When you perform work for your clients, do things always run smoothly? Are you delivering projects on time? Are your clients always happy with the work you deliver?
Or do you ever find your projects costing more than you budgeted or running behind schedule?
If these problems sound familiar, have you considered injecting more project management into your projects to keep them running smoothly from start to finish?
In this article, we'll cover:
- What is a project?
- Why is project management critical?
- Project management basic concepts
- 5 phases of project management
- The three Cs of project management
What is a project?
We've all worked on projects at some point in our lives, from projects at school, at home, and at work. But what exactly is a project?
Simply put, a project is a one-time endeavor to produce a product or service.
For example, if you hire a construction company to remodel your kitchen, your kitchen remodel is a project. The company may do many kitchen remodels over a year, but your kitchen remodel is a single project. Your completed kitchen remodel is the final product.
When you hire that construction company, you wouldn't just let them have a go at your kitchen. You'd likely have many questions, such as how you'll work with the company to pick out materials, how much the project will cost, and the timeframe for completing the project.
You (also) wouldn't want that company to throw out numbers and a schedule without planning. For example, if they estimated your kitchen remodel would take three weeks and cost $30,000, you wouldn't be a happy customer if they took two months and handed you an invoice for $80,000.
What is a project manager?
A project manager is like a CEO, steering a project and keeping it on track.
To do so, the project manager develops detailed project plans and schedules (while minding project constraints).
Along the way, project managers manage tasks, budgets, and schedules so the team can focus on work.
Good project managers also "architect" collaboration among the team and stakeholders. They act as a liaison between the team, stakeholders, and (where applicable) the client.
Project success increases when everyone is on the same page and works together throughout the project lifecycle.
Why is project management important?
There are many reasons why it’s crucial to understand the basics of project management. Let’s take a look at a few.
Businesses run more efficiently and effectively
Project management helps businesses run more effectively.
The project plan for our kitchen remodel project has the project manager ordering materials, monitoring their status, and scheduling resources (when they're needed). This way, the project team can spend more time on their tasks.
With a clear plan and schedule in place, work tends to move along more efficiently. Project quality increases. Your customers will experience fewer delays. No one wants their kitchen to be a construction site for longer than needed.
A better understanding of resources
When you have a clear plan and detailed requirements for your project, resources (and costs) are easier to estimate. This tends to lead to successful project outcomes.
When you set a budget with your customer (and track costs throughout the project), you'll get ahead of any surprises down the line.
For example, if, in the kitchen remodel, the team finds drywall damage behind the dishwasher, that'll add resource time (and cost). The project manager can discuss the issue with the homeowner and suggest alternatives or savings in other parts of the project.
Avoid bottlenecks and make better decisions
It's critical to assess and manage risks throughout the project lifecycle.
For example, if a crew member in the kitchen remodel project is out sick, is someone else available from another team to jump in and do the work?
Project management basic concepts
Let’s take a look at some basic project management skills.
Project scope management ensures the project stays focused and meets its agreed-upon deliverables.
A project scope statement includes the project goals and outlines what's included (and excluded) from a project.
For example, our kitchen remodel may include a floor remodel, new cabinets, countertops, and a new dishwasher. The stove and refrigerator aren't very old and won't be replaced as a part of the project. The team will restore the existing refrigerator and stove after the remodel.
Once a project scope statement is agreed upon, you could take it further and create a work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS details the tasks that make up the project scope.
The WBS for the kitchen remodel would include tasks for picking out materials, ordering them, designing the project, getting approvals, and each step of construction, from tearing out old kitchen fixtures to putting in new ones.
Cost management includes budgeting, allocating money, and controlling costs. Managing these is best done with detailed estimates and budgets.
For our kitchen remodel project, if the kitchen owner suddenly changes their mind about a material or appliance they picked out, this would change the cost. If the price is higher for this part of the project, the project manager can suggest ways to lower the cost in a different area if the homeowner doesn’t want to exceed the total project budget.
Risks are inherent to all projects (and businesses).
