Being a project manager isn’t for the faint of heart.
You must apply specialized knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to successfully guide a project from conception to completion while meeting all project goals within the deadline and budget and mitigating risk.
But most of all, you should know how to build out an effective project management process that actually gets the job done.
Wondering how? Read on as we explain the project management process step by step to simplify tasks and make them more manageable.
Step 1 — Project Initiation or Inception
The first phase of the project management process is initiation or inception, where you convert an abstract idea into a meaningful, actionable goal. In other words, you must conceptualize the project and determine feasibility.
First and foremost, a project manager must be appointed to look after and maintain the project. The project manager is not just planning the project–they are responsible for setting milestones, allocating resources, identifying and mitigating risks, managing the team, and seeing the project through to completion.
The project manager irons out a broad project overview, including crucial details like project constraints, goals, budget, and expected timeline.
Once that’s done, identify your key stakeholders, AKA the people directly involved in the project. You can also create a stakeholder register with the roles, designation, influence, and communication requirements of every stakeholder clearly stated.
As you can see, while you do have to determine the clear-cut goals of the project, you don’t have to worry about any technical details in this project management phase.
To reiterate, this stage is all about figuring out the project’s goals, objectives, and overall methodology.
Generally, projects stem from an organization’s need to solve a problem or explore and uncover new and more profitable opportunities to do business. The goal of a project is to launch a product or service or have a result that is meaningful to the business. To understand what the project will entail, you must know what your project will achieve and the challenges you might face.
Step 2 — Project Planning
The project planning step is about laying down the project’s roadmap or blueprint to guide the whole project from ideation to completion. And yes, this phase is just as extensive as it sounds and can take up almost half of the entire project lifecycle.
Your job is to identify technical requirements, develop a clear-cut project schedule, and prepare a communication plan. In addition to this, you’re also responsible for setting up project goals and deliverables.
When setting a project goal, you can follow either the SMART or CLEAR approaches.
The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Under this approach, all your project goals are critically analyzed to reduce risks and help project managers make clearly defined and achievable goals.
The acronym for CLEAR stands for Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable.
This method was designed to cater to the ever-changing landscape of the current modern workplace. The fast-paced nature of businesses today needs flexibility and immediate results, which is exactly what CLEAR can help you with.
Scope, Schedule, & Resources
The three constraints or elements of any project are the work scope, the schedule of time needed, and the resources required to complete the project.
You have to define the scope of the project. This means defining all works that must be done to achieve the project goal. Some project managers also develop a work breakdown structure (WBS) to visualizes the entire project in different sections to facilitate effective team management.
The project timeline is another crucial element of the project planning stage. Project managers use this timeline to develop a communication plan and a communication schedule with the relevant stakeholders.
You must fully understand the resources required, meaning the people, money, and equipment needed to complete the project. Your most significant resource may be people, which you must identify in the planning stage. You’ll need to identify the types and number of resources required and the availability of them.
Risk mitigation and effective change management are other important aspects of the project management process. While you’ll have to derive past data to identify and eliminate potential risks for the former, you have to incorporate a few changes to avoid project delays for the latter.
Every project will have unexpected delays or obstacles. As the project manager, your job is to think of all possible problems and create plans of attack to solve the issues. Creating risk response plans early in the process keeps you from being caught by surprise and allows your team to respond quickly to anything.
Step 3 — Project Execution
In the project execution stage, your team will start doing the actual work. As a project manager, it’s your job to establish efficient workflows and carefully monitor the overall progress to ensure the best results.
Besides this, you also have to maintain effective collaboration between project stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page. Address any team concerns and issues that arise along the way.
This will ensure the project runs smoothly without any issues.
We highly recommend using project management software like Monday.com or Trello for this. Both tools have intuitive and minimalistic interfaces that enable you to break down your project into smaller tasks and lists, improving efficiency and boosting team productivity.
Step 4 — Project Monitoring and Controlling
Here, you will closely measure the project‘s success to ensure it develops properly and as promised. You must also ensure no team member (or even stakeholder) deviates from the original plan by establishing critical success factors (CSF) and key performance indicators (KPI).
During the monitoring phase, you must also quantitatively track the overall cost and effort taken during the project management process. Not only is this important to make sure the project operates within its budget constraints, but it’s also essential for the success of future projects.
During this phase, you must be looking for risk factors–things that may slow down the project’s progress. Identifying and minimizing risk is a big part of a project manager’s role. You’ll also be looking for roadblocks that prevent your team from getting the work done on time and finding ways to assist them.
Step 5 — Project Closing
Project closing is the fifth and final stage of the project management process that indicates the end of the project after the final delivery.
It’s also important for stakeholders to validate and approve the deliverables.
As the project manager, you are responsible for closing all contracts with suppliers, external vendors, consultants, and other third-party providers. You must also take care of all paperwork and filing.
