Project management — benefits, methods, and more
Every organization has projects to work through — from marketing, to development, to operations, and more. Every project is different, but each one has a beginning, an end, and a team that needs to deliver the work on time — at or below budget, while meeting stakeholder expectations.
Making that happen is project management. Project management is different from other management roles and strategies within the company. It’s specific and focused. When done well, it drives collaboration, ensures an efficient project, and delivers measurable outcomes.
This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to launch or optimize your business’s project management.
- What is project management?
- What are the benefits of project management?
- Eight key components of project management
- The project life cycle
- Project management methodologies
- Project management tools and tips
What is project management?
Project management (PM) is a process or framework for leading a team through the successful completion of a project, on time and within budget. Project management strategies and practices are used in blue collar environments such as construction or disaster relief as well as in office settings for operations or marketing projects.
A project is any set of related tasks, deliverables, and activities that collectively accomplish a single goal. Project roles include a project manager, team members, internal and external stakeholders, and clients. Most project managers use specialized PM software to help visualize timelines, organize tasks, align teams, and report on progress.
What makes project management different from other management?
Although there is some overlap in processes and practices, project management is distinct from general team or organizational management. Most notably, project management works on an isolated scope of work bound by a specific time frame. Where general management has more time to experiment, test, and adapt, project management needs to be efficient. That requires different skills in a project manager, to stay especially agile and organized.
Project management is also different from other management types because each project is at least a little bit different. The project manager needs to constantly adjust their strategy to accommodate new goals, different resources, and perhaps even shifting schedules. Where an organizational manager can discover an efficient process to use over and over, the project manager can’t often reuse the same strategy twice.
What are the benefits of project management?
According to a report by Wellingtone, 89% of organizations have at least one project management office. It’s easy to understand why — 40% of respondents said they mostly or always deliver the full benefits of their projects. And project management benefits your team as well as your clients.
How teams benefit
Project management helps deliver great results, but there are benefits to your internal teams as well.
- Efficiency. Project management makes sure teams stay on track and on time. By making sure projects are running smoothly, teams can focus their efforts on the product instead of the process.
- Growth and development. Managing a project while also working on it can be difficult. A dedicated project manager gives teams space to concentrate on their work and tackle new challenges. This improves the employee experience, helps staff grow their skills and career, and ultimately reduces employee churn.
- Higher output. Project managers free up resources by allowing teams to concentrate on their work rather than the logistics of the project. Teams can then use that time to produce more work.
How clients benefit
Clients benefit from an efficient project management process throughout development.
- Better deliverables. Delivering projects on time and on budget makes for happy clients. And when your team is free to do their best work, clients get the best possible products.
- Simplified communication. Good project management keeps communication lines clear by routing everything through one person. The project manager becomes the liaison between internal teams and external stakeholders.
- Transparency and accountability. Well-defined goals allow project managers to deliver accurate reports. When you understand the responsibilities and progress of the team, you’re able give clients timely updates on budgets and timelines.
How projects benefit
There are other ways that the work itself benefits from thoughtful, thorough project management. Everyone involved feels the results of these benefits.
- Better organization. Outlining your project’s timelines, milestones, and budget mitigates scope creep and keeps teams and projects on track.
- Increased flexibility. Good planning helps you anticipate issues and deal with problems. Project managers can account for expected and unexpected changes to keep the project running as smoothly as possible.
Eight key components of project management
There is no single, universally accepted list of project management components, but there are some consistent frameworks. Every list of PM considerations can be broadly categorized into three main themes, sometimes called the triple constraint of project management. These three overarching categories are time, scope, and cost.
Projects are bound by time, so a big part of project management is keeping the work on track.
- Integration management is the process of aligning processes and strategies to create a plan for the project that will successfully bring individuals and teams together. Project plans are often used.
- Schedule management starts with establishing a realistic timeline and guidelines for how it will be managed. Detail the process for monitoring the timeline as well, and for making any necessary changes.
From planning to execution, a lot of project management work is required to establish and maintain the project scope.
