How to manage a project from start to finish
Being able to successfully manage a project is a valuable skill for nearly any role in any type of business. But with all of the different frameworks, jargon, and concepts, knowing what steps to take to effectively manage a project can be challenging. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all of the options, you can learn the exact steps you need to follow to manage a project effectively.
Whether you currently manage a project, want to in the future, or are just looking to improve your project management skills, it’s good to follow project management best practices to stay ahead. Avoid scope creep, feeling overwhelmed, or being disorganized by following these specific steps to manage a project effectively from beginning to end.
This guide will provide an:
It will also share the 14 steps of managing a project:
- Research your project and identify a purpose
- Create a vision statement
- Choose an appropriate framework
- Select your team and communicate
- Define the project scope and delegate tasks
- Identify any project risks
- Get stakeholders engaged
- Build your product roadmap
- Check for adequate resources
- Get wise with scheduling
- Choose the appropriate software
- Run a project kick-off meeting
- Review progress and adjust accordingly
- Celebrate any milestones
Overview of project management
Project management is the action of leading a team through a structured process to complete work on time and within budget. It involves managing every aspect of a project — including people, tools, and deliverables — to meet all the project’s requirements.
Sometimes project management is internally facing, while other times it involves client-facing tasks. Businesses use project management to create marketing content, launch a new product or service, procure materials, and more.
Nearly any business process can benefit from project management. Learning how to manage a project can help you:
- Meet deadlines more quickly.
- Improve project outcomes.
- Simplify delegation.
- Meet all project requirements.
Instead of allowing projects to progress without oversight, project management ensures someone is guiding projects through an approved process that will increase the team’s chances of success. While every organization has its nuances, following these 14 steps can help you manage a project from start to finish.
1. Research your project and identify a purpose
It’s important to complete initial research and make a plan before launching an official new project. The goal is to identify the legitimate business need for the project.
Ask yourself what problem the project is trying to solve. That might be improving your app’s user experience so you retain more subscribers or making the public aware of your newest product to boost sales. You should also determine why it’s important to put resources toward this project right now. For example, marketing projects are important, but it doesn’t make sense to market a product that’s riddled with bugs. Constraints on your budget, skills, and timeline can also play a factor in which projects you prioritize.
Keep in mind that project managers aren’t always responsible for this stage of project management. At your business, it might be the responsibility of a product owner, manager, or executive.
2. Create a vision statement
A vision statement clarifies your project idea and lays the foundation for a strategic plan. Think of this as an elevator pitch for your project. You can create a vision statement by following this simple formula:
- For (target customer) — this is the audience that will receive the end product.
- Who (statement of the need) — this is the audience’s biggest pain point.
- The (product/service name) is a (product category) — introduce the basics of your product, including its name and high-level function.
- That (main product/service benefit and compelling reason to purchase/use) — explain your biggest differentiator.
- Unlike (primary competitive alternative) — shed light on a common practice by your competitors that your target audience doesn’t like.
- Our product (final statement of primary differentiation) — highlight how your solution differs from anything else on the market.
Here’s an example of a complete vision statement:
3. Choose an appropriate framework
If you’re learning how to manage a project, it’s important to understand the various project management methodologies — or frameworks — that are available to you. The purpose of a framework is to determine how work should be prioritized, completed, and visualized. Choose from these five popular frameworks to speed up your approach to project management.
This is also known as traditional project management. With Waterfall, you create a series of steps to finish a project and complete them in order. You only test the product at the very end. Waterfall works well for simpler projects with little ambiguity, but it isn’t ideal if you need to frequently iterate a product or incorporate feedback.
Kanban is the most visual way to manage projects. You can create either a physical or digital Kanban board that breaks tasks up into different stages like “Planning,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” Kanban is great if you want to visualize where multiple projects are at once. However, it isn’t ideal if your project has a lot of moving parts, which can make the Kanban board look cluttered and unhelpful.
The Scrum approach to project management requires teams to complete work in fast-paced sprints. In each sprint, the team focuses on one issue or task. You have daily meetings as a team to share progress on these tasks and address challenges together. Scrum is great for adding structure to tasks with predictable turnaround times. However, the fast-paced nature makes Scrum less practical for understaffed teams.
Agile projects work in sprints like Scrum, although the sprints are longer. It isn’t unusual for an Agile sprint to last two weeks to a few months. Agile was originally designed for iterative software development that incorporated testing and user feedback. Agile moves very quickly and allows teams to respond to feedback before finishing the product. It’s ideal for iterative projects, like software, but it isn’t ideal if you don’t have enough staff.
