A Comprehensive Guide to Project Management
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What is Project Management?
Every organization, be it an SMB or an enterprise, deals with projects in some fashion or another, and project management becomes a critical aspect for these businesses as it directly affects costs, resources, and overall profits. Yet, only 2.5 percent of companies complete 100 percent of their projects. The reason: poor project management.
Projects are complex and multi-faceted, requiring careful planning, organizing, and monitoring. They include different stages and methodologies. Project managers must identify the right project management approach and best practices to ensure the success of the project.
We created this project management guide to help project managers learn useful methodologies, strategies, and tools needed to manage all the work they do.
Importance of Project Management
Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s largest nonprofit membership association for the project management profession, defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a broad range of activities to meet the requirements of a particular project.”
Project management definition can be derived from the definition of a project. A set of tasks accomplished within a start and finish date to achieve a defined outcome is a project. A project is said to be successful when it is completed within the constraints of scope, time, quality, and budget. Project management is the process of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing projects successfully.
Project managers are responsible for executing project management. They create a plan that meets the expectation of stakeholders. Once the plan is approved, they gather resources who have the required skill sets to work on the project. The project manager monitors and controls the project progress, expenses, costs, and budget during the execution phase. Project management software helps the managers plan, monitor, and report on projects.
The 5 stages of project management
Project Management Institute (PMI) has mapped project management activities into 5 process groups or phases. They are:
- Monitoring and Control
The initiation phase marks the beginning of the project. Project managers analyze the requirements of the project, define the scope, and identify the stakeholders. A Project Charter which documents the project objectives, deliverables, rough estimates of time and resources required to complete the project, initial stakeholders, and other related information is drafted and sent to clients and sponsors for approval. Project managers also define the approval processes and chain of communication.
During this phase project managers have to:
- Document business case and feasibility study
- Assemble a project team
- Set up a project office
Plan projects by stage and tasks
Centralize project documentation
The planning phase is all about figuring out how a project will be executed till completion. At this stage, project managers answer questions such as what is to be done, how is it going to be done, and what are the risks involved.
The whole project is broken down into smaller tasks and the completion time for each of the tasks is estimated. The project manager selects the project resources and sets roles. Success metrics for the project are defined and expectations are set. Potential risks and bottlenecks are identified. The project manager establishes the best practices the team should follow. Technology and tools required for the project are identified. Communication frequency (daily, monthly, yearly) is established and the way of communication (reports, emails) are decided.
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The project tasks are visualized on a Gantt chart. This chart shows the order of completion of tasks and task interdependencies. This serves as the roadmap for the project completion.
During this phase project managers have to:
- Create a task list
- Make a budget
- Create a risk management plan
- Create a communications plan
- Make a project schedule
- Assign tasks to team members
Optimize project budget
Generate accurate project timelines
The execution phase is where the plan is put into action. Project managers bring the required resources onboard and explain how the project will be executed. The project team members coordinate with each other and follow the communication plan to get the work done according to the approved project management plan.
Project managers monitor and track the budget, schedule, and quality performance, while mitigating risks, resolving issues, and incorporating any changes.
Additionally, this phase also covers the proper allocation and management of other project resources like materials and budgets. Project deliverables are the output of the execution phase.
This is where the bulk of the work happens. Now the plan is ready, the team can execute that plan. Along the way, the project manager will monitor and control the work to make sure that the project stays on track in terms of budget, schedule, and quality performance.
Project managers will also work to identify and mitigate risks, deal with problems, and incorporate any changes. The bulk of the work of a project manager happens in this phase.
During this phase project managers have to take care of:
- Task management
- Time management
- Cost management
- Quality management
- Change management
- Procurement management
- Resource management
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Monitoring and Control
Throughout the execution phase of the project management cycle, project managers check how the project is progressing against the plan. If the project is sliding off track, perhaps in terms of budget or schedule, managers take necessary action to get it back on course. A set of tools, processes, and skills are used to keep the managers informed about the day-to-day project progress. Project strategy, methodology, risk management, quality, and resources are a few common project controls.
