Getting back to the basics of project management
We’ve talked a lot over the past year about how project managers use MindManager in their daily work. Making projects easier to manage is a topic that’s near and dear to all of our hearts, and one that we always love to talk about. What we haven’t discussed much of, however, is to general concepts that make up the basics of project management.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be discussing the basic concepts of project management, steps to planning and managing a project and specific techniques that you can use in your daily work.
To start, I’m going to step way back and look at the basic principles of project management.
What is project management?
In a nutshell, the basics of project management involve planning, organizing and tracking a project and its resources from conception through to execution, with the goal of achieving a specific business outcome.
When you actually sit down and start project planning, you’ll begin to realize that there are many more variables and steps needed to reach your goal than previously thought.
Some of these important variables include:
- Your team and resources
- A detailed scope of work
- Detailed timelines and deadlines
- Success and completion metrics
- Key stakeholders and decision makers
- Communication channels
These are just some of the most basic variables that project managers need to take into account at the start of every planning cycle. For larger projects, this list can be more complex. And, each of these variables can change and evolve throughout your project lifecycle, making smart management even more critical to project success.
Before we get into the role of a project manager, let’s take a step back and look at what a “project” is.
The basic elements of a project
Projects are, essentially, just a means towards a specific business goal. They’re a system of tasks and resources, all working together towards a common outcome that supports your business direction.
While projects will naturally vary between companies and industries, all should contain four core elements that make up the basics of project management: scope, resources, time and money.
The scope of a project refers to its size, goals and the requirements needed to achieve the desired outcome. Scope is perhaps the most important project element to clearly nail down before starting work. Changes in scope and unclear goals can all contribute to an exhaustion of project resources, missed deadlines or, even worse, the failure of the project altogether.
This refers to all human and material resources at your disposal to achieve your goal. This can be employees, freelancers, tools, software, etc. Having a clear view of your resources allows project managers to leverage them in the most efficient way possible the project goals.
This includes both overall time for a project, from conception through to completion, as well as time requirements for specific tasks. Having clear breakdown of your required tasks, their lead times, dependencies and the “critical path” to project completion allows project managers to manage their resources smarter and more efficiently.
You should have a firm grasp on the cost of the project, and the potential profit it will generate for your business. Executing a simple cost-benefit analysis for your project will help you determine if the scope is too large, too small or if it’s even worthwhile at all.
Why is project management important?
Projects are critical to business success. They’re the avenues by which revenue growth occurs, and new business opportunities are found. Depending on the type of project you’re undertaking, they can have a direct impact on your profit margins, customer satisfaction and retention metrics, and open the door to new markets that weren’t there before.
Projects are the means by which you move the dial in business, and having the right project manager at the helm can turn a mediocre outcome in a game changer.
The role of the project manager
Now that we’ve defined the basics of project management, and why it’s important, let’s look at the role of the PM in the process.
Project managers are, essentially, the project’s gatekeeper and guardian. They are responsibly for facilitating the planning, execution and outcomes of a project, as well as managing the scope, resources and time commitments. Anything and everything that impacts the project plan should run through the project manager, who will then determine what to do next.
A project manager’s core responsibilities are the following:
- Communicating with stakeholders to determine the core business goal.
- Bringing together a team that will best complete that goal.
- Developing the project plan and scope with their team, and securing their buy in and engagement.
- Managing the team’s performance and completion of project tasks.
- Communication within the team and to stakeholders, including status reports, risks, scope changes, escalation issues, etc.
- Securing acceptance and approval of deliverables from the relevant stakeholders.
- Ultimately ensuring the project is delivered within the budget, timeframe and scope laid out in the project plan.
This list is by no means absolute, and represents only a list of basic project management duties. PMs often wear many hats, and jump in and out of the trenches to ensure that the project goals are met.