Project Management Basics Every Project Manager Needs to Master

Project managers play a significant role. They are responsible for driving a project from planning towards execution. But how do they get there? The specific responsibilities of a project manager differ from the type of project and industry. However, there are project management basics that every project manager needs to master regardless of the kind of project or industry.

Project Management Basics: Terms You Should Know

Stakeholder – In a project, stakeholders hold a vested interest in the project outcome. Additionally, any issues that may occur during the project will affect them. Therefore, it is essential to keep them informed of project progress.

Contract – Contracts serve as the formal, legally-binding agreement between all project stakeholders. The contract dictates terms such as payments, responsibilities, terms, and conditions. Additionally, a contract will include addendums such as drawings, specs, schedules and other documents.

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Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)WBS helps to break down a project into smaller tasks. Basically, a WBS is a list of

deliverables. For example, constructing a building is complex. However, a WBS breaks down the project into phases and deliverables.

Milestones – Milestones serve as markers for progression or movement through different phases of a project. Occasionally, project managers align milestones with dates to help gauge if the project is progressing according to schedule.

Change Management – Changes often occur during a project. Project managers must manage the change requests and approvals. Change requests must include impact to schedule and budget.

Gantt Chart – Type of chart that outlines the list of tasks according to schedule. Gantt charts allow project managers to track task start dates, end dates, duration, assignments, dependencies, and progressions.

 

Project Management Basics: Planning Steps

The first step in project management is very critical—planning. Once you have developed a goal for the project, planning begins! Having a thorough and comprehensive plan ensures that the next step—execution—goes smoothly. The initial planning steps include:

Activities and Tasks – Projects are complex, but it takes a lot of small steps and activities to get there. Work breakdown structures are helpful to identify all the tasks and activities needed to help you reach the project goal.

Schedule – Once you identify tasks and activities, you can develop a schedule to get those tasks completed. Many tasks have dependencies, which project managers will need to take into account when creating a schedule. Also, even under an aggressive timeline, project managers should build in extra time into a schedule to accommodate for any emergency situations. It is essential to look at historical information to understand the proper amount of time specific tasks take.

Budget – After understanding tasks and schedule, a project manager can develop a preliminary budget. What will be the costs for executing the tasks? If not enough time is allotted to specific tasks, additional labor or overtime hours will be needed. That is why the schedule plays a huge part in the budget.

Risk – According to Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong, it will!” There is always a risk that something will go wrong. Therefore, every good manager should identify possible risks and develop an appropriate risk mitigation plan. Risks to resource management can derail the project schedule.

 

Project Management Basics: Execution

This is the phase where all the magic happens. After all that time planning, the fun work of implementation and execution starts.

Execute – Project managers work closely with different stakeholders to execute tasks assigned to them. They identify challenges and presenting solutions to complete deliverables according to budget and schedule. While there is a plan for the project, a project manager maintains high levels of flexibility to adjust as needed for the good of the team and the project.

Track budget – As the work progresses, project managers are tracking costs accordingly. When any issues arise and changes made, they work diligently to get the extra work and costs approved. Proactive project managers are monitoring actuals against estimates closely.

Communication – The central part of effective execution is communication. Of course, a big part of communication is listening. The project manager is listening to feedback from team members for cost-effective solutions. Additionally, the project manager is responsible for ensuring the lines of communication are open between all stakeholders and creating a culture of transparency and accountability.

Risk management –Even when you have identified risk in the planning phase, when it occurs in the project, it still throws every good project manager for a loop. When project managers identify risk on the project, a thorough risk analysis occurs to determine how best to manage the risk and move forward. Most importantly, a root cause analysis must be made to prevent future risks from happening.

 

Going Beyond the Basics

Now that you’ve mastered the basics, how can you take your project management career to the next level? Project management software helps to standardize processes and collect data to refine processes to improve project delivery continuously.

Project Management Software – With all the moving parts in projects, project management software helps project managers keep track of all project activity. You can invite team members and stakeholders as a user of the software to collaborate and communicate project activities and tasks. The software is an excellent tool for managing tasks, resources, and budgets accordingly. There is general project management software, as well as specialized software for your industry or niche.

Data, Data, Data to improve future projects – Once your team has a software system in place, the system captures valuable data. Information that was once trapped onto paper is now digitized. Project managers, estimators, and owners can slice and dice that information to make informed decisions. The team can analyze the historical data to produce more competitive bids, add resources, and more to grow the business.

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