In the first part of our Project Management series, we elaborated on its importance, how project management helps and how it works. We also discussed all the benefits your small business can enjoy by putting it into practice.
In this post, we aim to illustrate how to plan a project effectively from start to finish. Moreover, we are going to analyse the necessary components and steps you have to take for successful project management.
Project management is a process that consists mainly of five stages: Conception, Planning, Execution, Performance and Project Close. These phases are not a random terminology we came up with; there is actually a Project Management Institute (a non-profit organization) that outlined this in a book. The PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge) contains the fundamental practises Project Managers can use to bring out the best results.
Basic principles of project management
In order to understand and incorporate project management into your company, you need to realize that all of the phases we’re going to discuss below, comprise a project’s life cycle.
Each project’s lifecycle should give answers to important questions such as:
What tasks should be carried out
What the desired outcomes should be
How each stage should be managed and monitored
What role each team member is going to assume
Defining these aspects will help you complete a project in a systematic, timely manner; a process which will ultimately benefit all those involved in the project.
Now, let’s dive into the basic elements of project management!
The 5 components of project management
#1 Conception and Initiation
During the first stage of project management, the team must examine an idea of a project thoroughly and decide whether it would benefit the company to pursue it or not.
All those ideas and goals that were conceived during your business planning process can be better researched and put to the test at this stage of project management. However, in this stage you can also decide about new and unexpected projects that might have come up and need to be included.
Moreover, the project’s stakeholders should look into all the business needs that have to be met in order to receive a “green light” to proceed with the rest of the stages of project management.
If the project gets approved, then the manager should draft a Project Initiation Document (PID); in simple terms, the official roadmap for the project’s completion. The PID should contain vital information regarding the project’s requirements, purpose and business case.
#2 The core planning
Successful team project planning is identical to developing a strategy that everyone can commit to and follow. In this phase of project management, you are required to define its scope, the monetary resources it will need, its quality and set a realistic timeframe in which all of it has to be completed.
However, keep in my mind that your goals should remain realistic, specific and measurable in terms of success.
So, once you have the roles and responsibilities sorted out you need to make sure your project stays on track. How? By breaking down the project planning process step by step! The best way to manage projects is “Divide and conquer”.
Here are some documents that will help you do that, according to the PMBOK:
- Scope statement: This is where you clearly state to the stakeholders the project’s benefits, deliverables and milestones.
- Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS): It is the project’s scope but broken down into smaller, more manageable bits for the team to complete one at a time. This way, it’s easier for them to focus and keep their eyes on the prize (your goals), thus boosting their productivity.
- Milestones: A document that identifies the key goals that absolutely have to be met at every stage throughout the project. You can include milestones in your Gantt Chart.
- Gantt Chart: It’s a timeline you may use in order to better plan out your goals and milestones.
- Communication plan: Create a schedule in order to promptly notify stakeholders about the project’s progress, deliverables and key milestones.
- Risk Management plan: It is absolutely important that you identify and anticipate some kind of change in your planning. It’s quite common that a project manager overestimates the required time to complete each stage or underestimates the costs. Having a backup plan to manage setbacks and change is crucial.
Now is the time to schedule a team debrief and distribute the members involved with tasks. This phase of project management is where all the action takes place - where the team gets to collaborate and execute the plan.
It is without a doubt a high-activity season and to make sure everyone is on the same page, you need closely monitor if everyone is keeping up with the timeline.
Τhat said, it is also the longest phase of the project management lifecycle, where most resources are being utilized.
During this phase the project managers are required to compare the delivered results insofar to the initial ones, hence draw conclusions about the progress made.
This is when the managers can make the necessary strategy adjustments so that everything aligns with the project management objectives. A quite useful tool to carry out this assessment is key performance indicators (KPIs) which will help you evaluate important aspects such as:
- The cost of your efforts compared to the allocated budget
- The quality of your deliverables
- Meeting the objectives and keeping up with the schedule
- The efficiency with which your team deals with unexpected events and scope changes.
This is the final phase of a project’s lifecycle, provided that it has been successfully completed. The project manager may hold a meeting - euphemistically called “post-mortem” - inviting all the team members that participated in the project and discuss important points.
This is a sort of overall evaluation of what went well and, at the same time, spot mistakes. The closure phase is especially important because it helps everyone learn from their failures and make improvements so they can be avoided in the future.
So, there you have it! A comprehensive guide for easy and effective project management!
Stay tuned, as the 3rd part of this series includes the absolutely essential components you should not overlook when planning a project. After all, success lies in the details!