How to get into project management? This might sound like a tough question.
Project management is an activity that allows teams to achieve objectives. At the same time, it is a powerful way of managing change and transforming the company through projects.
In this way, the ability to manage projects concerns almost all professions, and guess what? The subject is super interesting!
This article provides a complete and clear definition of project management and shares many good practices. So, tighten your harness, Appvizer brings you to the high mountains of project management!
What is project management?
The concept of project management
Project management is defined as the activity that allows the design and the execution of a project. The goal is to obtain the desired results, under 3 circumstances that are:
This understanding of work differs from "trades", which most of the time separate design and execution. However, this mode of operation is tending to disappear in favor of project-based work, which is a vector of greater productivity.
Project management also has the virtue of managing the paradox between customer knowledge and capacity for action:
- At the beginning of the project, the project team has a significant capacity for action, but little knowledge.
- Then, and throughout the project, knowledge increases, and the capacity to act decreases.
In fact, project management makes it possible to bring a maximum of knowledge at the beginning of the project when one has a great capacity for action. This means that you have to think carefully before you start.
The 4 phases of project management
So, how to get into project management? Are there any specific steps to follow?
Well, depending on the methodology, a project can be divided into 4, 7 or more phases.
Let's make it simple and focus only on 4 phases!
1. Analyzing the needs
As we mentioned it before, the starting point of project planning is the formalization of the expected result (deliverable).
The project owner's needs must therefore be clearly and completely expressed so that they can be received and analyzed in the same way by the project managers. From this analysis will be defined the 3 structuring components of the project (time, budget, scope).
👉 In fact, if the need analysis is wrong, the project planning will necessarily be incorrect and the project will not reach its objective. The construction of a solid development in project management requires time and thinking.
Thus, the project team often goes through the step of writing the functional and technical specifications, so that there is no ambiguity about the need.
💡 To define the objective at the origin of a project in a relevant way, it is common to apply the SMART method. It implies that the objective is both:
2. Building and planning
On the basis of the specifications, or the project plan, design and execution will work together to evaluate the effort required to deliver the expected result (costing phase).
The other parameters are generally derived from this one and the balance between them is done through argued exchanges and decisions.
The project owner and the project manager decide on an expected launch date, they are important jobs.
The division of the project into missions and tasks allows deciding on a sequence of tasks.
This work is often materialized by a Gantt chart. In addition to the tasks, the planning must take into account the reflection phases and non-productive time (meetings, decisions, expectations).
Phase 2 usually results in a backlog of work.
💡 What is a project plan?
A project plan is defined as both a reflection and a document. It is usually made before the launch of the project, for organizational reasons.
Its objectives? To serve as a roadmap for the whole team!
More than that, it is also a communication support tool to exchange with the client. This is why it must be sufficiently complete and contain the following information:
- the project objectives,
- the expected deliverables,
- the deadlines,
- the necessary resources,
- the allocated budget,
- project planning.
3. Leading and managing
Leading and managing is the phase that requires the most interpersonal skills and responsiveness from the project manager. The project manager must monitor the proper execution of the project. It requires several processes and several years of experience to be comfortable with this phase. They must identify:
- the friction points,
- drifts, etc.
The objective is to propose solutions quickly if blocking elements appear. It requires a strong sense of leadership to learn and find the best solution. The construction of a solid development in project management requires time and thinking.
Project management and steering are assisted by dashboards and reporting tools.
💡 Many project management software (SaaS) allows benefiting from real-time information on the project progress in order to react quickly if necessary and to fluidify communication and collaboration between teams.
4. Closing and evaluating
A project reaches its final phase as soon as its objective is reached. Reporting and dashboards are therefore essential to justify the achievement of an objective.
Contrary to what one might think, there is one last step after the objective has been reached.
This last step has the objective to make an assessment at the end of a project. This review allows future projects to benefit from good practices and to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Learning and continual improvement is part of the project management culture.
At each stage of project management, it is essential to:
- communicate regularly with the stakeholders,
- control drifts, anticipate risks,
- adapt (loss of skill, arrival of a new collaborator, technological opportunity),
- manage people: this is the main factor in the success or failure of a project.
👉 Don't neglect these cross-functional activities. When you play with time and run out of it, you tend to push them to the back burner. Yet, it is these activities that make the difference between a successful project and a failed one.
Project management and project breakdown methods
Project management methods
There is a battery of project management methods, each being more or less relevant according to the profile of the project, the industry you are working in, the functioning of the company, and its culture:
- Agile: the agile method allows working in an iterative mode, and thus to value the tactical approach. It is the most popular method for innovative projects.
- Scrum: Scrum is a set of Agile best practices, particularly effective for creative projects. Short sprint planning is an important feature of this method.
- PMBoK: the Project Management Body of Knowledge is a guide to structure and control the knowledge around a project.
- Prince2: the PRojects IN Controlled Environments method focuses on 3 points: organization, management, and control of the project. It is a rigorous method used for large-scale projects.
- PERT: The Program Evaluation and Review Technique is a method for representing the interdependence of tasks to be performed and the calculation of critical paths. It is a logical visualization of a project.
- The Critical Path Method (CPM) allows you to create a project management plan based on a model including the list of tasks, their dependencies and their estimated time. This allows identifying the most critical path to reach the objective.
Project breakdown methods
The common denominator between all project management methods is to divide the project into activities, then into missions and finally into tasks. To do this, here are some effective methods:
- PBS (Product Breakdown Structure),
- WBS (Work Breakdown Structure),
- OBS (Organization Breakdown Structure),
- TBS (Time Breakdown Structure).
7 best practices in project management
Many projects miss their objectives. To avoid this, a lot of common sense and good practices are necessary.
- Estimate all the risks (technical complexity, lengthening of deadlines, financing problems, etc.) before the start of the project: you prevent them from materializing (drifts) by providing a safety margin,
- Define the scope of the project as clearly as possible: detail the inclusions (what is part of the project) and exclusions (what is not part of the project), and record them in specifications or in your terms of reference,
- Break down the project into smaller subsets: choose one of the methods above;
- List skills and assign roles so your team will be more balanced and efficient,
- Use the Product Breakdown Structure throughout the project: an imbalance in communication can lead to frustration and even rejection of the project. Facilitate collaboration and information flow by using a tool like z0 Gravity,
- Trust common sense: despite all the project management methods, common sense (also called "instinct") can give velocity to the project, for example, to motivate talents over time and not only at the beginning,
- Compress the 3 dimensions of the project to the maximum: and get the MVP (Minimum Viable Product)! This means reducing the scope of the project as much as possible in order to reduce the cost and time.
Achieve your objectives with project management
Project management is a discipline that allows you to achieve project objectives under the three constraints of time, budget and scope. Its structured organization, based on a commitment to results, allows you to achieve very high levels of productivity by reducing costs and/or creating more value.
Online certifications also exist to help you learn and know more on the subject and how to release the best project possible.
By choosing the right methods and tools, you will move your projects and your teams forward with efficiency!