Project Management Basics: A Simple Guide for Beginners

Updated Jun 9, 2022.
project-management-basics

Project management is crucial for helping companies or organizations deliver projects on time and within the available resource constraint in today's highly competitive global business world. The core tenets of project management are consistent even if you are managing one project at a time or multiple projects or goals at once.

Whether you are new to project management or you can boast credible experience under your belt, successfully managing and completing a project on schedule and within budget is not an easy task. There are different types of projects. Every project is different from the other and has a unique set of project management challenges. 

To succeed in project management, you can not afford experimentation which leads to costly mistakes. You need to abide strictly by the basic principles of project management to manage your projects successfully. 

In this guide, you will learn about the basics of project management and what is required of project managers.

How Do You Define a Project?

According to the Project Management Institute, a project is defined as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique project service or result.” Dictionary.com defines a project as “a major undertaking that involves a considerable allocation of money, personnel, and equipment.” 

In project management, a project is a temporary sequence of activities aimed at attaining a particular goal, with this goal either coming as a product, service, or any defined outcome. The term “temporary” takes its place because this sequence of activities has an endpoint.

A project is an important group of tasks that are embarked upon by an individual or group of individuals. This set of tasks requires special attention from the individuals involved and careful planning for successful execution. 

To attain project success, you need to draw out a project plan, provide the required financial, human, and material resources, allocate and expend resources efficiently.

Concerning project management, the term “project” may be defined using these specific important terminologies.

  • Timeline or Lifecycle is the temporary period over which a project is executed,
  • Resources are the considerable allocation of money, personnel, and equipment, among other assets.
  • Tasks are the activities involved in project execution.
  • Goals are the unique products, services, or results intended to be created through a project.

A project is a major set or sequence of tasks limited by a timeline and supported by resources in attaining a particular goal at the end of its duration.

What is Project Management?

Project management refers to the processes involved in efficiently guiding a project to its goal. You can also refer to project management as the application of skills, tools, and methodologies in developing plans and frameworks so the execution of a project is seamless and goals are productively attained.

There is a lot more involved in project management, however, the main goal is what is important. Project management is a set of techniques and practices that aim at the efficient use of resources throughout the project management lifecycle. 

These practices have an additional goal to solve problems along the way and ensure a project does not just come to completion but ends within the defined timeline.

Project management has come a long way over centuries and developed through continuously improved frameworks. Modern-day project management practices are defined by agile frameworks and methodologies serving as structures and defined guides for the execution of projects. 

5 Stages of Project Management

Within the modern agile frameworks, project management processes are generally split into five stages.

1. The Project Initiation Stage

The project initiation stage is when a decision is made on the project’s necessity within the company as well as its feasibility of ending up a success. 

For a successful project initiation, you need to involve project stakeholders, define the project scope, identify general resource requirements, and create a project charter.

Project Scope Statement
Source: Pmbasics101

2. The Project Planning Stage

The project planning stage is when the project is defined in detail and frameworks for its execution are developed. Here, the project is split into phases and tasks, schedules created, resources appropriately allocated, and responsibilities assigned. 

3. The Project Execution Stage

The project execution stage is the longest stage of the project, involving the careful and efficient completion of tasks for developing the product, service, or results. You need to closely follow frameworks established within the project planning stage to successfully execute your project.  

4. The Project Monitoring and Control Stage

Typically intermingled with the execution stage, the project monitoring and control stage is where the project is reviewed during and after implementation, issues and risks are identified, and strategies to mitigate their effects are established. 

With project controlling, you can help anticipate and resolve project costs, issues, and delays, and keep your team on track with the project plan.

5. The Project Closing Stage

The project closing stage is the final stage where the project is approved to be satisfactorily completed, all processes finalized, and the project terminated.

Why is Project Management Important?

1. Helps You Achieve Project Goals

Project management is important because it helps you achieve your goals through efficiency. With frameworks put in place and project management techniques applied, you maintain efficient resource usage, effective communication between team members, and, overall, ensure that the project comes to completion within its time constraints.

