With all of the different frameworks, jargon, and acronyms, project management often feels overwhelming.
There’s PMBOK, PRINCE2, RAM, WBS, Gantt charts, Kanban,… the list goes on.
With these acronyms, you’d think you were texting a teenager, not planning the work that drives a business.
But, you can’t afford to let the jargon scare you away. When you boil it down, project management isn’t a complex concept, even if all of the lingo makes it seem that way.
At its core, project management is all about coordinating your resources (team members, tools, locations, money) to complete a project as efficiently and successfully as possible.
Project management is about the project objectives, tools, and techniques you use to guide your team to success in the day-to-day and over the long term.
In this guide, we’ll break down how to use project management to do just that — all in plain English.
The 5 steps of project management
Created by the Project Management Institute (PMI), PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge, which breaks down project management into five phases:
It is relatively well-agreed upon in the project management (PM) space that all projects follow this similar flow — this 5-step process that carries each project from start to finish.
Entire books have been written on the above steps, so we’ll just give a high-level overview of each one here:
Initiating: As with any good project (or plan), preparation is vital. The initiation phase is where the project scope is determined and the project foundation is created.
For larger projects, a project charter or “Project Initiation Documentation” (PID) is established. The initiating process includes a high-level overview of the project, a pre-plan if you will. Project phases and overall budgets are also determined during this stage. This is where the project team is created — more on that below.
Note: If this stage is rushed, taken lightly, or skipped altogether, the success of your project is greatly diminished.
Planning: “The devil is in the details.” That phrase sums up the planning stage nicely.
It’s important during planning to set key milestone dates as well as a final project completion date. Be very clear and intentional with project timing. Dates and times can undoubtedly change based on unforeseen circumstances, but putting a stake in the ground ensures all team members are aiming towards the same goal.
During this process, it’s important to outline which project management methodology the team will follow. There are many to choose from: agile, Waterfall, PRINCE2, PMBOK, scrum, lean, and kanban (to name a few of the more popular ones). Note: We detailed several of the top project management methodologies in this blog post, and we get into more specifics around agile below.
The planning phase also includes selecting the team members (more below), outlining deliverables, estimating resources, determining associated activities, and setting (and managing) the project scope.
Creating a project scope — the specific limits and boundaries for the project — is essential during the planning stage. Two questions are key:
- What will get accomplished as part of this project?
- What will not get accomplished as part of this project?
This is the project scope. As we wrote in this practical guide to project scope management, “Without a project scope, things either fizzle or spiral out of control.” Be sure to spend significant time on that second question as it’s not just the opposite of the first. Knowing what will not be part of a project is important to avoid “scope creep.”
Executing: At this point, it’s all about getting (stuff) done. Execution. Doing. Where the rubber meets the road. During execution, the team ensures the pre-determined deliverables are, well, delivered!
Monitoring/Controlling: Where are we at any given point in the project vs. where we should be … according to the project plan. A regular, consistent, systematic project “check-in” is critical to ensure project success. A key component in the monitor/control step is having proper project documentation and tracking. This can be accomplished through Kanban boards, Gantt charts, team stand-ups, and many other means.
No matter how it’s done, keeping an eye on progress and step-completion means project teams can quickly identify when a project has derailed and get it back on track quickly and efficiently.
Note: If the scope changes at any time during the project (which is likely will!), it’s important to document the changes. Transparency is critical!
Closing: As the verb indicates, the close is the actual end of any given project. The final step, sometimes known as “project delivery.” All activities are wrapped up, and the final product is delivered to the client (an internal team or external stakeholder).
If a contract was in place, this is the time when the contract officially ends as well. If possible — and highly recommended — this stage includes a full review or audit of what went well, what didn’t go as planned, and how future teams and projects could learn from this one.
While there is some variability in the details, these are the agreed-upon five steps of project management.
And while following the process is important, setting up the “perfect” team is essential.