During this phase project managers have to:
- Manage resources
- Monitor project performance
- Risk management
- Perform status meetings and reports
- Update project schedule
- Modify project plans
Get the pulse of your project
Track business metrics in real time
The closing phase signals the official end of the project. It’s the period for reflection, wrap-up, and organization of materials. Project managers handover the deliverables to stakeholders. The accounts team is notified about generating invoice for the remaining billing amount. The team’s performance is reviewed and efforts are recognized. Project flaws are analyzed and the scope for improvement is noted.
During this phase project managers have to:
- Confirm completion
- Transfer deliverables
- Initiate billing and revenue workflows
- Review documentation
- Release resources
- Do a post-mortem
How to Choose Project Management Methodologies
A project management methodology provides a roadmap with all the steps, including a defined governance structure, process guidelines, test activities, processes, and deliverables for the successful completion of a project. It provides a detailed and repeatable process that managers can follow to ensure optimum performance.
Here are the types of project management methodologies and when to use them:
What is it: The waterfall method follows a linear, sequential manner of completing tasks. Each stage of the project is completed before the next one begins.
When to use: This approach is best suited for projects that have a clear end goal that isn’t going to change. Stakeholders know what they want at each stage of the project.
What is it: In agile methodology, a project is completed in short phases with frequent testing, reassessment, and adaptation.
When to use: Projects are subjected to frequent changes and stakeholders don’t have full clarity on what the final solution will look like. The clients and stakeholders want to be involved at every stage and want to see speedy progress over perfect results.
Methodology: Critical Path Method
What is it: This approach involves identifying and scheduling all critical tasks and their dependencies to determine the project completion path with the least slack. This path is called the “critical path” and involves milestones to denote the completion of a large phase. The technique starts with a list of all activities, or a work breakdown structure, the duration of each task, what dependencies there are, and then mapping milestones and deliverables.
When to use: This method is best suited for small and mid-sized projects.
What is it: Projects that follow scrum methodology have tasks split into short cycles called sprints. Each sprint runs for about one or two weeks with tasks flowing from one week to the next until completion. Sprint retrospectives are held at the end of every sprint to review performance and make necessary changes before the next.
When to use: Scrum methodology works well for projects with small teams. It can be used for projects that need high levels of flexibility and continuous improvement.
What is it: Kanban takes a visual approach to project management. The tasks progress through various columns which represent the status of a project. All tasks are piled in the backlog column from which the team pulls their tasks on a continuous basis.
When to use: The goal is to accomplish the maximum amount of work without losing efficiency in the process. This works best when the project can be pursued incrementally with evolutionary changes.
What is it: Lean project management has its roots in the manufacturing industry. It was adopted and developed by Toyota for its Toyota Production System. This approach is all about providing what is needed when it is needed, with the minimum available resources such as materials, equipment, labor, and space to reduce waste in all business processes.
When to use: Lean can succeed in small projects with a short time frame. This methodology is widely used by manufacturing companies. But, it has been adopted by the construction and education industries and software development firms that are trying to improve and add value for the customers.
Methodology: Six Sigma
What is it: Six Sigma methods focus on delivering a consistent output of high quality while eliminating defects and reducing variation. Using these methods, one can optimize and improve existing processes or create new ones. DMAIC — Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control — is used to improve existing business processes. And DMADV — Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify — is used to create new processes. These methods can be applied alongside other project management methodologies, such as lean and agile, to further reduce waste and achieve better efficiency.
When to use: Six Sigma methodologies can be used by any large organization. From new product feature releases to improvements on manufacturing projects.
What is it: PRINCE2 is the acronym of Projects IN Controlled Environments. Unlike the other project management methodologies, PRINCE2 is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It follows seven principles, themes, and procedures.
When to use: It’s best suited for projects that can be mapped to the seven-step process. It is a popular project management methodology used by UK governmental agencies and the United Nations.
Project Management Tools and Software
Project management software allows project managers to effectively manage all the processes, resources, and time allocated to each project while enabling organization, planning, tracking, managing, and reporting on projects.
