Project Management: Ultimate guide to successful projects (Updated) –

project management

Everyone is involved in initiating and managing projects, from planning your next vacation to launching a new product in your business.

We believe that project management skills are fundamental and should thus be taught to everyone starting from the school years.

Project managers delivered a 25% decrease in failed projects – according to the State of PMO report.

Whether project management is part of your day-to-day activities or you just need to manage an ad-hoc project, this blog will provide the essential training for effectively managing a project of any size. 

Introduction to Project Management Skills

What exactly is a project? A project is a temporary group of activities designed to produce a unique product, service, or result. It is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. 

Project management elements

A project has four essential elements: 

  • A specific timeframe with well-defined start and end date and set milestones 
  • A well-coordinated approach to co-dependent events and the sequence by which these events occur 
  • The desired outcome such as a measurable milestone, timeline, goal or objective 
  • Unique characteristics and challenges dependent on the project resources, scope and environment 

Project management skills are the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements. Projects are delivered in stages with common project management processes running across these stages. 

Project management process

Project management processes fall into five groups: 

  • Initiating 
  • Planning 
  • Executing 
  • Monitoring and Controlling 
  • Closing 

Phases, or stages, are very important for project managers to ensure that the deliverables produced at the end of each phase meet their purpose, and that project team members are properly prepared for the next phase.                

Remember as a project manager you need to be ready to plan, manage, implement, control, support, measure & report, communicate, and face unplanned challenges and risks. 


Project Management – Initiating and Planning a Project 

Getting your project off to a good start is essential for the success of the project. Lack of clarity in your project objectives can result in the project heading in different directions, and building up unrealistic expectations and worries. 

Before you start your planning, controlling, and reporting activities, you need to get everyone on the same page. This is done through a well-defined Project Initiation Document (PID), which is considered the top-level project-planning document ensuring all stakeholders understand where the project is heading. 

Project Initiation Document

The PID would include the information needed to get your project started, and communicate key information to the project’s stakeholders. 

The PID normally includes: 

  1. Project Name 
  2. Project Purpose & Benefits 
  3. Expected Objectives 
  4. Deliverables & Outcome 

Your Project Initiation Document provides the following: 

  • Defines your project and its scope 
  • Justifies your project 
  • Secures funding for the project, if necessary 
  • Defines the roles and responsibilities of project participants 
  • Gives people the information they need to be productive and effective right from the start 

By creating a PID, you’ll answer the questions: What? Why? Who? How? When? 


Creating your Project Plan 

Once you have created your Project Initiation Document, you are ready to create your Project Plan, which is the project’s roadmap. To create a project plan you will need to have: 

  • Personal and project calendars in terms of working days, shifts, and resource availability 
  • Description of project scope to determine key start and end dates, major assumptions behind the plan, and key constraints and restrictions. 
  • Stakeholder expectations to help determine project milestones. 
  • Project risks to make sure there’s planned time to deal with identified risks 
  • Lists of activities and resource requirements to determine if there are other constraints to consider when developing the schedule 

Your project plan should: 

  • Guide project execution and control 
  • Document planning assumptions and decisions, 
  • Facilitate communication among stakeholders 
  • Document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines 

Project management tools

Your project plan could be created using: 

  • Gantt Charts: Gantt charts convey this information visually. They outline all of the tasks involved in a project, and their order, shown against a timescale. This gives you an instant overview of a project, its associated tasks, and when these need to be finished 
  • PERT Charts (Critical Path Analysis):  Define the sequential order of activities where you cannot start some activities until others are finished 
  • A simple Excel file 

What should be included in your Project Plan 

The project plan is the project’s roadmap that creates the common language that all stakeholders can reference to ensure that the project is on target with regards to time, output and costs. Read more: What Project Plan Elements Should You Include


Effectively Executing a Project 

Now that you have your project plan in place, you are ready to start executing on the phases of the project towards the expected deliverables. Execution involves proper allocation, co-ordination and management of human, physical, and financial resources. 

Throughout execution, as a project manager, you will be monitoring and controlling all the processes, deliverables and project performance so that potential problems can be identified in a timely manner and corrective action can be taken. 

Monitoring and controlling typically include: 

  • Measuring the ongoing project activities (the As-Is – ‘where we are’); 
  • Monitoring the project variables (cost, effort, scope, etc.) against the project management plan and the project performance baseline (the To-Be - where we should be); 
  • Identify corrective actions to address issues and risks properly (How can we get on track again); 
  • Influencing the factors that could circumvent integrated change control so only approved changes are implemented. 

Project managers need to monitor three key elements: Time, Scope and Cost.

The scope covers the deliverables at certain agreed quality and within a defined time. Quality should never be sacrificed, but can be adjusted through re-scoping, in agreement with project owner. 