- Scope management breaks the project down into milestones, tasks, and subtasks in order to create an actionable plan the team can use to complete the project on time and within budget. A work breakdown structure (WBS) and Gantt charts are helpful for scope management.
- Risk management is the process of identifying possible challenges, how likely they are, and what the project manager will do if they come up. Planning ahead for possible difficulties takes the pressure off and enables managers to make the best possible decision.
- Quality management is the project manager’s main responsibility while work is being done. The manager oversees all activities to make sure the project will meet client expectations while hitting internal budget and timeline goals as well.
- Communications management helps keep everyone from team members to stakeholders aligned throughout the project. It requires establishing clear lines of communication, clarifying misunderstandings, and providing written documentation of what was discussed in meetings.
The final project management constraint is cost. A good project completed on time is not a success if the ROI is insufficient.
- Cost management is about setting and monitoring the project’s budget. It starts as the project is being scoped and planned, and it accounts for all of the needed resources, including people, time, facilities, and any finances.
- Resource management is the process of optimizing every resource at the manager’s disposal for the project. No amount of planning will ensure that nothing goes wrong during development, so the project manager is always ready to shift resources as needed.
The project life cycle
Whether it’s a two-week development sprint or a six-month rebrand, every project goes through the same life cycle. That life cycle creates a five step process for strategic managers.
The five phases in the project management process are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
Project initiation is when the project manager captures the vision for the project, documents clear goals, and secures approvals from stakeholders. There are two common outputs during initiation — the project charter and the stakeholder register.
- The project charter details the project's purpose, objectives, stakeholders, risks, resources, and dependencies.
- A stakeholder register documents who is impacted by the project, their level of influence on the project, and how the project manager will communicate with them.
The planning phase is where good project managers prove their value. Effective project management starts with a thorough plan. During the project planning phase the manager creates a project roadmap, including the project plan, scope, schedule, constraints, work breakdown structure, and risk analysis.
During the planning phase, the project manager will communicate with internal teams to scope their capabilities and organize all the details to show how they will lead the team to their goal.
Project execution is when the manager finally gets to set all the careful planning into motion. It’s exciting to see the roadmap start to move forward, but it’s crucial for the project manager to guide this phase carefully.
During project execution, the manager needs to think about team development, stakeholder engagement, quality management, and ongoing communication. This is also when resources and budget get allocated.
Project monitoring and controlling
By the monitoring and controlling stage, the team should be well equipped with the resources and vision they need to complete the work. This is where the careful planning and execution begin to pay off, as work is completed and milestones are achieved.
But project management continues to vigilantly watch dates, spending, performance, and quality while the team checks off tasks. Project management software is especially helpful at this stage, because it can highlight upcoming due dates or budgets that have run over.
Good project management requires thoughtful and thorough project closing. It’s not enough to mark final tasks complete and move onto the next project. Closing a project might include:
- Officially delivering the project to stakeholders or the C-suite. There should be an official hand-off and acceptance of the finished project.
- A sunset or post-mortem meeting with the team to discuss successes and challenges. This is your opportunity to learn from this project and make the next one even better.
- Archiving files related to the project. Set aside a little time to organize and archive files so they’re not in the way during the next project.
- Celebrate and disband the team. Acknowledge team members who delivered exceptional work, celebrate team efforts that pushed the project forward efficiently, and officially release the team from the project.
Project management methodologies
There are several methodologies within project management that create frameworks and offer guidelines for how exactly to carry out different aspects of project management. Waterfall, Agile, and Lean are three of the most popular, but other methodologies are often used in conjunction with these.
The Waterfall methodology is a linear approach to project management that breaks a project down into sequential phases. Each phase of a Waterfall project completes before the next begins, so the visualization of the project looks like a cascading waterfall.
The structure of a Waterfall project makes it easy to catch errors early and it locks down the scope of the project, avoiding scope creep and the delays that come with it. The tight structure also causes challenges. Waterfall projects are not agile and the overall project timeline often gets stretched too far when one step is delayed.
Agile project management began with development teams, but the principles and practices are increasingly being used by business teams across the organization. Agile also breaks projects into smaller tasks, but these are completed in short iterations throughout the project life cycle. The rising popularity of Agile project management has created different subcategories, such as Scrum and Kanban.