The building blocks of successful project management
When managed right, projects serve as levers for companies to develop new products or services, transform internal business processes, and produce value for customers.
They are a driving force behind innovation and change in a company.
But if you don’t have the right system in place, projects can become a time and money suck for your organization.
In 2020, 11.4% of every dollar invested in projects was wasted due to poor performance or management.
To avoid falling into that trap, you need to build a robust project management foundation.
Here are the 7 building blocks to successful project management.
1. The right framework or methodology
The first step toward successful project management is finding the right framework or methodology. It must suit your industry, scope, workflow, and team structure.
A framework outlines the team hierarchy, how you produce deliverables, the up-front plans, and the actual management process. Choose wisely.
We’ll dive into PM frameworks in a second, don’t worry.
2. A culture of transparency and ownership
Transparency can make all the difference when managing a project. No matter how granular your plans get, your individual employees will control their own work.
If they don’t understand your long-term goals, KPIs (key performance indicators), or plans, they won’t know where they fit into the puzzle.
Start a culture of transparency and accountability. Involve every employee in the planning process (at some level), and give them ownership over tasks and deliverables by using solid project management tools, like monday.com!
This culture change will shift your company into high gear. “Regular” employees will self-manage more effectively than a manager could ever micromanage them, and with higher levels of accountability, motivation to perform better will also rise.
3. Realistic scope
Scope creep is one of the main challenges project managers face. More than half of companies (52% ) experience some level of scope creep or unforeseen changes to the scope during a project.
Want to reduce the chance of scope creep and avoid unrealistic projects altogether? Include stakeholders and experienced workers in the early stages of planning.
That will help you avoid guesswork and rely more on collective experience and data.
4. Accurate and predictable schedules
If you want your team to stay productive, you need to create realistic work schedules. While it’s almost impossible to develop the perfect project management timeline, that doesn’t mean you should cut corners or pressure employees to deliver too much at once.
Bad schedules and unaccounted for dependencies can lead to delays and other costly setbacks.
If you use an agile framework like scrum, you can avoid these issues by focusing on the short term and smaller deliverable increments.
For effective traditional up-front planning, you’ll want to build schedules with breathing room to account for unpredictable issues and interruptions.
5. Effective resource management
Resource management is an important tenet of project management. Effectively using and replenishing resources throughout the project is key to maintaining speed while staying within budget constraints.
Imagine you are a contractor planning two different construction projects. If your crew is working on two building sites, you can plan to use the same concrete pourer in both so you don’t need to rent it twice at different times, for example.
For digital projects, resources often refer to specific employees or teams. A graphic designer may be engaged in several concurrent projects, so you’ll need to plan with her in order to get the most of her available time.
6. Stakeholder engagement
A stakeholder is a person directly invested in the success of a project. They could be a key client, internal product user, executive, or product manager.
If those directly affected by the project aren’t involved and engaged in project management, there’s a risk that the project will go off-course as the marketplace and user needs change.
7. Next-level project management software
No company can run successful project management if their system is built on a web of endless spreadsheets and emails. There’s nothing practical, scaleable, or transparent about a system like that.
To succeed in the modern world of remote work, inter-departmental collaboration, cloud file sharing and 1,000 other variables unique to your company, you need a modern project management platform.
Oh, hi. Fancy meeting you here.
monday.com is an easy-to-use Work OS that slots perfectly into whatever project management framework you use.
With views ranging from our custom table (with color-coded statuses) to Kanban board, Gantt chart, timeline, and calendar views, you can truly customize the experience to your workflow.
How to pick the right framework to guide project management
One of the most crucial project management decisions you’ll make is choosing a framework.
A framework controls how you structure your team and how you make vital decisions when planning and monitoring your projects.
Consider your scope, deliverables, and workflow.
As promised, here are the leading project management frameworks (with links to even more comprehensive deep-dives):
1. Waterfall project management
Waterfall or traditional project management is focused on “perfect planning.” Before you even get started, you break down and schedule the entire project from start to finish.