V-shaped project management is another approach taken from the world of software development. The V-shaped method revamps the Waterfall model to add time for testing before the last stage of the process. At each stage, your team tests and validates the product before moving on. This is ideal for small projects with a defined scope, but it requires an in-depth plan to work well.
4. Select your team and communicate
Once you choose a project management methodology, you’ll need to identify the people who will help you with the project and then define their roles and responsibilities. While it’s tempting to bring more people to the table, smaller teams are generally more agile, so keep your team as small as possible. At a minimum, your team should include the project sponsor, experts to define the scope of the project, and a project manager.
Next, you’ll need to communicate with your team. Try to schedule weekly meetings so everyone has the most recent updates. This is about more than just explaining what needs to be done — you need to discuss a plan of action. As a project manager, it’s your duty to keep every team member in the loop and provide frequent status updates. Vocalize requirements, deadlines, and any additional context that could affect your project, like other projects that are competing for company resources.
5. Define the project scope and delegate tasks
One of the keys to successful project management is knowing if the scope of your project is realistic or not. You need to determine the project scope, the team’s limits, and project boundaries. Know what you will and won’t address with this project. When in doubt, it’s best to keep a project’s scope small and reasonable. You can always create another project after completing the initial iteration.
You also need to understand the objectives of the project and set goals to guide you to success. Your goals are the “what” of your project. For example, your goal might be to increase website visitors, boost sales, or create a new project. Objectives are the “how” that describe the action you’ll take to make your project a reality. For example, you can post on social media to increase website visits, create an affiliate program to boost sales, or do market research to create a new product.
You don’t need to do this alone. Project managers aren’t expected to do all of the work themselves, but they are expected to make sure the work gets done. Once you clearly define the tasks involved in completing your objective, assign them to skilled and trusted team members. Play to everyone’s strengths so you get the best possible outcome. Complete the most important tasks first, and then work on less urgent tasks.
6. Identify any project risks
You can’t plan for every possible outcome, but it’s still important to ask yourself if there are any obstacles or distractions that could get in the way. The more you plan for potential pitfalls ahead of time, the easier it will be to solve them before they cause significant problems. For example, if you know you need to compose three blog posts a day, you need to hire a copywriter who can manage that workload. Consider if there are any limitations on your team members or external distractions that will prevent you from completing the work on time.
Creating a risk management plan can help you identify and plan for any snags that could jeopardize a project. While you’ll never be able to mitigate every risk, it’s good practice to think about them from these perspectives:
- Technical. Address potential risks from technology. This could include potential database errors, licensing issues, or cybersecurity concerns.
- Managerial. Look for any potential issues that arise with your team’s schedule, communication, or planning. For example, if your subject matter expert will be out of the office for a month, that could jeopardize your timeline.
- Organizational. Your project depends on having a budget and adequate staff to finish the project. You should also look for logistical issues. For example, if you work in a remote office with employees spread across different time zones, that could affect the timeliness of your team’s responses.
- Risks externally. It’s hard to plan for external risks from the economy, your competitors, or your customers, but it’s still important to plan for the unexpected. For example, supply chain delays could have an impact on your new product launch.
7. Get stakeholders engaged
A stakeholder can be anyone within or outside of your company that has a vested interest in your project. Stakeholders can have an impact on your project’s success, so it’s important to seek their feedback at the appropriate time. For example, if you’re creating new website copy, your legal department could be an important stakeholder prior to publishing.
The best way to engage your stakeholders is to keep them in the loop. Set expectations upfront and consistently send them updates on the project’s progress. A communication plan is a helpful roadmap for successful stakeholder relationships. It breaks down when, how, and to whom you need to send updates.
8. Build your product roadmap
Next, you need to create a product roadmap, which is a high-level overview of your project’s goals and deliverables. A roadmap is a visual tool that places tasks, requirements, milestones, and features on a timeline — although the exact details depend on which project management framework you’re using.
Product roadmaps are useful for managing stakeholder expectations. These easily digestible visuals make it easier for stakeholders to understand your vision and plan. Roadmaps also make it easier to communicate your plans and coordinate resources with other teams.
9. Check for adequate resources
You need resources to complete any project. Before you start work, it’s best to pre-plan, schedule, and allocate your resources to maximize efficiency. Resources can include staff, software, subject matter experts, or physical materials. Ideally, your plan should match up with the reality of your team and resources. For example, you need to make sure the project’s needs for expert labor match up with your team’s workload and work schedules.
If your project doesn’t have adequate resources, you risk producing a subpar project or not meeting your deadline. More often than not, a lack of a budget is the reason why so many projects fail. If you realize you’re over budget or that you can’t manage the deadline, you have three options:
- Move back the deadline.