Polaris is one solution that helps project-based businesses uncover hidden efficiencies, profits, and revenues with advanced capabilities to manage their entire business operations. Here’s why our solution stands out from our competitors:
- MissionControl provides a comprehensive, real-time view of the pulse of the business for leaders focused on practices, clients, projects, resources, or finances, as well as integration with leading BI tools.
- SmartBudget makes it easy to optimize professional services revenue and pricing by accounting for all relevant metrics, including true resource costs, utilization, margins, and more.
- SmartBeats and Project Pulse provide real-time insights into the status of projects and tasks, with ongoing updates for work completed, work to be done, and estimated completion, instead of relying on out-of-date weekly timesheets.
- SmartMatch is an intelligent resource recommendation engine that provides the closest resource option based on your criteria and ensures the right resources are allocated to the right projects.
- Collaborative Resourcing Workflow enables conversations between project and resource managers around the right resources for projects.
- Skills Cloud provides tracking and smart display of skills, certifications, and expertise levels for each resource as needed by your services firm.
- Project, Resource, and Financial Governance standardize projects, resources, billing, and other processes across your services business for a consistent view.
- Bill Plan Engine and Multidimensional Rate Card provide versatile bill plan modeling to accommodate various client/project billing and invoicing needs — fixed-bid, time and materials, flat, or any combination.
- Mobile, Enterprise-Grade, Cloud Platform is secure, global, configurable, and scalable to support millions of users.
- Plug-and-Play offers smooth integration so you can share the project, resource, time, costs, and billing information with your ecosystem — whatever that may be.
Want to learn how Polaris can help you manage projects from start to finish? Talk to our solution experts today.Get Live Demo
A Brief History of Project Management
Long before project management became organized, documented into guides and courses, evidence shows that large projects like the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, and the Colosseum were completed successfully while managing big teams that worked to achieve a common objective with time and budget constraints.
The modern project management practices started to evolve in the early 1900s with Henry Gantt creating the scheduling diagram — the Gantt chart. The chart is a bar chart, providing a visual representation of a set of tasks scheduled over time. Gantt charts are still used today to plan and track projects.
In 1956, project management practitioners formed the American Association of Cost Engineers — a professional society for project managers, cost estimators and engineers, schedulers, and project controllers. It continues to provide its members and stakeholders with the resources they need to enhance their project management skills and performance. In 2006, it came up with the Total Cost Management Framework — the first integrated process for portfolio, program, and project management.
In 1957, Dupont Corporation created the Critical Path Method (CPM) for estimating project duration by analyzing activity sequences that have the least scheduling flexibility. This method was created to handle the complex process of closing and restarting chemical plants for maintenance. Within the first year of implementation, the company saved $1M using this technique.
In 1958, the United States Department of Defense’s US Navy Special Projects Office developed the Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) to aid its Polaris mobile submarine-launched ballistic missile project. This method focuses on finding the least time required to complete a project by analyzing the time required to finish the tasks in the project.
In 1962, the United States Department of Defense created the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Approach as a part of the Polaris mobile submarine-launched ballistic missile project. WBS is a comprehensive, hierarchical tree structure visualizing all the deliverables and tasks that need to be executed for completing a project. Private sectors adopted this approach and it remains the most popular project management tool.
In 1965, the world’s first project management association, International Project Management Association (IPMA), was founded. It is a federation of about 50 national and internationally oriented project management associations with more than 120,000 members.
In 1969, Project Management Institute (PMI) — a nonprofit professional organization — was created to improve the approaches, practices, and profession of project management. It published “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK),” which is considered one of the best tools in the project management profession. The institution offers two project management certifications — Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and Project Management Professional (PMP).
Learn the history and evolution of project management with this intuitive infographic.
Who is a Project Manager?
Project managers lead a project from planning to closing. They are responsible for creating project scope, gathering the resources, communicating the project status to stakeholders, and ultimately the success or failure of the project. A Project Management Institute study predicts that by 2027, employers will need 87.7 million individuals working in project management-oriented roles.
