What is Project Management? A Guide for Beginners

What is project management?

If someone asked you, “What is project management?”, would you find it easy to answer? Of course, it’s about managing projects but what exactly does that entail? 

Project management is so multi-faceted that it’s not easy to explain in just a few words. Even project managers at the start of their careers tend to realize very quickly that there’s more to the role than meets the eye. 

In this post, we’ll share a clear definition of project management, explore the project management process, and provide actionable tips for successfully managing projects. 

What is project management? 

If you’ve ever helped organize a group project in school, or even planned a vacation, you’ve taken on some degree of project management. 

In the context of a business, however, project management can be defined as “the application of processes, expertise, and tools in order to meet project goals and requirements within a specific timeframe.” A project, in this context, is an endeavour carried out with the goal of achieving specified objectives. Building a new website is a project, for example, as is writing a how-to guide or designing a logo. 

Project management, however, is nothing without the work of dedicated project managers (PMs). The numerous roles of a PM can include: 

  • Ensuring projects are completed within a set timeline
  • Acting as a liaison between clients and internal teams
  • Setting and managing expectations 
  • Planning and defining project scope
  • Creating and implementing processes
  • Resource management
  • Analyzing risk and roadblocks
  • Monitoring project status 
  • Reporting and leading project retrospectives 

While every department requires some form of project management — or the support of a Project Management Office — many companies still fail to fully understand the value of project managers.

Some of the benefits of project management include: 

  • Boosted efficiency: Project managers use industry-proven methodologies to plan, execute, and monitor tasks and projects to ensure they’re on-track. When project roadblocks occur, project managers are skilled in resolving disputes and finding solutions to ensure projects meet their deadlines. 
  • Higher accountability: A well-managed project will have a clearly-defined scope of work and clearly-defined roles. Not only does this make responsibilities more clear to all stakeholders, but the ongoing monitoring of the project manager ensures that everyone is held accountable for the delivery of their tasks.
  • Cutting costs: Experienced PMs recognize when projects are at risk of scope creep and can nip it in the bud. Project management will also save you money by reducing wasted time and effort and identifying opportunities for increased efficiency. 

The project management process

While all projects are unique, there’s an overarching set of processes that remains consistent. When you begin with a solid and proven framework, like the one below, you increase the likelihood of a successful project. 

Initiation (research and discovery)

Before a project begins, it’s important to conduct research in order to determine whether to proceed. This stage of the process can include market research, competitive analyses, brainstorming and/or focus groups, and other forms of user research. It’s within this stage that the project goals and objectives are determined, as well as what will be required to achieve said goals. 

Planning

Once the project scope and objectives are determined, planning can get underway. This is where you’ll figure out what exactly needs to be done, and how that’s going to happen. With proper planning, you’re able to manage your team’s time, the project cost, risk, as well as budget and timeline. The planning phase is where you’ll list the schedule of all tasks, the work breakdown structure, resource planning, a communications strategy if needed, and anything else required to help prepare for the project to actually begin. Once you’ve identified the actual work needing to be done, created a detailed schedule, and built an appropriate budget, you’re ready to move on to the execution phase. 

Execution

This is where the project is put into motion — and where most of the project manager’s time is spent. In the execution (or implementation) phase, team members carry out their roles within the project. The project manager is there to provide guidance, check-in, and respond to requests.   

Monitoring and adjustment 

Once a project is underway, the project manager also needs to ensure everything is on track. They do this through constant monitoring. When an issue or roadblock is identified, they facilitate adjustments as needed. This phase of the project often includes a testing period. The results of these tests either guide further changes or confirm that a project is ready for launch. 

Completion

The final stage of the project management process is its completion. Here, the project manager makes sure that the stakeholder or client has all the project deliverables, any relevant project documentation, and the closure of the project is communicated. Once the client or stakeholder is satisfied with the project deliverables, you can start planning your project retrospective to identify lessons learned — and to celebrate successes. 

How to better manage projects

Now that you understand what’s involved in project management, it’s time to hone your skills. Here are some tips to help you achieve success as a project manager: 

Get to know the lingo 

When starting out as a project manager, it can often feel like everyone around you is speaking a different language. Become familiar with project management terminology and definitions before you start to ensure you’re not missing crucial information when the time comes. 

Improve communication

Arguably the most important skill for any project manager to have, you want to make sure your approach to communication is clear and efficient. As we explained in a recent blog post, “According to the Project Management Institute’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, about 75-90 percent of a project manager’s time at work is spent communicating.” 

Begin by establishing a structured communications framework (so everyone understands expectations and process), practice mindful listening (both to words and body language or actions), and…  

Use the right tools 

The right tools can make all the difference when it comes to effective project management. From creating projects and tasks to analyzing data and reports, there are countless tools available to make your job help you better manage projects. 

If you’re looking to elevate your experience and streamline your tools, Unito can help. Unito helps with team coordination and project management so you can break down project silos, automatically keep projects up to date, effortlessly share updates with key stakeholders, and manage clients — all from your tool of choice.

Manage risks properly 

Every project will have some degree of risk. Your goal should be to manage potential risks before issues ever arise. 

Dedicate time (before the project begins) to think about any outside forces that could impact timelines, the quality of work, or your team members. For example, if you know a certain stakeholder is a very thorough editor, ensure you’re leaving an adequate amount of time to address their revisions. 

Avoid scope creep

Scope creep happens when major changes are requested during a project that increase the amount of work required. 

As you plan a project, ensure you and your stakeholders are perfectly aligned on the overall scope. Collaborate on a change process in case anything absolutely needs to be changed during the course of the project. You should get buy-in for that process from both the stakeholders and your team before the project kicks off. 

Accept feedback

Feedback is an invaluable resource for any project manager, but especially for those just starting out. The best way to learn and grow is by actually doing the work, gaining experience, and receiving constructive feedback. This feedback can help you make better decisions in future projects, so it’s always a good idea to encourage those working with you to provide feedback both as you undertake a project, and at its completion. Ask your team and stakeholders:

  • What could I have done better? 
  • What’s one thing you appreciated about my approach/work?
  • What was the biggest roadblock during the project? Is there anything I could have done to fix this? 
  • What was the biggest success of the project? 

These are all great starting points. They invite larger conversations or act as the foundation of a good retrospective

Project management is one of the most critical components of any business. From the numerous roles of a project manager, to the many phases of the project management process, it’s clear why successful project managers are irreplaceable.

What’s next?

  1. Want to use project management to stick to your resolutions? Find out how you can do that here.
  2. See how Unito is shaping the flow of work.
  3. Ready to start? Try Unito free for 14 days!