Possible risks might include a team member becoming unavailable due to illness or materials being delayed.
For example, if we get close to the start date of our kitchen remodel, and the flooring is delayed in our kitchen remodeling project, we'd be better off with a plan B in our back pocket.
Resource management involves allocating, planning, and scheduling resources so they'll be available when needed. Resources can be people, material, or information (data).
For example, one crew may do the demo work in our kitchen remodeling project while the others install new products. The install crew doesn't need to be on-site when the demo work is done. They're free to work on other projects. However, the installation crew does need to be available when the demo crew is done. No homeowner wants an indefinitely demoed kitchen because the install crew wasn't immediately available.
Five phases of project management
The Project Management Institute (PMI) created the five phases of the project life cycle, and they're documented in the 7th Edition of the Product Body of Knowledge. These phases are associated with traditional project management (waterfall methodology).
You can't build your dream kitchen without the materials and a team to do the work.
First, a project manager would want to determine the project scope (including cost).
For our kitchen remodel, is it just a cabinet and countertop remodel? Or will there also be new flooring, new appliances, and painting of the walls? The customer would need to pick out the materials they'd like to determine how much the project will cost.
If the customer has a specific budget, a project manager familiar with kitchen remodels could help guide them on materials that fall into the range they want to spend.
All this information would be documented in a project charter.
Project planning means organizing and lining up all the different pieces that come into play for an entire project.
The project manager would start by determining when they could start and how long it would run. Considerations include schedules (including subcontractors), project deliverables, and material availability.
The project manager also needs to consider the risks of the project (and how to manage them). They might use a risk register to help with this important piece.
Here is where the actual work is done.
The project manager will allocate and manage tasks, resources, and the project schedule.
Examples from our kitchen remodel include tearing out the floor, installing a new floor, and putting in cabinets and appliances. All of these tasks include human resources, materials, and timelines
Throughout project execution, the project manager will ensure that the project team collaborates effectively. They'd do so by having a regular meeting schedule, and project status reports to keep the customer (and key stakeholders) updated.
Project monitoring and control
A key project management activity is tracking project progress (and health). This includes making sure the team has what it needs to do its job, that tasks are running on schedule, and dealing with any issues (risks) that pop up.
Project management software can make this piece a breeze.
Once the project is complete, the project manager will wrap up the project by reviewing the deliverables with the customer and ensuring the final invoicing goes out.
In the case of our kitchen remodel, the project manager ensured everything was installed correctly and that the customer was happy. Finally, the project manager has an (internal) retrospective meeting with the project team and key stakeholders for lessons learned that could be helpful in future projects.
The three Cs of project management
The three Cs of project management are collaboration, change, and creativity.
Collaboration is essential for projects to succeed.
You'll need to engage stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle and collaborate with your team at every turn to keep the project on track
But effective collaboration doesn't just happen. You need to "architect" it.
This means creating (and being the prime user of) communication channels and methods, advocating transparency, removing communication barriers, and implementing the right systems and tools to keep information flowing.
Every project involves changes.
In our kitchen remodel, the customer may change their mind about the cabinets, or a team member may become unexpectedly unavailable.
This ties off to risk and change management in the project management world.
Creativity helps when dealing with issues (which are risks that have come true).
In the kitchen remodel, if the cabinet maker is unexpectedly out sick (and the rest of the team is busy), can you jump in to help?
Or if the new cabinet hinges are on backorder, can you refinish the existing hinges to make them more modern?
Use Motion to help you with project management
Managing projects means keeping many spinning plates in the air at the same time.
Why not make your life easier with Motion.
Motion's calendar feature slates the tasks you enter into Motion's task manager in the optimal time slot (while considering deadlines and priorities). Motion's task manager can then help you track those tasks throughout the project lifecycle.
Even better, the deadline date alert will show you if a task won't meet its deadline, giving you time to change the schedule, reassign, or rearrange other priorities to complete the task on time.
With Motion, you can also collaborate within the app, avoiding the time-suck of app-hopping.
If you're not using Motion yet, access a free trial today.