2. Forecast Project Needs

Efficient project management helps you forecast project needs to create appropriate plans, ensure plans are followed, timely identify and get rid of roadblocks, and maintain constant progress towards project completion. 

By forecasting your project needs, project management ensures that resources and personnel are properly managed for efficiency and so they remain as productive as required during the project management lifecycle.

3. Guarantees Quality Project Deliverables 

With project management techniques, you enjoy quality project deliverables such as products, services, or outputs that meet quality standards and help you improve on business processes in anticipation of future projects. 

Project management provides you with a structure to work with and makes the completion of tasks and accomplishment of goals more seamless and almost guaranteed.

What Do Project Managers Do?

A project manager, in general, is the main person involved in guiding a project to success. He or she holds the general responsibility of planning and monitoring projects to ensure everything is in place and working out as they are supposed to. 

More specifically, the project manager plays the following roles in relation to the relevant stage of the project management life cycle.

In the Project Initiation Stage  

By leading the team, the project manager identifies relevant stakeholders and oversees discussions with them on the objectives of the project, whether the project may continue, and the scope of the project. 

Sometimes, a project manager may not be appointed at this stage of the project, but where one is available, that individual is responsible for the project initiation. 

The project manager answers the questions of why the project is important, the issues to be resolved, how the project is funded, and whether available resources are enough, among others.

In the Project Planning Stage

During the project planning stage, the project manager is responsible for creating the plans for project execution. 

The project manager identifies members of the project development team, trains them, and works closely with the product owner to create a work breakdown structure, appropriately allocate resources, identify communication mediums, and create budgets, among a lot of others. He or she is responsible for establishing the framework for project execution.

In the Project Execution Stage

The project manager ensures that all tasks are completed as scheduled and deliverables promptly provided by team members. This individual is responsible for ensuring that work goes on smoothly. He or she manages communications and relationships between team members and provides necessary support where needed.

In the Project Monitoring and Control Stage

During the project monitoring and control stage, the project manager’s activities are typically intermingled with activities in the project execution stage. This stage involves constantly monitoring the project’s progress, identifying issues and roadblocks, establishing strategies for change where necessary, and overseeing the change process for project optimizations. 

The project manager determines whether the project is progressing at the right pace, studies, and implements reports generated on the project.

In the Project Closing Stage

While rounding up the project, the project manager acquires approvals that the project is complete, ensures external contractors are fully or appropriately settled, and archives documents created for proper project documentation.

How to Develop Your Own Project Management Plan?

Having a project management plan is important for you to attain success at the end of the project. The plan determines how efficiently project goals are met and how every process within the project execution phase plays out. 

However, due to its importance, creating one requires careful attention and is not the easiest thing to do. Some steps to assist you and make sure you have the most important elements covered in your project management plan includes: 

1. Meet with Stakeholders

Stakeholders are individuals identified during the project initiation stage to have very important roles to play in determining the success of the project. They include all product owners and customers used to test out the project’s products, as well as any other individual whose approval is needed for the project to be termed a success.  

In this phase of developing your project plan, you engage in meetings with these individuals, having detailed discussions on the exact purpose of the project, the problem to be solved through it, and the available resources and budget the team has to work with. Establish the team’s expected deliverables and the project’s overall timeline in this meeting.

Meeting with stakeholders brings a lot of clarity into the process and ensures that all plans, as well as results obtained from these plans, fit important expectations. 

2. Define Project Goals

Defining project goals, with collaborations with stakeholders, help you know what success looks like at the end of the project and how you can attain it. 

Project goals are created according to your stakeholders’ expectations as they relate to the project. Expectations are represented as measurable metrics within the project plan and help in determining whether the project is progressing well or not. 

Some of the key metrics around which you set project goals include:

  • The time spent by each team member in executing responsibilities within the project
  • How frequently deadlines are met
  • Comparisons between the planned time and the time spent on tasks and the entire project
  • Comparisons between estimated budget and the actual cost of running project
  • How frequently the schedule changes
  • Individual expenses
  • The overall return on investment from the project

Determining goals based on these KPIs helps you create plans with measurable results. You know exactly when you are lagging and you can easily make appropriate adjustments. Goals are also susceptible to change based on how the execution stage plays out.  

