Project Management Guide
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How to Manage a Project From Start to Finish

Managing a project can seem overwhelming for a new project manager. Even small projects can be complex, with lots of moving parts. However, the best way to manage a project successfully is to break it down into manageable phases and tasks, and to follow proven project management processes.

Project management processes

There are five process groups used to manage projects. These are:

  1. Project initiation: This is where an idea gets approved to become a project. The project charter is created in this phase. 
  2. Project planning: During this phase, you plan all of the work of the project, including what has to be done, how it will be done, when it will be done, who will do it, and how you will monitor and control the whole thing. The bulk of project management processes fall within this group. Any project manager will tell you the success of your project comes down to how well you plan.
  3. Project execution: This is the phase where the actual work will occur. It also includes managing communications, quality, and your project team.
  4. Project monitoring & control: This phase overlaps the others and includes all the processes for making sure the project follows the plan. It includes processes for controlling the scope, schedule, and budget.
  5. Project closure: At this point, your project has completed its objectives (or failed), and closure processes are implemented to close out and wrap on the project.

As of the sixth edition of the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge), there are a total of 49 processes that fall within these five groups. Following these 49 processes will give you a proven structure for managing any project, which will increase your likelihood of success.

How to effectively manage a project

To manage a project effectively, you should also be aware of the following statistics:

According to PMI’s 2018 Pulse Survey, the top three drivers of project success are:

  1. Investing in actively engaged executive sponsors
  2. Avoiding scope creep or uncontrolled changes to a project’s scope
  3. Maturing value delivery capabilities

According to the same survey, there are also three primary reasons that projects fail:

  1. A change in the organization’s priorities
  2. A change in project objectives
  3. Erroneous requirements gathering

An engaged sponsor and frequent communication help ensure the organization’s priorities and the project’s objectives stay aligned. If your company has a portfolio manager, they can also ensure this happens. To reduce the risk of gathering the wrong requirements, consider the following tips:

  • Have clearly defined project objectives, goals, and outcomes
  • Have a clear scope statement, with constraints identified
  • Conduct requirement gathering sessions with key stakeholders, including the end-users of the final project output
  • Hold a requirements review and approval meeting to have stakeholders sign-off on requirements
  • Keep documentation of everything to ensure there is an audit trail for any requirement changes

Additional tips for project management success

Here are three additional tips for improving your project management skills and managing projects more effectively.

Tip #1: Communicate constantly

There’s a saying that roughly 90% of a project manager’s job is communication. Frequent communication with your team and all other stakeholders provides numerous benefits. These include:

  • Helping everyone to stay engaged
  • Ensuring expectations and understandings are aligned
  • Identifying risks and potential issues early
  • Reducing the chances of conflicts and rework

The last thing you want is an idle team member who thinks they’re still waiting on another team member to finish something when in fact, it’s already done. Or someone continuing to work on a design aspect that is no longer needed due to a scope change. You should schedule regular status meetings with everyone working on or directly impacting the project. This allows everyone to share updates and discuss problems as they arise. In addition, a regular project report should be provided to all stakeholders to keep them informed of the status of the project. If an issue arises, or something goes wrong, it’s important to communicate this to everyone involved as soon as possible. If you delay raising the issue, it can make it more difficult to resolve, and impact your standing within the company — you don’t want people to think you were hiding a problem.

Tip #2: Be proactive

No plan ever works out perfectly, especially when it comes to project management. To minimize the impact of changes to the project, it’s important to be as proactive as possible. A big piece of this is risk management. Identify risks early and regularly review known risks with your team to understand if they’ve changed or if there are any new ones to add. Once a risk is identified, determine how you plan to mitigate the chance of it occurring, and what you will do if or when it does happen. Consider what may go wrong and think about how you will deal with it. What is your ‘Plan B?’ You should also be aware of upcoming milestones and deliverables and how the team is progressing toward them (again, constant communication is key). You don’t want to end up in a situation where you find out the day a deliverable is due that it won’t be ready for another two weeks.

Tip #3: Know that you’re not alone

A project manager is not solely responsible for the success of a project, even if it sometimes feels like it. It’s important to rely on the expertise and support of others, particularly when you’re a new project manager.

Keep your sponsor informed and engaged, and don’t be afraid to escalate problems to them. For example, if you just lost a key project resource, your sponsor may be able to find you a replacement much quicker and easier than you can.

It’s critical to build a team of competent people you can trust and rely on. Make use of subject matter experts and resources who have been on similar projects in the past.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for advice. If your organization has a lessons learned database, do some research on similar past projects to better understand best practices, tips, and advice. You can also speak to other project managers who may have more experience in a particular area.

Use project management templates, tools, and software to help manage, control, and report on your project. It can save you time, increase your visibility of the project, and even flag potential issues when they arise.

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