It may seem like an old-fashioned idea, but in some cases, it’s still the best approach.
If you’re working with physical products with lots of dependencies, or services where your SLA demands perfection, consistency, and set-in-stone deadlines, there’s no better alternative.
Check out our complete guide to the waterfall project management framework here.
2. Kanban project management
Unlike the waterfall framework, Kanban project management focuses on continuous improvement. Using a Kanban board (a simple board divided into columns from “to do” to “done”), your team plans how to improve products, campaigns, or processes.
The method originated in Japan’s car manufacturing industry and is often used as a way to implement principles of Lean management.
To learn more about the kanban project management framework, check out our guide.
3. Scrum project management
The scrum framework is the most popular way to implement Agile project management. It divides larger projects into shorter, 1–4 week sprints to make it easier to adapt to the demands of the project as it evolves.
It also lays out rules for team size, team roles, planning, meetings, deliverables, and more.
It’s a great framework for teams that can deliver functioning increments of their work during a project, not only software projects. For example, you could use it for marketing campaigns, product design, or other creative projects as well.
Read our dedicated post on the scrum methodology to learn more.
4. Agile project management
Agile has become a buzzword in project management and is often prescribed as a catch-all solution to inefficient companies.
But it’s not a perfect system. It has its own unique shortcomings.
In fact, most companies that try to make the shift to Agile encounter major problems.
Agile frameworks, like Scrum, are designed to make room for mistakes, trial and error, and unanticipated changes. In other words, if you employ an Agile approach, don’t expect your operations to run perfectly. They can also be hard to scale beyond a smaller team level.
However, Agile is great for these reasons as well. For many teams, having the flexibility to amend project plans as time goes on is integral to ensuring they can finish. the project at all.
Even if you don’t implement a purely Agile framework, you can benefit from adopting some agile-inspired values into your project management process.
To learn more about running your next project using an agile framework, check out our walkthrough.
Or, read about all the project management methodologies to understand all of your different options.
Unfortunately, there’s no textbook answer for the single best framework for every company. An outsider can’t tell you which option is best for your team, but by understanding your choices, you can arrive at the best decision.
How to manage the entire project life cycle
If you want your projects to succeed, it’s not enough to nail the initial planning process. You need to control the project throughout its entire life cycle.
What are the 5 stages of a project management lifecycle?
The lifecycle of a project is complex and involves multiple stages from initiation and planning to execution, monitoring, and closing. Let’s jump in.
Step 1: initiation and pre-planning
Initiation is the first stage of preparing for a project. It’s where you iron out the objectives, brainstorm potential outcomes, and try to figure out if the project is both feasible and worth the cost.
In this step, you’ll also determine what resources the project will require in terms of money, staff, time, and more.
Step 2: planning
Once you’ve identified the business need and feasibility of a project, you will start the planning stage. In this phase, you break deliverables down into smaller tasks and map out the entire project timeline.
Then you assign ownership and start scheduling different milestones and deliverables for the project.
Step 3: execution and making the project a reality
This stage is where you start putting the plan into action. You must work closely with all the teams to make sure they follow the script and understand their roles.
In this step, be sure to check in and make sure each team member knows what they are supposed to do and when.
Execution is the ‘doing’ stage, where you turn your plan into reality.
Step 4: monitoring and managing in real-time
Once the project is live, you need to monitor progress and make sure the project team is working efficiently.
If someone falls behind schedule or runs into an unforeseen problem, you will want to identify it and resolve the issue as soon as possible.
Step 5: closing
After you finish the project, you should analyze the outcomes and experience of the project team to learn from everything that happened. If the project’s objective was to replace a certain process or technology, you will also need to decide how and when to phase out the original product.
By standardizing a unique process for managing the entire life cycle, you can ensure a higher rate of successful project completion throughout your company.
monday.com’s aptly-named project management plan template can help with that…
If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation, read more about the project life cycle on our blog.
