The Basics of Project Management ...in 4 minutes
Here is a a short video to introduce you to a simple 8-step approach to project management. This is not directly about project definition, so if you are familiar with the basics of Project Management, feel free to skip it. But, if you have five minutes to spare, it'll be a useful orientation for you.
The Project Management Essentials in Eight Steps
So, you’ve been given a project to deliver, and you want to know: ‘what are the Project Management essentials?’
It isn’t uncommon for experienced managers and professionals to get tasked with delivering a project. Sometimes you will have done other projects before, but this one is bigger, more complex, or the consequences of success or failure are greater. Maybe you have never done a project at all, and the whole thing seems a little daunting. You need the Project Management essentials, and you need them now.
Don’t worry: that’s what we are here for. Let’s work our way through all of the Project Management essentials, one step at a time…
Step 1: Answer the question:
What is your project all about?
Your first task will be to define very clearly what your project is, and what it is not. You won't be able to proceed securely without this. Whilst there are many components to a full project definition, three are far more important than all the rest: your gaol (sometimes referred to as your aim), your objectives, and your scope.
Start by getting a definitive statement of what your project will set out to create or do. Among your Project Management essentials, there is nothing more fundamental than this. We often articulate our goal in terms of a change or transformation, so start by thinking about what will be different when your project is complete and successful.
Once you have your goal, start to put some detail against it with objectives. These are the time, cost, and quality criteria you want your project to meet. When do you need to delver your project, what budget will you have to work within, and what are the quality standards you must meet? It will also be essential to know which of these your boss, client, or sponsor considers to be the most critical to your success.
Your scope sets out the breadth and depth of your ambitions; the amount of work that you will need to do on your project. What will you be aiming to do, and what will you be leaving out. I often think that negotiating your Project scope is the hardest of all the Project Management essentials. Everyone will have a different pinion about what is vital, important, and desirable. In a world of limited resources, you will need to disappoint some of them.
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Defining your Project is the first of our Project Management essentials. For more information about this, you may want to take a look at our article on creating a clear Project Brief.
Step 2: Answer the question:
Does your Project make Sense?
Before you proceed with your project, it is crucial to know whether it makes commercial sense. That is, does the value of your projected outcomes exceed what you anticipate will be the costs and risks of your project? And don't be fooled into thinking this only matters in commercial organizations. If you are working within a not-for-profit organization or a branch of public service, it is equally important that your Project can satisfy the value-for-money test.
But commercial sense means more than money. If your organization is going to invest its time, resources, and energy into a project; you will need to demonstrate that your project is properly aligned with the organization's own goals, strategy, and values. If it is not, then you risk delivering a project that will damage the long-term interests of your organization.
The document we use to record both why your Project makes sense and therefore why your organization should undertake it, is called a Business Case, and this is the second of our Project Management essentials.
Step 3: Discover:
Who will determine your success or failure?
This question will start you of on the third of our Project Management essentials: engaging with your Stakeholders. These are the people who have an interest in your project. They may support what you are doing, oppose it, or be neutral in some way.
What you can be sure of is that they will know things and have opinions that can be valuable to you. So make it your business to listen to them, learn from them, and above all, always to treat them with respect.
It is easy to start your project with the best of intentions. You will consult your stakeholders early on, to help determine your goal, objectives and scope. And you will harness their insights to help you to build your business case, with which to promote your Project. However, it takes discipline to maintain constant positive engagement throughout your Project. But, if you want your project to have the greatest chance of success, you must do that. This means making a Stakeholder Engagement Plan, working to it, and keeping it up-to-date, throughout your project.
Step 4: Determine:
How will your deliver Project?
There is a logical sequence you can follow to answer this question. Once you have done so, you will have the basic Project plans that you will need, to manage your project. Start by identifying all the tasks you will need to get done. Then, for each one, estimate how long it ill take. Next, arrange your tasks into a sequence, to give you your project time line.
