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The key things you need to know about project management

What is project management?

Projects are vital to the running of any organisation because they help to ensure the fulfilment of business needs. Creating a structure which includes resource management and a timeframe in which to reach project objectives is invaluable for every department and team. Project success is almost always reliant on accurate project planning. There are five major activities in project management:

  • Project initiation
  • Requirements definition and planning
  • Project execution
  • Performance monitoring and cost control
  • Project closeout

What is agile project management?

The rise of agile project management can be linked to the rise of tech start-ups and iterative ways of working in software development. What is known as the Agile Manifesto came from the gathering of 17 software developers in 2001 at a ski resort in America. It was planned as a simple meeting of minds away from the office but led to a new way of thinking that went beyond rigid planning structures and business processes. 

Agile project management is exactly what it sounds like – a more flexible and nimble way of working that responds to changes in the predicted timeline of a project plan. This can be because project teams are working faster and more efficiently than predicted, as well as the more troublesome slowing of project progress due to unforeseen hurdles. The agile way of working has five essential attributes:

  • Transparency
  • Customer focus
  • Adaptability
  • Sense of ownership (effective leadership)
  • Continuous improvement

Scrum is the process framework in which agile projects take place – usually two-week windows called sprints. Teams complete project work collaboratively and because the individuals within teams are the ones closest to the ground, they’re encouraged to make informed decisions. This collaborative problem-solving helps reduce holding patterns due to waiting for managers to approve decisions. These decisions are part of an iterative approach that leads to a successful project.

What are project management tools?

Project management tools help to delineate specific tasks and manage workflow in complex projects. In particular, project management software allows project managers and stakeholders to see how the project is progressing and any barriers to reaching their goals. Kanban is one of the leading pieces of project management software which gives this kind of visibility and overview to all team members. It is also considered a methodology in its own right.

Gantt charts are essentially horizontal bar charts to help track the various tasks that the project requires against a predetermined timeline. They allow project managers and team members to chart start dates and end dates for each phase of a project as well as set milestones. This helps everyone understand when deliverables are required due to the various dependencies within the larger project schedule.

The Gantt chart is the original project planning tool, created by Henry Gantt sometime between 1910 and 1915, when it was considered revolutionary. There was actually a predecessor, called a harmonogram which was developed by Karol Adamiecki; however, it was not officially published until 1931 and only in Polish. Today, you can get free Gantt chart templates in Microsoft Excel. There is also specific project management software available like Kanban, which offers advanced functionality for creating interactive project plans and diagrams. Creating your own project schedule in this way lets you produce a work breakdown structure (WBS), which is a vertical hierarchy of tasks based on the horizontal timeline. Because Kanban is a software platform rather than a desktop programme, it also gives project managers flexibility to assign tasks (while instantly notifying the assignee), real time progress overviews, and drag and drop functionality. The lean nature of Kanban means that it focuses on next steps in each part of the project rather than the bigger picture, helping to get things done on schedule.

A critical path analysis will help map out which tasks need completing, when, and how long they might take. This also helps assess which tasks are dependent on others being completed. From this, a timeline and budget can be created.

What’s the difference between project management and project portfolio management?

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is a way of analysing whether future projects are worth undertaking. To do this, it helps to have a previous project from which to model outcomes. If a project of a similar scope has not been carried out before, project managers can collate data from past and current projects to get an idea of the time and resources needed and how it may impact concurrent projects. The analysis ultimately helps gauge whether a proposed project will further the overall objectives of the organisation. It is part of the project management process but carries a different function to project management – it is key to risk management.

Project management documentation

From the analysis that PPM offers, comes the business case for the project, which outlines the reasoning behind and justification for carrying out the proposed work. The emphasis of a business case is on value – usually what will be the return on investment. Sometimes the business case will point to a loss in profit, but there may be value to the project in how it helps the organisation learn and adapt for example. The document covers the benefits, risks, timescales, and costs of the project.

A project charter is the first piece of documentation generally used at project kick-off and serves as a reference document and roadmap. It can also be thought of as an elevator pitch to make sure everyone involved is fully on board. The charter outlines project scope and makes clear the objectives as well as naming those who will implement the project. It is a project statement so doesn’t need to go into detail, but it should answer these questions:

  • What is the essence of the project?
  • Why does this project exist?
  • Can we (the project initiator, stakeholders, and project team) agree on this project?

How to get into project management

Project management is core to any business moving forward in delivering better products and services, so there is always a demand for experienced project manager professionals.

The University of Lincoln’s 100% online MSc Management is designed to help you to develop your skills and knowledge in project management and to set you up for success in your future career. 

This degree is studied part-time, so you can continue to work and earn as you learn, allowing you to continue building your career without taking a study break.