Project management is a specialized career with its own concepts, skills, and tools. Good project management is based on having an understanding of basic project management. In this lesson, we’ll review the basics of project management.

Project Management Concepts

Your startup IT company has just landed its first real contract to install your new human resources software for a local organization. Since you are a startup, you are limited on staff, and the staff all wear multiple hats. This project is important to the company’s owner, and he’s asked you to fill the role of project manager.

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Before trying to understand the project management process, it’s important to understand what a project is. A project is a temporary endeavor to create a specific product, service or result. Installing software in a client’s environment meets this definition because the effort has a defined beginning and end and will result in the customer’s purchase of new products and services to install the software.

Project management is using specific knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to ensure project activities meet the project goals. Deciding you need to understand more about project management before this contract gets off the ground, you decide to do a little research on basic project management concepts, including the skills a project manager should have.

Five Phases of Project Management

You find that project management is broken into 5 basic phases.

5 Project Phases

Let’s take a closer look at each phase.

Conception and Initiation

Project conception and initiation is where the project starts.This is where someone determines if the project can be realistically completed and if the benefits of doing it make it worth the effort to move forward with the project. The concept and initiation phase is also where you determine what you are going to do to meet an objective and how you are going to do it.

For the software project, you realize this is already in the contract the customer signed, and you simply have to understand it.

Definition and Planning

The concept and initiation phase is very broad, leaving many details unplanned. To further define it, the definition and planning phase digs into project specifics. A project team defines the tasks, calculates a budget and schedule, determines what resources are necessary, and defines acceptance and testing criteria. All of this information is put into a project plan, which is reviewed and approved by the customer. The definition and planning stage ensures everybody has the same expectations, preventing unexpected and often costly mistakes.

For your software project, you realize that the definition and planning phase is where project management will add true value to the success of the contract because the overall concept in the contract is refined into a working plan that lays out, in detail, project expectations. Any concerns can be worked through at this stage before any tasks have been started.

Execution

The execution of the project is where tasks are assigned and completed. This is the phase where you build the product or deliver the services for the customer. In most projects, this is the phase that lasts the longest and takes up most of the project team’s energy. This phase is dependent on good planning done in the previous two phases because the plans previously developed are put into action.

Performance and Control

While a project is in execution, performance and control ensure that the deliverables are produced as specified, at the cost estimated, and on schedule. During this phase, project managers compare ‘what is’ to ‘what should be’ and adjust the plan if needed. If the project isn’t monitored, the costs could exceed profit and the company would not make money, the schedule could get off track without anyone realizing it, or the product could fail to meet agreed upon criteria.

In looking at this phase as it relates to your software project, you realize that this is an important phase to both the customer and the company because it ensures the customer is happy with the results and the company makes a profit.

Closing

Closing is the phase where the customer formally accepts the project deliverables. By accepting the deliverables, the customer is saying that the product meets the criteria and expectations and work on this project is over.

Closing isn’t just for the customer, however. The project team should learn from the project’s successes and problems, taking the time to document the lessons learned for future reference.

Skills Used in Project Management

As you look over the basic project management concepts, you realize that the skills a project manager uses are very different from the technical skills you use as an engineer. As a project manager, the job is about people skills. A project manager must be able to:

  • Communicate: With 90% of a project manager’s job falling into communication, clear and effective communication skills are irreplaceable. Many communication tools are available, from email and phones calls to formal project reporting.
  • Lead strategically: Project management isn’t just about assigning tasks and comparing performance; it requires strategic vision and leadership to deliver on the project’s goals.
  • Manage a team: Aside from strategic leadership, project managers need to be able to manage operationally as well. It requires assigning tasks, resolving conflict, setting goals, and adjusting plans. Tools that help maintain project organization, such as software, tasks lists, and status meetings will ensure good team management.
  • Negotiate: Project managers must balance the desires of the customer with the needs of the project, an act that requires good negotiation. A good project manager knows the give and take of negotiation.
  • Manage risk: Projects are risky; if they weren’t, they would never go wrong. Project managers must be able to predict risks and formulate solutions to increase the chances of successful project delivery.

Lesson Summary

A project is a temporary endeavor to create a specific product, service or result; it has a defined beginning and end. Project management is using specific knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to ensure project activities meet the project goals.

Project management is done in 5 phases:

  • Conception and initiation
  • Definition and planning
  • Execution
  • Performance and control
  • Closing

A project manager must possess specific skills:

  • Communication
  • Strategic leadership
  • Team management
  • Negotiation
  • Risk Management