How to Become a Project Manager
Project managers are professionals who enjoy solving problems, setting and meeting goals, and leading a team. While there are many certifications to qualify project managers, you have to build several soft and technical skills to be successful at the job.
Important soft skills for a project manager:
- Confidence: Project managers are the anchor between the customer, stakeholders, and team members. They should constantly emanate conviction to ensure the project is executed as a well-oiled machine. They should both give and receive feedback while leading the team to success.
- Interpersonal skills: Everyday project managers communicate with several people, dodging conflicts that could potentially derail the project. They should be approachable for their team members to come to them with problems they are facing. They should have good negotiation skills to ensure that they don’t commit to unreasonable deadlines.
- Organization: Projects are usually executed in phases and involve many stakeholders. Project managers should be able to prioritize, coordinate, and delegate tasks to ensure the successful completion of the project.
- Agility: It’s not uncommon for project objectives to change during the project lifecycle. Managers should demonstrate the flexibility to quickly adapt to the changes.
Important technical skills for a project manager:
- Contract management: Project managers should have good knowledge about the laws and activities required to fulfill a project contract. They should know how to turn requirements into service requirements and select vendors to fulfill them.
- Risk analysis and management: Uncertainty is an inevitable part of project management. Managers should have the ability to predict potential uncertainties and minimize the impact.
- Budgeting: Every project needs to be completed within the budget to be profitable. Project managers need to estimate costs, set budgets, and control the actual costs. They need to plan how their team should utilize the funds during the project life cycle.
How to Get Project Management Certifications
There are several institutes that certify project managers. These certificates validate that you have the necessary skills to plan, budget, schedule, execute, deliver, and report on projects. Here are a few of the most popular project management certifications that will add value to your profile:
Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification
The PMP certification is the gold standard for project managers globally. The certification allows project managers to practice in any industry using any project management methodology across any location.
To apply for the certification, one must have a high school diploma, an associate’s degree or the global equivalent, and 35 hours of project management education and 7,500 hours of leading projects. For four-year degree holders, 35 hours of project management education and 4,500 hours of leading projects will qualify. The cost of the certification is USD 405 for members and USD 555 for non-members.
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
CAPM certification demonstrates that you have a good understanding of project management fundamentals, terminologies, processes, and methodologies. It helps you stand out in the job market and enhances your credibility. The certification is valid for five years.
To apply for the certification, one should have a high school diploma, an associate’s degree or the global equivalent, and 1,500 hours of project management experience. Or, have 23 hours of project management education. The exam costs USD 225 for members and USD 300 for non-members.
Certified Scrum Master (CSM) Certification
As IT organizations are increasingly moving towards agile methodologies, they are looking for project management professionals with Scrum Master certification. Certified scrum masters have a good knowledge of the Scrum framework, team roles, events, artifacts, and rules that enable team members to perform at their best levels.
Professionals who wish to be CSM certified need to have basic knowledge of Scrum methodology and attend a 16-hour CSM course. On passing the exam, the attendee will be given a license and membership to Scrum Alliance. The cost of the entire course and certification is approximately between USD 995 and USD 1,395.
CompTIA Project+ Certification
The CompTIA Project+ examination is specially designed for project management professionals who largely manage small-to-medium-sized projects. It is a basic project management certification suitable for professionals having up to one year of project management experience and managing simple projects. Project+ Certification helps professionals learn about the project management frameworks, tools, documentation, and change management.
To apply for this certification, professionals should have one year of project management experience, along with strong communication and stakeholder management skills. The price of certification is USD 285.
Certified Project Management Practitioner (CPMP)
Certified Project Management Practitioner (CPMP) is a basic project management course for professionals who want to get hands-on experience with various project management methodologies. The certification lays a strong foundation for technical, leadership, and management skills that enable professionals to handle every project successfully.
The certification does not require any prior project management experience. The candidate can attend a three-day preparation course before taking the exam. The certification costs USD 199.
Associate in Project Management (APM)
APM is another entry-level certification for professionals who want to master the basic project management framework. The certificate is globally recognized and demonstrates that the candidate has the required knowledge to be a project manager. The certification exam involves 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in one hour and the candidate is required to score 70 percent to pass.