Often, project management teams hold a reflection meeting after the shareholders approve the deliverable.
The idea here is to contemplate their successes and failures during the project to facilitate continuous improvement within the company and enhance the overall team productivity in the future.
Be sure to review the entire project and create a detailed report that covers every aspect. Store the necessary data in a secure place, so it’s easily accessible by other people when needed in the future.
Common Problems When Building Out a Project Management Process
Following the above five stages involves its share of challenges. This section will discuss some of the more prominent project management process challenges and how to overcome them to ensure the best results.
Challenge #1: Project Scope Creep
Many experienced project managers consider scope creep as an expected and natural phenomenon, regardless of the project. While there are times it can be useful, the cons usually always outweigh the pros. After all, clients who don’t know what they want or have vague requirements will always be a problem.
Remember that your clients might be external ones or managers and stakeholders within your company.
The best way to deal with scope creep is to engage with the clients during the planning phase. Make sure the client signs off on the objectives and expected results before executing the project.
Taking a proactive approach will help you get their exact requirements and understand (and manage) their expectations, making it easier for you to plan your resource and talent usage.
Additionally, you should ensure everyone sticks to the plan. Avoid accommodating ad-hoc change requests during project execution to prevent project delays and reduce additional expenses.
Problem #2: Inaccurate Estimates
Considering how rare accurate project estimates are, estimating budgets is arguably the most complex aspect of project management–and the most important.
You should take actionable measures that improve your team’s forecasts. Here’s a list of a few proven strategies:
- Collect all project requirements before making estimates. Meet with stakeholders to discuss them in detail so that you and your team fully understand their nature and potential dependencies.
- Rope in all your organization’s subject experts (software developers, quality assurance specialists, and so on) to participate and contribute in the estimating session. Their experience and expertise will help you make more accurate predictions.
- Use proven project estimation techniques and strategies to set yourself up for success.
Problem #3: Inadequate Resources
Do you know what makes inaccurate estimates worse? Inadequate resources.
Out of all challenges, resource-related ones can have severe consequences and may even bring your project to a complete standstill. Problems can start as early as the project planning stage when assembling your team. For instance, if your team members lack skills or don’t have the availability to see the project through completion, you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage.
Effective resource forecasting is incredibly crucial to avoid resource shortages. Make sure you give this your all if you don’t want to be caught blindsided by a specific resource suddenly falling through. Spend time in the planning phase understanding precisely what resources you need and what are available. You may need to hire additional staff or contractors to get the job done.
Problem #4: Poor Communication Levels
Clear and effective communication between the project manager and project team members, stakeholders, clients, and other managers serves as the foundation of a successful project.
That said, each of these parties may need a different type of communication and use different channels to touch bases. It’s why you need a comprehensive communication plan that includes these preferences before sharing it with everyone involved.
You’re also responsible for clearly defining the communication channels and setting up ground rules regarding project updates. Another important responsibility is avoiding unproductive or futile meetings and maintaining the right level of project transparency.
While all this is easier said than done, it’s still an achievable task—provided you have dedicated people on your team who can handle remote/hybrid work circumstances (if your office is one).
Problem #5: Project Management Software Implementation Pushback
Project management tools are revolutionary tech that can make a project so much easier to handle. Unfortunately, not everyone sees them that way.
A few of your project management team members might need a little extra convincing. You see, there are many reasons people avoid change or push back the new technology:
- They are afraid of fail when trying to adapt to a new system
- They may have had bad experiences in the past when managing workflow changes
- They are afraid of losing the comfort of their established routine
- They lack confidence in the management team‘s choice
The best team manager is one who acknowledges these doubts and works on removing them. It’s unreasonable to expect everyone to jump on board immediately, so expect some form of resistance when you introduce a project management tool to your team. Address every team member’s concerns individually to help them feel more comfortable and secure when using new products.
Two things you can do to help your team see the value in project management tools are:
- Get the ones who do know the value to act as coaches
- Have a few team members do a free trial of the software you’re considering to see its value and how it can help them do their job easier
Problem #6: Unclear Project Goals or Deliverable
A surprising 37% of project failures result from a lack of clearly defined objectives and milestones to measure overall progress.
You have to be careful when setting short-term and long-term goals, ensuring they are all efficient and well thought out. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself dealing with unnecessary confusion and miscommunication that may also result in missing important milestones, and in turn, create project delays.
More important than just the overall project goal is setting milestones for each step of the project.
The whole point of milestones is to help you measure your team’s progress and project status. But before that, you need a well-defined set of goals to avoid losing track of where the project is going in terms of cost and time. Luckily, you can tackle this easily by following the SMART or CLEAR rules for goal setting and then working backward to break the bigger goals into smaller milestones.