Top project planning tip: Create a strong foundation for project management success during the initiation and planning stages.
We can trace most top reasons for project failure back to poor planning and research.
35% of projects fail due to teams’ failure to understand requirements, 29% because of inadequate risk assessment, and so on.
Lay a solid foundation for project success by taking this initial phase more seriously:
- Start with a feasibility study or applicable historical data.
- Identify key stakeholders and involve them during the process.
- Define clear project deliverables that add real business value.
- Set a clear vision and roadmap that aligns with your project goals.
- Choose your team members wisely and enlist high-quality contractors if you need additional support.
- Involve team members directly when building the project schedule and timeline.
Top project planning tip #2: Facilitate communication and collaboration during the execution phase
Once your project is up and running, some companies start dropping the ball on management. “The planning is done” is a dangerous mindset to have.
Facilitate communication, collaboration, and empower the project team to adjust their course as the project evolves.
- Make use of weekly (or even daily) status meetings to identify bottlenecks and solve problems.
- Send weekly updates to all team members on the progress of the project.
- Keep individual members accountable by giving them ownership of project tasks and incremental deliverables.
How to structure your project team to maximize productivity
How you structure your project team largely depends on your framework and the scope of your project.
Here are a few proven strategies for building a successful and productive team.
1. Recruit talent across departments
The actual talent for your project team will likely come from different departments.
Because every project needs varied expertise and input from different stakeholders.
The benefit is two-fold. Instead of hiring new talent, you can better utilize existing resources. And by including members from different departments, you can get broader buy-in into the success of the project.
2. Identify the right project team members to create deliverables
For smaller projects within a single department, you should make sure you include all of the right staff members.
For example, if it’s a website redesign, you’ll need graphic designers, front-end developers, and copywriters on board.
For more complex projects, it may be easier to divide the project into smaller teams based on the type of deliverables. But the same rule applies to these teams.
Your teams need to be highly collaborative and self-sufficient. It may sound obvious, but most companies fail to set this expectation when setting their teams up.
3. Know exactly what a project manager is responsible for, and how to choose one
The role of a project manager depends on your framework and the type of person you choose for the job.
For example, a project manager could be someone educated as a professional PM or a subject matter expert (SME) — someone who’s extremely knowledgeable in the area of the project.
A professional PM might play more of a facilitating role during initial planning. They give room to stakeholders and SMEs to shape the project plan with their hands-on experience.
If the manager is an SME, they might take on more of a visionary role, directly shaping the roadmap and high-level plans.
Smaller companies may not be able to afford a dedicated project manager role, in which case, an SME or executive is the logical choice.
Either way, a project manager should…
- Take the lead on planning projects and evaluating viability.
- Highlight key deliverables and their interdependence.
- Find key stakeholders and potential partners.
- Estimate costs and break down the budget.
- Identify and minimize risks.
- Assist in the assembly of project teams.
- Monitor the implementation of the project, and make sure that it follows the project plan (when possible).
- Adjust the project plan to address unforseen changes and new priorities.
4. Empower “regular” team members to participate in project management
If the project manager has to babysit every team member and make the final call on every minor decision, the project will crawl forward at a snail’s pace. Instead, empower your team members to exercise their own judgment and push forward.Employees at “high-trust” companies report 50% higher productivity than their low-trust counterparts. While giving employees autonomy to use their discretion, micro-managing them will slow down progress and hurt team morale.
With task ownership and complete transparency of what’s expected from them, your team members will propel the project forward. They have the space to go above and beyond and become the driving force behind the project.
How to make the most of project management software
Once you’ve figured out which framework makes the most sense for your project as well as the project lifecycle, it’s time to put things into play.
While spreadsheets, email, and whiteboards could suffice for very simple and small-scale projects, large and complex projects require a robust project management platform to succeed.
monday.com gives you all the functionality you need, from platform-specific templates, boards, and workflow automations to collaboration tool integrations.
Here’s how you can set up your digital workspace to empower your project teams.
