Introduction to Project Management Basics
Do you feel overwhelmed with your projects? Learn the basics of project management, including tools and principles, so you can effectively and efficiently manage projects to a successful outcome. Knowing the basics of project management can also help you decide which professional certification to pursue to best meet your career goals.
On this page:
- Basic Concept 1: What is a Project?
- Basic Concept 2: What is Project Management?
- Basic Concept 3: The Value of Project Management
- Basic Concept 4: Project Management Phases
- Basic Concept 5: What is a Project Manager?
Basic Concept 1: What is a Project?
The most basic project management concept is knowing what a project is and when work is not a project. While there are projects in every industry, there may not be formal project management or project-related job titles used. A lack of formal titles does not mean the work is not a project. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as: “a temporary effort to create value through a unique product, service or result.” From that definition, there are four concepts to call out:
- Temporary: a project has a definitive start and end date
- Unique: a project’s work is different from the ongoing work required to maintain the business and operations
- Team, Budget, Schedule: a project has an assigned team, budget, and schedule
- Goal: a project is done when the project goals are met
All work is not a project. For example, the daily maintenance work for cleaning factory machines is part of continuous operations and, therefore, is not a project. However, if a team created a plan to upgrade those machines by a specific date and within a budget, that is a project. There is no maximum or minimum duration to be a project, but there must be a clear start and stop.
Basic Concept 2: What is Project Management?
The basics of project management can be described as: “the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people.”
There are multiple formal project management methodologies, including Agile, Waterfall (Predictive), Scrum, Kanban, Lean, PRINCE2, and Six Sigma. Plus, some organizations have customized company names for project phases and tools. These methodologies have one or more corresponding professional organizations that set standards and provide related certifications. Companies may require the use of a specific methodology for their projects and, in some cases, what credentials are expected of project professionals.
Project management methodologies differ in tools and terminology. For example, some project management frameworks have 5 project phases while others have 7 project phases.
Also, the names and types of project roles vary by methodologies, such as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach used in an Agile project environment. But the primary purpose of project management, to guide the work for specific deliverables to occur within a set timeframe and budget, is the same.
What is management vs. project management?
Project management is the leadership of a team to complete the specific goals of a project within set deadlines and budgets. Project management is focused on a project with a finite length of time, budget, and scope.
In contrast, basic management is not limited by time or a preset amount of work. Good management is ongoing and part of business operations. Management does not have a set number of phases like a project management process, nor does it stop when the project ends.
However, management and project management have similarities. The skills commonly associated with effective management, such as fostering teamwork, conflict negotiation, and building trust, are greatly valued in project management.
Basic Concept 3: The Value of Project Management
In the 1960s, organizations, in both government and private manufacturing, were taking on not only more complex projects but also multiple complex projects at the same time. Project management as a formal discipline grew out of the need to standardize how complex projects could be consistently led. With the increase in project size and quantity, the fundamental challenges of:
- a lack of common terminology within teams
- ineffective resource allocation
- failure to consistently meet project goals
All of these challenges drove what would become the field of project management. As project management methodologies were developed and refined, the value of this discipline to both professionals and organizations was evident. Today there are multiple project management methodologies and certifications reflecting the diverse ways project management can be applied to a variety of industries. The value attributed to well-executed project management includes:
- increase of positive project outcomes |e.g., quality of deliverable/s, staying in/under budget, completed early/on schedule
- customer loyalty | due to consistent results and high quality
- employee retention and morale | project teams with good work experiences create high morale among employees who want to stay longer
- effective use of resources | i.e., employees with needed skills are available when a project needs them, resources are sourced appropriately and used by multiple projects
- prioritize work to fit business objectives | e.g., projects that create higher value for the organization have resource priority over optional or low-impact projects.
Companies with a strong project management culture commonly enjoy not only cost savings but also higher employee morale, deep customer loyalty, and organizational efficiencies. PMI’s white paper “The Value of Project Management (2010)” summarizes the value of project management as follows: “Organizations turn to project management to deliver results consistently, reduce costs, increase efficiencies and improve customer and stakeholder satisfaction.” When project management is done well, the organization can benefit in many ways.