Effective Project Management Skills Communication 

Project Managers can use a Project Dashboard to quickly and effectively communicate the project status. This can be achieved by following the steps below: 

  1. Assess your goals and expectations for the dashboard: Why you are you using it? What should it tell you in terms of budget, meetings, resources, activities statuses, and risks 
  2. Define what should be shown on the Project Dashboard, and how this should be represented. 
  3. Make sure that people are held personally accountable for their Project Dashboard judgment calls and decisions. 
  4. Enhance your dashboard as needed by adding or eliminating measures, increasing or reducing the sensitivity of reporting, encouraging people to make good judgment calls, and validating the information being reported. 

For more complex projects, project managers can use the Project Milestone Report for effective status communication. This report includes: 

  1. Description of the Milestone: Details about what was accomplished in order to complete the milestone specification. 
  2. Due Date: When the milestone was due according to the current project plan. 
  3. Actual Completion Date: When the milestone was actually accomplished. 
  4. Comments: Details about modifications from the original plan i.e. why the due date was missed or why deliverables were changed. 

Project communication can occur through various channels based on the defined communication plan. Although online communication channels are effective, project managers need to hold regular meetings throughout the project lifecycle.

Project Management – Closing A Project

Once all the phases of the project are completed, the project manager needs to ensure the formal acceptance and end of the project. At this stage, project managers and teams are responsible for archiving all the files and documenting lessons learned. 

The closing phase consists of: 

  • Contract closure including the resolution of any open items and the closing of each contract applicable to the project or project phase 
  • Project closure to finalize all activities across all processes to formally close the project or a project phase 

The closing also includes a Post Implementation Review phase. This is a vital phase of the project for the project team to learn from experiences and apply lessons learned to future projects. 

What Makes a Successful Project Manager 

Communication is a key skill for project managers.

Project managers spend up to 90% of their time in communication (meetings, phone calls, emails, letters). 

The duties and responsibilities of project managers vary from one project to another and from one company to another. However, the following duties are somewhat common to all project managers: 

  • Project Planning 
  • Interacting and communicating with key stakeholders 
  • Procuring project resources 
  • Interacting with outside clients, vendors and suppliers 
  • Initiating project implementation 
  • Continually monitoring the project progress, reviewing interim objectives and adjusting the project elements as needed 
  • Managing the project team, delegating and providing feedback 
  • Identifying opportunities and problems and related solutions and adjustments 
  • Managing and resolving conflicts 
  • Consulting with advisors, mentors and coaches 

Successful Project Managers possess diverse skills and characteristics such as: 

  • Leadership & self-confidence 
  • Pragmatism & empathy 
  • Conduct meetings effectively 
  • Conflict resolution & sound judgment 
  • Negotiation & influence 
  • Team building and motivation 
  • Relationship management 
  • Decision making & analysis (Data and Impact) 
  • Detailed oriented and seeing the big picture 
  • Listening, generosity, flexibility, humor & calmness 
  • Able to give and receive criticism 
  • Awareness of project management skills
  • Political and cultural awareness 
  • General management

Common Project Manager Pitfalls 

Project managers are put in very sensitive and difficult positions surrounded by possibilities of errors and things going wrong at each stage of the project. 

Some pitfalls that Project Managers should avoid include: 

  • The failure to address issues immediately 
  • Rescheduling too often 
  • Be content with reaching milestones on time while ignoring quality 
  • Focusing more on project administrating and less on project management 
  • Micromanaging rather than managing and delegating effectively 
  • Adopting new tools to quickly 
  • Monitoring project progress intermittently 

Just like with any other profession, project managers are constant learners. They continuously work on enhancing their technical, managerial and interpersonal skills. They learn from their mistakes and use their experiences to manage their future projects successfully. 

The Project Manager’s Checklist 

Project managers utilize their skills and techniques at every stage of the project lifecycle. Here is a list of areas that Project Managers need to ensure that they do well: 

  • Project Integration: Develop a solid understanding of the project’s goals, and how the various elements will fit together for a successful outcome. 
  • Scope Management: Define the scope at the very start of your project based on the requirements and manage it closely against sign-off while effectively controlling any variations. 
  • Schedule Management: Clearly define the sequence of activities, estimate the time needed for each one, and build in sufficient contingency time to allow for the unexpected. 
  • Cost Management: Remain systematic with your estimating, budgeting, and controlling the project decisions will could an impact on cost. Understand what’s driving your costs and to develop a system for monitoring the project’s financial performance.  
  • Quality Management: Projects must be delivered on time, on budget, and to specification. 
  • People Management: Get the correct mix of interpersonal, technical and political skills on your team. 
  • Communication: Communicate with the right people at the right time and using adequate methods. 
  • Risk Management: Understand which of the risks are significant and develop a plan for monitoring and controlling the major risks involved in your project. 
  • Project Procurement: In case you are using external suppliers you will need to closely manage the cost, time and quality impact. 

By keeping an eye on these areas, Project Managers can ensure that they deliver successful projects that are on time, budget and within the quality level needed. 

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