Basic Principles of Project Management

Project management, as defined by Wikipedia is “the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria.” Project management encompasses a set of activities designed to ensure the successful implementation of a project. It involves the use of several principles, policies, and procedures that are intended to guide a project from the initiation phase all along to its completion. 

According to a study conducted by Wrike, 80 percent of high-performing projects are led by a certified project manager, while only 2.5 percent of companies successfully complete 100 percent of their projects (Gallup). Armed with this information, the question is, “Why are some organizations still having second thoughts on implementing good project management?” The simple answer is cost.

Hiring a good project manager and implementing a robust project management process can be expensive. Salaries of senior project managers and their team alone can take as much as 20 percent of the overall budget. Costs that should be considered even before the project begins. However, at the end of the day, the goal of any organization undertaking a project is its successful completion, and this is where the benefit of project management comes in.

Some organizations don’t have a clear understanding of project management. They think that project management is synonymous to providing instructions to the team and explaining their objectives. This they say is supposed to make the project easier and cheaper. However, this can prove to be costlier in the long run. Going the more economical route may mean spiraling project costs or even worse a failed project. 

One of the critical components of the project management process involves risk management, it involves developing a clear methodology to manage risks to achieve project goals. Project management makes it possible for organizations to develop a well-executed plan for delivering the goals of a successful project.

What is Project Management?

In simple terms, project management is the process of overseeing a project to ensure it meets its objectives, deadlines, and budget. This discipline can be employed to any project, from big-ticket to small-budget projects.

Project managers are responsible for formulating the project management process. They start with identifying the scope of a project and defining in detail what the project’s objectives. A project manager’s task includes preparing a schedule, assigning tasks to individual team members, and setting timelines.

Project management involves the establishing of a budget and ensuring that the organization has enough resources to deliver the project and make available additional resources for unexpected contingencies. Project managers usually employ a design plan using the Critical Path Method, which is used to determine the correct order for the efficient completion of a project. 

Project management also includes communicating progress to management and shareholders. It involves monitoring every step of the process and ultimately ensuring the successful completion of the project.

By the Numbers – Important Project Management Statistics

Project management is an essential component of everyday business operations. Making project managers one of the key drivers of a successful project. In today’s data-driven environment, it has become possible to create a detailed picture of the current state of project management and its importance in business. 

Project management was developed to create an order to plan, coordinate, and manage all the activities of modern projects. The objective of project management is to predict and prevent the many difficulties of delivering a project. With this information, project managers plan and organize a project plan to minimize and eliminate all the risk to ensure the success of a project. Various studies have been undertaken by different organizations to create a better understanding of the importance of project management. Studies have shown that:

  • 80% of highly successful projects are supervised by a certified project manager
  • 60% of failed projects can be attributed to unrealistic deadlines
  • 77% of companies use project management software
  • 39% of failed projects are caused by poor planning and inadequate resources
  • 33% of projects fail because of poor support from management
  • Only 2.5% of companies successfully complete their projects within the original timeline
  • 57% of project fail because of poor communication
  • Only 40% of projects meet timeline, budget, and quality goals

What are the Goals of Project Management?

The goal of the project management process is to ensure the accomplishment of all business objectives. However, for this to happen, project objectives must be clearly defined as this will determine each step in the project lifecycle. Project goals must be measurable and contain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess the project’s performance objectively. These indicators will be involved in areas such as budget, deadlines, and the quality of output.

To get a clearer picture, below are the goals of the project management process:

Bring order into the working environment – project management steps provide a clear guide on how each member should perform and their responsibilities.

Improve project performance – by optimizing the workforce and resources through the development of a project plan; organizations can improve overall project performance.

Quality control – the project management process includes planning steps for monitoring and assuring the quality of project outcomes. This ensures that projects are not only able to deliver on schedule but also maintain the quality of their output. 

Keep costs within budget – without proper project management, project costs can be very difficult to manage. Project management processes provide procedures that minimize or eliminate the risk of budget overrun and ensure all expenses are within budget.