1. Use project documentation to speed up framework adoption
Add project documentation that outlines your new framework and process to all project tables. It’s the fastest and easiest way to speed up the adoption of your new project planning process.
2. Create your roadmap and high-level project plan
Projects that lack vision and direction are unlikely to inspire employees. That’s why a project roadmap is so important.
Make sure you don’t just outline the general scope of your project but also why the project matters and its potential impact.
You can do this in the project scope section on monday.com or create a separate, dedicated outcomes section.
3. Break the project down and map out your workflow
Once you have a roadmap or some other form of high-level project plan, it’s time to break down the project schedule.
If you’re using a waterfall model, you can use what’s called a work breakdown structure (WBS). Essentially, it is a plan where you break down deliverables into specific tasks.
How granular you should get depends on your framework and the scope of your overall project.
4. Encourage ownership
Within the monday.com dashboard, you can easily assign ownership of tasks and subtasks to individual employees. By assigning ownership, you can encourage greater accountability and motivation.
And since the owners of each task are visible to the entire project team, you’ll benefit from a healthy dose of social pressure to ensure individual follow-through.
Click the person icon in the owner column and search for the name. They’ll now receive notifications for due dates and comments.
In addition to assigning task owners, it’s also a good idea to give each team member simple responsibilities like reporting on progress during status meetings and identifying their own roadblocks. This helps maintain a culture of transparency and builds momentum.
5. Collaborate directly on tasks
You can easily comment on and collaborate directly on tasks on the monday.com platform. Our solution supports file attachments, mentions (with email notifications), and threaded discussions.
Click the speech bubble to open the comments tab and view all relevant correspondence. It’s that easy.
6. Customize your boards to suit your workflow
Once you’ve created different plans and dashboards, you can start customizing them to suit your workflow.
- Add columns or status fields to the table view to match the number of steps in your workflow. For example, you may want columns that help you keep track of the task owner, deadline, current status, approvals, and comments.
- Add timeline fields and dependencies to access the Gantt chart view.
- Add multiple task owners, for example, a manager, developer, and code reviewer.
These are just a few examples of the flexibility of our digital workspace. After you’re done customizing, you can easily save the board as a reusable template.
7. Automate repetitive tasks to speed up project management
You can also easily set up monday.com Automations to speed up your workflow for more efficient project management. For example, you can notify managers automatically when due dates are passed, create a new task item every week, and more.
8. Use custom dashboards to stay up-to-date
Once your projects are up and running, and everyone’s used to their new workspace, your managers need an easy way to monitor the project status.
With monday.com, they can create a custom dashboard that highlights their preferred KPIs with just a few clicks.
What does the future of project management look like?
Many project management trends are shaping how we work. Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the biggest force with the largest, lasting effect. In fact, in PMI’s Pulse of the Profession survey, 81% of respondents reported their organization is already being impacted by AI technologies.
AI is most likely to change how meetings are planned and scheduled. But technology writer Peter Giffen believes AI “could also incorporate data analytics and automatically analyze project team data, providing clear indications about how to improve performance.”
As outlined in this Forbes article, in addition to AI, there are three other project management trends we can expect to see in the near future:
- Project managers will need both AI and EI skills: We’ve already discussed the importance of AI, but EI — emotional intelligence — is increasingly becoming a required skill in the PM space. The ability to understand other humans is critical.
- A need to adopt more customized or hybrid PM approaches: Gone are the days where a single PM methodology will suffice. We’ve professed our love for agile, but it’s likely that models will need to be flexible to accommodate different teams and various projects. We’re pretty sure there is a monday.com template for that.
- A more diverse team structure: As detailed above, the “perfect” team is what you’re aiming for. It’s important to understand how that team will become more and more diverse — diversity in ethnic background, socio-economic status, and even location (the move to a more work-from-home team has only been accelerated thanks to the global pandemic).
No matter what, project management (thankfully) is here to stay! But not all project management software is created equal.