- Increase your budget so you can meet the deadline — which might mean hiring more people.
- Reduce the project scope to meet the deadline.
None of these options are ideal because they don’t match up with what you promised your stakeholders, but resource issues are bound to happen from time to time. Take the best action possible to complete your project without compromising on quality.
10. Get wise with scheduling
Consult your product roadmap (step 8) to schedule the right team members for the right stages of the project. Larger tasks in a roadmap should be broken down into smaller tasks with assignees. As long as you know how long each stage will take to complete, you can keep your overall timeline on schedule without overwhelming your team.
However, it’s important to set a realistic schedule to find a balance between your team’s workload and the intended delivery date. Don’t be afraid to engage with your stakeholders if you need to adjust deliverables or due dates.
11. Choose the appropriate software
Manual project management just isn’t feasible in this day and age. Project management (PM) software is a must-have because it can help you:
- Collaborate interdepartmentally. PM software makes it easy to tag any employee in your organization with a quick question.
- Share files in the cloud. Don’t let important files live on your computer. PM software allows files to live in a shared space where everyone can access them.
- Plan sprints (or tasks). You can quickly create separate sprints or tasks with PM software — and even monitor multiple tasks from one dashboard.
- Track work. PM software gives project managers ultimate visibility into all of the tasks on their team’s plate.
There’s no shortage of PM software for you to choose from. While the right PM solution depends on your business and project needs, these are popular options:
- Wrike. Wrike allows you to organize work, assign tasks, and collaborate across departments.
- Trello. This is a Kanban board-style PM solution that makes it easy to drag tasks to different stages.
- Asana. This is primarily text-based PM software, although it also has Kanban and Gantt layouts available.
- Zoho. This project management software combines PM with sales, marketing, finance, HR, and other business-critical tasks.
- Workfront. Workfront helps you connect, collaborate, and simplify workflows to launch campaigns and deliver personalized experiences at scale.
12. Run a project kick-off meeting
A kick-off meeting is part of the project initiation phase and marks the first time your team meets. It should include all team members assigned to this project, as well as any stakeholders. The purpose of a kick-off meeting is to get everyone on the same page, share the vision for the project, and answer questions. A solid kick-off meeting will make a project go much more smoothly, but project managers need to plan carefully to take full advantage of these meetings.
It’s a good idea to set up an agenda for your kick-off meeting that includes these components:
- Introductions (5-10 minutes). Introduce team members to each other.
- Client and/or context (5 minutes). Give everyone a high-level overview of what the project is about.
- Scope and deliverables (20 minutes). Offer a deep dive into the tasks and due dates for this project.
- Approach (10 minutes). Explain how you plan to run this project by sharing the project roadmap.
- Roles and responsibilities (5 minutes). Assign responsibilities to certain team members and make it clear who is in charge of what.
- Teamwork (5 minutes). Clarify which team members will need to collaborate or sign off on projects.
- Timelines, schedules, and milestones (5 minutes). Agree on project milestones and assign due dates for each. Better yet, add them to your PM software to hold the team accountable.
- Next steps (5 minutes). Make a list of the tasks your team needs to complete immediately after the kick-off meeting.
- Q&A (5–10 minutes). Allow the team to ask clarifying questions before closing out the meeting.
13. Review progress and adjust accordingly
Even the most efficient project plans won’t account for unforeseen problems that can arise. It’s important to have some flexibility with your plan so you can make the necessary adjustments.
If things aren’t going to plan, it’s time to adjust. For example, if you realize that the scope of the project is just too large for the deadline or that your team members don’t have the expertise needed for this project, make the necessary changes to the project. Use the data you have to put your team in a better position to change plans, ask for more resources, or reduce the scope.
14. Celebrate any milestones
A milestone is a significant goal post on your project roadmap. Milestones are a big accomplishment for your team — especially if they manage to complete the project ahead of schedule — so it’s good for managers to acknowledge their team’s hard work.
There are several ways to celebrate milestones, including:
- Taking the team out to dinner with celebratory drinks
- Acknowledging the team’s success during your next meeting
- Creating a brag board highlighting exceptional team members
- Offering meaningful rewards — even a personal “thank you” is good
Scale beyond project management with project insight
Learning how to manage a project step by step can help your team avoid confusion from the many levels of project management. You can also avoid scope creep when the project manager knows what needs to be done to effectively manage a project.
When you’re ready to get started, explore project management software that can help you manage the entire lifecycle of a project from start to finish with more ease.
Adobe Workfront is enterprise work management software that integrates people, data, processes, and technology across an organization. By optimizing and centralizing digital projects, cross-functional teams can connect, collaborate, and execute from anywhere to help them do their best work.