Learn from mistakes – project management includes constant monitoring and quality control. Having steps in place to monitor each step of the process makes it possible to identify errors and the ability to learn from these. Learning from mistakes makes it possible to improve processes and ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future.

What are the 5 Project Management Steps?

One of the most critical competencies of a professional project manager is to know the 5 primary phases of project management. The five project management basic steps enable the manager to break any project down into more manageable pieces, helping them develop a more coordinated strategy for delivering the project. It also allows project managers to assess each phase of the project and determine if project objectives are being met.

Project management involves five phases: initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing. Each step of the five phases requires constant monitoring and reporting.

Step 1: Project Initiation

The first phase of the project lifecycle is used to measure a project’s value and feasibility. This is where a project manager determines if a project should be abandoned if it is determined to be unprofitable and/or unfeasible. During this phase, project managers use two evaluation tools for assessing the project’s value or feasibility.

  • Business Case Document – this document justifies the need for the project, its benefits, and includes analyzing return on investment (ROI).
  • Feasibility study – this information enables a project manager to assess the resources necessary to complete the project. It helps the project manager determine if project benefits outweigh its costs and if this is something worth pursuing.

Step 2: Project Planning

Businesses who fail to plan, plan to fail. Project planning plays a critical role in determining the success or failure or a project. This is essentially the make or break phase of project management. Without an effective project plan, no measure of project execution can compensate for poor planning.

After getting initial approval for the project, the next step is to develop a comprehensive plan for delivering the project. These include creating a plan to keep the project on budget and within deadlines, acquiring the necessary resources, and setting quality standards. The project plan provides a basic outline on how the project is to be delivered, identifying potential risks, and creating an appropriate response to these risks.   

The project plan includes information on:

  • Scope of the project
  • Setting deadlines
  • Creating a workflow schedule
  • Identifying risks
  • Allocating resources for the project
  • Assigning roles and responsibilities
  • Tasks creation

Goal Creation

A large part of developing project plans is to create a strategy that meets specific goals. These objectives should be realistic and measurable. To create better goals, we suggest you follow the SMART method.

S – Specific, this should answer questions such as who, what, where, when, which and why

M – Measurable, goals must be clearly defined to determine if output meets project goals

A – Attainable, is your goal something that could be achieved given your resources

R – Realistic, is this something that can be accomplished

T – Timely, is it possible to deliver outcomes within the given deadline

Commonly Used Tools for Project Management and Planning

Project management tools enable project managers to put ideas into action. It helps them in the execution of projects, create insightful initiative, set a scope of deliverables, create specific deadlines for each task, and identify budget and resources needed to complete the project. These tools help project managers keep track of every aspect of the project to ensure that it runs within budget and schedule. Simply put, a project manager has a higher success rate when they can create a clear overview of the project and deliverables.

Two of the most popular project management tools being employed by project managers today are the Gantt Chart and Kanban Board.

Gantt Chart

Named after its inventor, Henry Gantt, the Gantt chart is a popular project management tool that uses a bar chart to track tasks across time. The Gantt chart did not initially show the correlation between tasks and current schedule status. Since its inception, it has now become a popular management tool for tracking schedules and their relationship with tasks, resources, and milestones. 

Modern Gantt charts provide information on a project’s start date, end date, and overview of the project. This is used to create the basic structure of the project, and the correlation of the different tasks within the project.

After creating a task structure, a Gantt chart takes each of these tasks and subtasks, plots them individually against time. It allows project managers to prioritize tasks and track its progress. Gantt charts are fundamental and can be created using spreadsheet tools such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.

Gantt charts can appear to be simple but can be difficult, especially without prior training. It takes time and practice for managers to create a detailed graphical representation of project timelines and subtask completion. However, it can prove to be very useful for complex projects as it allows project managers to track every detail of the project efficiently and with a great amount of accuracy.