3. Assign Roles and Responsibilities

Roles are important elements of a lot of project management frameworks and methodologies. Individuals you place within these important roles are important in attaining project success, so you make careful considerations and assignments within your project plan. 

Important roles for effective project management include:

  • The project manager is responsible for creating the project plan and overseeing its execution. 
  • The project sponsor owns the project and is responsible for funding and approvals.
  • The project development team includes members of a cross-functional team responsible for executing tasks within the project. They are skilled professionals from different departments within your company. 

These are not only the important roles within project management but with a lot of other roles also existing based on the specific needs of your project and applied methodology. Some other project management roles include project planners and project coordinators.

4. Establish Your Project Schedule 

Identify details of your overall project timeline. Your timeline is defined by a schedule that is defined by several factors such as tasks and dependencies, resource requirements for each task, the time needed for each task, and a critical path that shows how tasks and their dependencies link and play out.

Project Timeline Template
Source: Vertex42

5. Estimate Your Project Cost

Estimating project cost involves determining the cost of each task and creating a budget for the project. Ensure you integrate your project cost into the project schedule.

Master Project Schedule Template
Source: Smartsheet

6. Seek Approval From Stakeholders

After creating project documents and defining all specifics, you present your plan to stakeholders for approval. Corrections are made where necessary, the project plan is reviewed for effectiveness, and, once approved, work begins on the project. 

Any subsequent alterations in the execution phase are made in accordance with developed change management plans and strategies. 

Change Management Plan
Source: Praxie

Project Manager Certifications

While not all employers require that you have a project manager certification, getting one puts you a step ahead in the job market, both in opportunities and finances. 

There are a lot of project management certifications out there, with some more popular than others and these coming for different skill levels and through different training styles.  The more popular certifications include:

Do You Need Project Management Software?

For a lot of cross-functional teams, project management software proves to be very crucial. However, not everyone or every team needs online project management software. Here are a few things to take note of when making a decision.

You Need Project Management Software If…

  • You Have a Large Team to Manage: Web-based project management software makes managing a large team way easier than manually taking care of it or usually spreadsheets. Through centralized workspaces, you have a complete detailed overview of work done by every team member.
  • You Work with a Remote Team: Remote teams find it difficult to collaborate effectively, as they have to improvise on a lot of internet platforms to facilitate work between them. Project management software helps to centralize all necessary platforms through integrations. This makes sure your remote team has dedicated options for their collaboration and ensures work is easily monitored by the project manager and in detail. 
  • You Need Comprehensive Reports on Your Projects: Manually generating reports is undoubtedly stressful. Project management software automates this process, helping you to not only generate a dynamic set of reports for different purposes but also goes a further step in analyzing data contained in them. 

You May Not Need Project Management Software If…

  • You are a One-Man Team with a Small Project: A lot of project management software tools are optimized for teams and, as a one-man team, you may be overwhelmed. Sometimes, you find making use of basic to-do lists, calendars, and reminders more productive.
  • You are a Complete Beginner with a Tight Schedule: Learning to use project management software for the first time takes a considerable amount of time. With a tight schedule to work with, this pushes you back and puts you at risk of missing deadlines. However, there is simple project management software that requires no training such as ClickUp and Monday.com you can use to overcome this barrier.
  • Your Financial Resources are Greatly Limited: Most project management software programs come as paid tools and, with a tight budget, subscribing or making purchases for their use may not be the best financial decision. You can overcome this challenge by picking a free project management software that offers you access to basic project management software features for free. Some project management software offers free trials on their paid plans which you can try out with no credit card required. 

Regardless of all these reasons, a lot of top project management tools in the market make specific considerations for single users. Services come for free but available features and options are typically limited. Some prove to be beginner-friendly while others try to be as cheap as possible. You weigh your options and decide what brings you the most value.