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Basic Concept 4: Project Management Phases
When applied correctly and consistently, formal project management tools and processes can increase the chances of a successful project outcome. The project management process, or project lifecycle, details what tools and actions can be completed in a recommended sequence throughout the project.
In waterfall project management, there are 5 basic phases for the progression of work. For some project management methodologies, there are 7 phases. In Agile, work is tracked through a series of increments, such as sprints or cycles. The project management process and what activities and deliverables are included in it should be tailored by industry, company, and project. For example, a project to design new software will probably not have the same project management process needs as constructing a new office building. Both should have a process, but one that supports that unique project type and needs.
Project Management Process/Project Lifecycle
For PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification, students should understand the basic project management processes, sometimes called the project lifecycle.
• Project Initiation
• Project Planning
• Project Execution
• Project Monitoring and Controlling
• Project Closing
The Project Manager motivates the team and leads the project throughout the project phases. The project scope and the selected methodology, along with organizational requirements, will inform what documentation, tools, and reporting are needed for each phase.
Basic Concept 5: What is a Project Manager?
Project professionals, who are ultimately responsible for the project outcome, come from various work and educational backgrounds. Regardless of their title, including but not limited to the Project Manager, Project Lead, or Project Coordinator, the project’s primary leader is responsible for ensuring the team meets as many project goals as possible.
Project Manager Responsibilities
Project management is a complex and demanding field. Successful project managers must have leadership, technical, and organizational skills to lead the team towards the project goals. Every project is unique, but every project needs the project manager to:
• Help determine the project methodology to use for the project
• Ensure a project plan is developed
• Recruit project staff
• Support and train the project team
• Manage deliverables according to the project plan
• Aid in the establishment of a project schedule
• Support the assignment of tasks to project team members
• Communicate with stakeholders
Project Managers with a PMP certification will use the basics of project management to meet the specific needs of each project and team.
Project Team Responsibilities in Project Management
A good project outcome is more likely when the project team can:
- contribute relevant skills and knowledge to the project work
- complete individual deliverables on schedule
- provide subject matter expertise to inform project planning and decision making
- document processes, risks, decisions, and outcomes for lessons learned
- collaborate with others on the project team
- communicate in a timely and consistent manner to the project manager and other team members
Team responsibilities vary by project type, scope, and management methodology.
Project Manager Certifications
Obtaining a project management certification helps project managers demonstrate they know how to adjust to best meet the needs of each project, whether using Waterfall or Agile.
- Project Management Professional (PMP)® | overseen by Project Management Institute (PMI)®
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® | overseen by Project Management Institute (PMI)®
- Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)® | overseen by ScrumAlliance
- PRINCE2 Foundation/PRINCE2 Practitioner | overseen by Prince2 Foundation
There are many project management certification options beyond the four listed here, each with requirements and testing protocols. Contact a verified source, like Project Management Academy (PMA), and research verified organizations, including Project Management Institute (PMI), to inform which certification to pursue to meet your career goals.
Project Management Resources
Take advantage of the free resources available from PMA and PMI to guide your project management skill development and certification work.
- Project Management Academy | Project Management Resources and Training
- Project Management Institute | Standards and Publications
One of the exciting elements of pursuing a project management career, or even augmenting your professional skill set with project management knowledge, is its variety. Pursue training and certification in multiple project management methodologies to expand your career opportunities. After all, using Agile project management for your organization does not prevent you from learning about or obtaining PRINCE 2 certification. And the training for project management can enhance not only how projects are managed but your overall leadership and management skillset.
There are proven project management tools and principles that, when applied correctly, can increase the chances of a successful project outcome. Achieving a project management certification is one way to demonstrate your knowledge of the basics of project management, including:
- describing what a project is and is not
- knowing the difference between management and project management
- knowing the basic project management phases used to track project work
- understanding the responsibilities of a project manager
- knowing the responsibilities of a project team
Having project management skills and knowledge of project management principles will help you lead more projects to success.
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