Kanban Board

Kanban boards is a project management tool for visualizing tasks, workflow and identifying possible problems. A Kanban board does not require any special tools or software. A physical board such as a whiteboard can be used, or virtual boards that allow you to drag and drop “notes” across the board.

At its very core, Kanban boards use a 3-step process: To-do, In-progress, and Completed. In fact, this workflow provides the basis of most of the project management software used today, such as Trello, Podio, and QuickBase. Online Kanban boards certainly have advantages over their traditional counterparts. This allows individual team members to collaborate across multiple locations. They can get real-time updates on the status of the project and can even communicate with other team members with the messaging tool incorporated in modern Kanban-based project management tools.

Popular Project Management Software

With the increasing complexity of today’s projects, traditional project management strategies such as the Gantt chart and Kanban board can prove to be too simple to implement the growing demands of modern projects. Project management software makes it possible for qualified and even novice project managers to develop detailed project management plans in a more efficient and organized manner.

Conventional project management methods don’t cut it anymore. Using spreadsheets, whiteboards, and using word processing software (Google documents, Microsoft Word) to compile, record notes are labor intensive and takes too much time. To streamline the process of project management, this software has been designed to make the task of project planning simple. Below are some of the popular project management software being employed by today’s project managers.

  • Trello
  • Basecamp
  • Podio
  • QuickBase
  • Wrike
  • Monday.com

Step 3: Project Execution

This is the phase where the project plan is placed into action. The success of the execution phase ultimately depends on the planning phase. The execution phase is all about following through with the plan and implementing all the items contained in the planning phase. This is where the project manager takes hold of the reigns and ensures that all members perform designated assignments. As a project manager tasks include:

  • Assigning tasks to individual team members
  • Progress reports
  • Resource procurement
  • Ensuring deliverables meet deadlines
  • Overseeing team performance

Step 4: Project Monitoring

Project monitoring plays a critical role in ensuring the success of the project. This is continuously performed during the project execution phase, helping managers perform constant checks on project performance. It also makes it possible for a manager to identify potential risks and provide a timely response accordingly. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) help project managers track performance and ensure that the project remains within budget and adheres to set deadlines. KPIs can be used to measure: 

  • Quality deliverables – determines the quality of output
  • Project objective – gives a quick overview if the project is within budget targets and meets target schedules as defined in the project objectives
  • Cost tracking – to check if project costs are within budget and profit margins remain on track

Six Sigma and Quality monitoring

Project monitoring does not only involve checking if the project is on-budget or within schedule but more importantly determining the quality of output. And one of the most popular methods that businesses use today is to monitor their project is Six Sigma, a quality-control methodology developed by Motorola Inc. in 1986.

More than 50% of Fortune 500 companies use Six Sigma, and that figure rises to 82 percent when you look at just the Fortune 100. These numbers represent the huge positive impact of Six Sigma in improving project management and business processes.

Six Sigma was initially developed to identify and eliminate possible causes of defects in the manufacturing process. The end goal of this process is to help businesses improve efficiency by working faster with fewer mistakes. Over time, the Six Sigma methodology was incorporated into several industries. It has been modified by project managers to measure team effectiveness. Six Sigma can be used for a variety of purposes. This is usually implemented to develop a system for standardization or to introduce innovation.

Step 5: Project Closure

This indicates that the project is formally completed. A project is considered closed when the finished project is delivered to the customer, and results are reported to the stakeholders. The closure phase allows project managers to conduct a project evaluation and document results for future reference. Knowledge gained from this experience enables project managers to analyze mistakes and success to develop stronger processes for the next project.

Finishing the project does not mean the project management process is over. This also involves evaluating the total project performance. You must understand all the trends and process that led to the success or failure of your project and implement these for future projects.

Important things to consider include assessing if your project has met its objectives. You should also check if the project delivered at the expected rate and if the quality of output is consistent with expected standards. Things that a project manager should consider is if the project was delivered on budget. These are just of the things that project management allows you to do. Constant monitoring and keeping track of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) gives you an objective perspective of how well the project performed.

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