The next thing to think about is the resources you will need: the materials, assets, and people. You may want to take the time to do more than just list them; to specify each one. From this, you will be able to calculate your budget. By combining this with your timeline, you will also be able to create a cash flow schedule.
Planning your project, in terms of activities, schedule and resources, is the fourth of our Project Management essentials.
Step 5: Unless you are able to deliver your project on your own, you will need to:
Engage your Project Team
Your four primary functions, as a team leader, are to recruit your team, brief them, motivate them, and manage them. To do this, you will need to get to know each person individually, and also build a sense of common team purpose. Having a clear plan, and communicating it well, will really help you.
A lot of words have been written and spoken about the relationship between management and leadership, but to me, as an experienced Project Manager, it seems very simple. The fifth Project Management essential is leadership. That is, unless you are working alone, you cannot manage a project with put leading the people on the project. And if there is one thing that really stuck from all my Project Leadership experiences, the fundamental factor will be you: how you come across to your team. Never underestimate the impact that your mood,your confidence, your optimism,and your determination will have on your team.
Step 6: Acknowledge that:
Shift happens! So prepare for it
Risk is fundamental to the nature of a Project (learn more about what a project is). As a result, Risk Management is very definitely the sixth of our eight Project management essentials.
The process is simple. First, identify all potential risks. Second, understand extent of each risk; its likelihood and its severity. Then, for each one, develop a plan to actively manage that risk. Finally, the crucial fourth step in managing risks is to take action. Once you have done this, reassess your risk and revise your plan.
With such a simple process, the challenge is in the implementation: finding the risks, assessing them robustly, and - often the bit that gets missed - the diligence to keep taking action until you have reduced the threat sufficiently. Risk management is so fundamental to good project management, it is a sub-discipline in its own right.
Step 7: Now it is time to deliver your project. When you do, it is critical that you:
Stay in Control during Implementation
The delivery stage of your project is where people often think that Project management begins. I hope it will be obvious to you that the bulk of the Project Management essentials pave the way for this step. Nonetheless, no matter how well you have planned and prepared, implementation will be a busy time, with lots happening. Your priority, as a Project Manager, is to stay in control. This means you need to be constantly monitoring what is happening. As soon as you spot the smallest problem, you need to assess what is going on, what is causing the problem, and what you can do to set your project back on the right track.
This constant cycle of monitoring and adjusting your project is the 'Monitor and Control Loop' or 'Monitor and Control Cycle'. It is the beating heart of your project during the delivery stage.
But there are also other priorities during the delivery stage of your project. The four you will spend most time on are:
- Leading your team Which we covered above
- Engaging your stakeholders Which we covered above.
- Reporting on progress This is an essential part of project communications and good governance.
- Dealing with requests for change It is naive to think you can freeze your project requirements at the end of the planning stage. But you do need to exert proper control over requests for change, to avoid the equally problematic errors of responding positively to every request, or saying no to all requests.
Step 8: When you have completed delivery of your project, you need to:
Close your Project in an Orderly Way
The Delivery Stage of your Project ends with handover of the products (deliverables) to the new owner. Now you need to close your project down. This is the eighth of our Project Management essentials because, if you don't do this, the loose ends can dissipate a lot of energy, and waste a lot of time. It is good practice to document your project and what the team has learned, to finish off all of the outstanding admin, to debrief your team members individually and, as important as all the rest, always remember to celebrate your project completion with your team.
These Eight Steps lie at the Heart of all of our Core Project Management Courses
We have different levels of course,depending on your needs, and if you get it wrong, our easy upgrade promise means you'll never be out of pocket if you need to upgrade later on. Do take a look at our core Project Management courses.
Other Basic Priorities
These eight steps are the absolute Project Management essentials. But we have written other articles designed to focus beginner Project Managers on the basics. Some other articles you may like include:
- Ten Critical Things to Learn about Project Management
- Seven Vital Project Management Priorities
- How to Get Better Project Management Results
- The Secret to Getting Your Project Management Documentation Right