Agile is popular with many business teams because it makes efficient use of resources and helps teams stay flexible to challenges or changing client requirements. It can be challenging for other teams because it requires close collaboration and careful management to avoid scope creep.
The Lean methodology for project management has been adapted from Japanese lean manufacturing processes and focuses primarily on efficiency. Lean PM practices work on a cycle of continuous improvement to eliminate wasted resources — including intangibles like time and effort — and optimize productivity. Many of the principles of Lean are often used in conjunction with Agile methodologies.
Successful Lean management reduces overhead, improves teamwork and collaboration, enhances the employee experience, and drives greater ROI. Lean can be challenging for organizations with strict hierarchies.
Six sigma methodology
Six sigma project management is another set of strategies that was adopted from manufacturing for the purpose of continuous improvement. It uses statistical modeling to reduce errors in repeated processes.
Six sigma is similar to Lean and the two are often confused. The main difference is that Lean focuses on eliminating waste while six sigma focuses on reducing errors. The two work so well together that many companies adopt a process known as Lean six sigma that combines both.
Critical Path Method
The Critical Path Method is a management strategy for scheduling a project. The process calls for identifying every task, determining the time it will take to complete each, and identifying dependencies. Independent tasks can be overlapped, but the longest chain of dependent tasks becomes the “critical path” and determines much of the timeline.
The Critical Path Method is a great strategy for planning project timelines because it helps identify potential bottlenecks, schedule efficient use of resources, generate a realistic timeline, and more.
Project management tools and tips
There are a wide range of tools available to help project managers plan and monitor their projects — primarily Gantt charts and Kanban boards. Whether you’re using software to stay organized or creating your own spreadsheets, knowing which work for you will help keep your team on track and on budget.
- Gantt charts allow you to visualize how the time allocated for each task aligns with the overall schedule of a project. They also detail the progress of individual tasks and any dependencies between them. Gantt charts let you see the broad scope of your project, helping you manage time and plan resource use.
- Kanban boards show your team’s workflow as a series of columns, with tasks represented as cards within those columns. Tasks progress through each column, and each column has a limit on the number of tasks it can hold to prevent congestion. Visualizing your workflow with a Kanban board also helps identify places where more resources may be needed.
Once you’ve decided on the tools that are right for your project, there are a few best practices to keep in mind that can help you make sure your project is a success.
- Planning. Even the most efficient teams can be slowed by a project that wasn’t thoroughly planned out. Make sure you’ve thought about every aspect of the project, including milestones, timing, resources, and deliverables.
- Communication. Once you put your plan into motion, it’s important to keep everyone involved updated on progress. Team members should be clear on their responsibilities, as well as the responsibilities of other teams. External stakeholders should get regular progress updates as needed.
- Scope. Shifting priorities, client demands, and poor communication can push your project out of alignment with the original goals. Clearly defining your project’s requirements and schedule — and establishing a process for stakeholders to submit changes — will help you make sure your project doesn’t expand beyond the initial plan.
- Scheduling. While you can’t predict all the problems your project will encounter, establishing a practical schedule can help you be flexible when issues occur. Your project schedule allows you to see where tasks can shift to account for unexpected changes. Communicating specific timelines and deliverable due dates to the team also ensures everyone is aware of the project’s overall progress.
- Resource management. Planning the resources needed for each task helps prevent waste and allows you to adapt to shifting demands. The better you plan your resource use, the better chance you have to effectively use your budget.
Start managing your projects with more ease and deliver measurable results
Project management is a unique discipline and one that can be extremely valuable to any organization. When projects are planned well and managed closely, your team works more efficiently and clients get better products.
When you’re ready to improve project management at your organization, the first step is to find a project manager. There might be an existing team member who naturally steps up to lead project teams or who has many of the required skills. If not, it might be time to consider hiring.
A good project manager will need the best software and that’s where Adobe Workfront comes in. With centralized intake, visibility into work in progress, templates, and automated workflows that standardize best practices, you can boost capacity and deliver great work at scale.