Beginner: I Haven't Started the Project
Let’s start from the beginning
Understanding the foundations of project management helps expedite the process from when the assignment first hits your desk.
Here’s what you need to know.
Project management basics
Many factors go into ensuring a project is a success. A project manager has to ensure that their team’s work is delivered on time, on budget, and up to the standards their business expects. Their role is complex and combines many different skills and responsibilities.
Every project manager is different, but they all have one thing in common — they research and hone their craft to prepare for success in every project. This section will walk you through the basic concepts of project management and what a project manager’s role looks like.
What is a project?
Let’s start at the beginning. All of us have worked on countless “projects” in our time, but have you ever thought about what defines a project and how to recognize one?
The Project Management Institute defines a “project” as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.”
Every project can be recognized by a few key characteristics. These include:
- Unique: A project is undertaken to accomplish a specific goal, which is typically outside the usual day-to-day operations of a business. Your team may require different resources, or the skills of other teams, to complete a project.
- Temporary: Every project has a defined beginning and end — they are not ongoing tasks. An important part of planning a project involves mapping its timeline and when it is to be completed.
- Purposeful: Projects are characterized by having a definable purpose or end goal. When beginning a project, it’s important that everyone is familiar with the desired result and knows how their work will contribute to reaching it.
Additionally, projects usually include the following components:
- Budget: How much will it cost to achieve?
- Stakeholders: Who are the major players with an interest in this project?
- Project manager: Who is going to make sure everything gets completed?
Where did project management originate?
Project management involves using unique skills, tools, and knowledge to solve a problem and reach a goal. It’s not surprising, then, that evidence of project management can be traced as far back as the building of the Pyramids. But the definition of project management as we know it today began in the 19th century, when American mechanical engineer Frederick Taylor, and his associate Henry Gantt, began to apply concepts of project management to the workdays of thousands of railway workers, visualizing how it could aid productivity.
During the 20th century, the concept of project management was refined further, with standardized processes such as the Critical Path Method becoming more commonplace in businesses. In 1965 and 1969, the International Project Management Association and Project Management Institute were founded, respectively, as these processes grew in popularity worldwide.
The field of project management continues to shift as global business needs evolve. Delivering results quickly and effectively while dealing with factors such as new technologies and an increasingly dispersed workforce means that honing your project management strategy is more important than ever.
What do project managers do?
Project managers are responsible for managing initiatives from concept all the way through to completion. They manage the project through its entire life cycle and oversee many different factors. These include:
- Planning the roadmap
- Assembling the team and assigning tasks
- Managing the budget
- Managing schedules and deadlines
- Updating key stakeholders
- Keeping records and reports of the project
- Completion of the project
How do I decide on a project management approach?
There are lots of ways to approach a project and manage it through to completion. These processes are called project management methodologies.
Each methodology has unique processes and workflows. Choosing the right framework for planning and executing your project will help your team be more organized, clearer on expectations and goals, and lead to more transparent and productive collaboration.
There is no one superior project management methodology — there are many different types, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. For more information on each methodology, and how to choose the one that fits your team, visit our page on project management methodologies.
What are the phases of managing a project?
Every project requires different processes and tasks, but they all follow the same stages. A project will always have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is called the project life cycle.
The project life cycle gives the project manager a way to tackle tasks in distinct phases. These include:
- The initiation phase
- The planning phase
- The execution phase
- The controlling & monitoring phase
- The closing phase
Each phase includes distinctive tasks and goals, allowing the team to approach a project in coordinated and straightforward steps. For more information on what each phase of the project life cycle involves, visit our page on understanding the project life cycle.
When you’re ready to start planning your project, read everything you need to know about project preparation and formation here or take a look at some of our other project management resources.