the five phases you go through to take a project from start to finish. These five phases include:
- Monitoring and Evaluation
Here is an overview of each phase in the cycle:
The initiation phase, the first phase of the project, involves activities that set up a solid foundation.
For instance, you’ll identify a business problem, define its possible solution, appoint a team, and present the best possible solution to your stakeholders. A key activity you’ll perform in the initiation phase is creating the business case.
What’s a business case?
A business case evaluates a project by considering its benefits and costs. It serves as a quick summary and helps stakeholders decide if they want to proceed with the project.
In your business case, you’ll have:
- Business problem with its detailed description
- Problem’s possible solutions
- Preferred solution
- Project Benefits
- Financial costs
- Risks, dependencies, and challenges
Once your stakeholders approve your business case, you can start the planning phase.
In the planning phase, you draw a roadmap to achieve the goals within the set budget and timeline. This includes documenting your plans, requirements, project deliverables, and work schedules in detail.
In other words, you develop a project management plan to guide how you’ll implement and manage the project until completion. This plan determines how you’ll manage the time, costs, quality, and project-related risks.
Here are some common outputs of the planning phase:
- Scope planning to determine the scope of the project
- Risk Management to mitigate any risks that may occur during project implementation
- Communication planning to set up the information flow that ensures timely messages to project stakeholders
- Quality planning to set the quality standards for the project
- Work breakdown structure that turns the project into specific tasks and sub-tasks
- Project schedules to put tasks on a calendar and set the order of implementation
- Budget planning to specify the project cost from start to finish
- Resource planning to allocate work across your team based on their skills and expertise
- Procurement planning to help secure essential resources from vendors and suppliers
By the end of the planning phase, your team members will understand the project’s deliverables and their responsibilities in meeting those deliverables. And your stakeholders would know the project is on the right track.
In the execution phase, you implement the project plan you developed in the previous phase.
As the project manager, this is usually the longest phase of your project cycle, where you coordinate the workforce and use resources to achieve project goals. This coordination involves directing the execution process using your work breakdown schedule to ensure everyone plays their part.
For instance, say you’re managing your small business’s expansion to a new locality. You may have assigned different tasks to salespeople, customer support, content leads, and the product development team. In the execution phase, you need to ensure that everyone is pulling their share of weight in meeting those deliverables.
Besides that, as a project manager, you’ll also have to update your CEO and other stakeholders regarding the project's progress.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Monitoring and control, a crucial stage in the project life cycle, ensures the project is on the right track. It helps you avoid deviations and take corrective actions when required to steer the project back on track.
Unlike with other phases, there is no distinct boundary between the execution phase and the monitoring and evaluation phase. In complex projects, you may evaluate the results and get the stakeholders' feedback during the execution.
For example, if the expansion in the above example required three months, you may monitor the progress and evaluate the results every week and update the stakeholders twice a month.
In summary, during the monitoring and evaluation phase, you:
- Report on critical metrics and milestones
- Communicate with stakeholders
- Monitor project performance
In the closing phase, you conclude the project. However, it’s little more than checking the project off as done and moving.
At the very least, you should perform several key close-out activities:
- Deliver project results, whether products or services
- Assess project records
- Celebrate achievements
- Disband the project team
- Provide feedback to the team
While the closing phase marks a project’s end, it may also signal the start of another project. For instance, you may be scaling the successful project you just ended.