The certification does not have any pre-requisite project management knowledge. The exam costs USD 300.
Master Project Manager (MPM) Certification
The American Academy of Project Management (AAPM) issues the Master Project Manager (MPM) certification to project management professionals who meet their predefined requirements of education, project management training, managerial experience, industry knowledge, and ethics.
Candidates applying for the certification require three years of project management experience. The certification process will cost approximately USD 300 with an option of free waiver for professionals holding master’s degrees and those who are military veterans.
Professional in Project Management (PPM) Certification
The Professional in Project Management (PPM) course is conducted by the Global Association for Quality Management (GAQM) for mid-level project managers. It trains them to develop better project schedules, measure outcomes, and lead their teams to success.
Candidates applying for this certification must complete an online course provided by GAQM and have prior project management experience. The certification costs USD 300.
Challenges of Effective Project Management
Whether you are a project professional who is just getting started or an expert with years of experience, leading project teams to success is not easy. Project managers always need to be on their toes to ensure that the project remains within all the agreed-upon constraints of time, scope, and budget. Here are the common challenges that project managers need to dodge:
- Project Bidding Issues: 80 percent of the project profitability is determined at the bid stage. So, it becomes incredibly important to estimate the bid accurately. An overvalued bid can lead to losing the project to competitors. An undervalued bid will help you win the project but lose money due to cost overruns. Without historical data to analyze costs of similar projects and factor in resource time, costs, and overheads, it is almost impossible to bid profitably.
- Poor Sales to Delivery Hand-Off: When the sales team hands over project requirements to the delivery team in an unorganized way, a lot of valuable information is lost during the transition. This friction could lead to unreasonable commitments, missed deadlines, and cost overruns.
- Resource Scheduling Conflicts: A PMI survey reveals that inefficient resource allocation is one of the major causes of project failures. The majority of the survey respondents identified inadequate resource forecasting and resource dependency as common factors that put their projects at risk. Now, with a remote workforce and global resource pool, project managers have harder time planning, scheduling, and allocating resources with the right skills for maximizing utilization.
- Lack of Real-time Insights: Without up-to-date information on project status, potential bottlenecks, probability of meeting the deadline, how much it has and will cost, and more, project managers can’t complete a project successfully. Inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistent data that is unfit for any analysis hinders project managers from making informed decisions in an agile way. When managing and collaborating with team members in different locations and time zones, managers need a single view to track the project status and quickly identify potential bottlenecks. Pulling reports from multiple sources and then spending hours to make sense of that data is highly time-consuming and inefficient.
- Project Costs Issues: Regardless of a project being internal or external, cost management and budgeting can mean the difference between successful project completion and a costly mistake. When not managed efficiently, labor costs such as turnover time, idle time, and wasted resources may consume a significant share of cash flow. Also, with a number of projects running in parallel, it can get difficult to identify which project is causing the maximum leakage of cost and resources. And without this visibility, you might see billing errors, incorrect statements of work, and misquotes — all leading to lost revenue or projects going over budget.
- Inaccurate Project Time Tracking: Project hours are spread across different point solutions — PSA, ERP, Payroll, and individual calendar. Without a single source of truth for time data, project managers could either underestimate the project time and sell it short, or overcharge the client, therefore damaging the customer relationship. The inability to capture the billable and non-billable and non-billable hours accurately leads to revenue leakages and poor project profitability.
- Poor Governance: Without a clear definition of roles, structures, processes, policies, liabilities, and decision models for controlling the project, driving it to success is an uphill task. Inefficient governance has a negative impact on the project timeline, budget, and deliverables, ultimately making the project delivery process non-repeatable and unpredictable.
- Scope Creep: Remember the time when the project sponsor added new requirements at the last minute or changed project objectives without allocating more time or budget? This is a classic example of scope creep. It is a common challenge that occurs when you don’t have a set process to deal with change requests. Scope creep can be avoided by understanding the requirements clearly and monitoring the project’s status and baseline scope.