Project management practical guide — Part 1

project management lifecycle

Keeping projects on track, and managing resources is the most important work that a project manager handles. It involves the application of whole set of techniques, usage of tools and a varied skill set to understand team, business, and technology

You can find yourself in the role of a project manager with little or no prior experience. Big or small, well-managed projects have better end results. Whether you’re leading a product development initiative or working on a complex presentation at work, the same basic steps for project management applies

There are four phases of project management lifecycle:

  1. Initiation
  2. Planning
  3. Monitoring & Execution
  4. Closure

I have divided the article into two parts to cover all the phases. Let’s look at how you should get started with your project

Step-1. Know your project

Simply having an idea of what needs to be done is not enough. “Need a new software system to manage employees” is a very broad statement. Being a project manager, you need to understand the business needs, requirements, and most importantly the problem statement of the project. “Who will be the end-users of this system? What all features are expected?” There are so many things to consider

Having an overview will help you throughout the project. And knowing the end goal will help streamline and track project in better ways

#1. Define the scope

A clear scope of work helps you plan better and estimate the risks and costs involved

A simple technique is to start with the end goal and then drill down to features that can help accomplish the goal

This breakdown helps in identifying clear goals and objectives. A well-written scope answers questions such as, “What is it that you are trying to accomplish with this project?”, “Who will benefit from this?”, “How does it align with the business vision and needs?”, “What is the approximate cost for the project?”. It is also equally important to define what is not included in the scope to set the exact expectations. Usually, a project charter details all this information

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small thoughts brought together

— Vincent Van Gogh

Ultimately, a project is a series of well-planned tasks brought together

#2. Agree with stakeholders on the project plan

The project charter/scope document that we prepare must be agreed upon by all the involved stakeholders

It serves as a roadmap for everyone involved and is therefore important that everyone involved must be on the same page

Documentation adds a lot of benefits. For instance, managing changes, setting expectations, measuring success criteria etc. The stakeholders can validate the set expectations with the actual deliverables. Project managers can track changes, and ensure timely sign-off of the project

unclear expectations

Once all the stakeholders agree with the set expectations, the next step is to plan the project

Step-2. Plan your project

#1. Decide on project management methodology & tools

There are a lot of project management methodologies and in some cases even hybrid approaches. A methodology is basically a set of guidelines and processes to manage the project efficiently and help project teams work better. Few top project management methodologies are Waterfall, CPM (critical path method), Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Hybrid, Extreme Programming (XP), Lean, Prince2, and Prism

You can check this article to understand these project management methodologies in detail

With so many options available, the biggest challenge is to choose which technique would fit best for your project. How to decide?

There are several factors that help determine the right methodology. Few important parameters are timeline, the complexity of the project, budget, project type and industry, team size, and skillset. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

#1.1. Evaluate the project needs. Look at the requirements, resources required, and the end goals and objectives

  • If the requirements call for a large and diverse team, you should choose a methodology that supports flexibility
  • With a clear idea on the end requirements such as building a house, choose waterfall approach or CPM
  • If it’s a software product and app that is not in stone yet, maybe Agile or Scrum methodology is what you should choose
  • Is rapid development of a minimum viable product the most important thing? Then look at one of the process-based methodologies such as Lean or Lean Six Sigma

#1.2. Assess what’s already working for your organization

Every organization works in a different manner. Some principles which work well for one organization might not fit in properly in another organization

#1.3. Evaluate your team

If you have a team that thrives on collaboration, Agile would best suit the needs. For a highly motivated, experienced, and process oriented team, SCRUM would be a preferred choice. In case, if the team is not familiar with these processes, choosing a complex methodology would not work

To support productivity and collaboration you need to use tools. Tools to manage project tasks, team, documents, meetings, brainstorming, etc. Project management tools such as Jira, Trello, MS Project, Smartsheet, and Kanban Tool are some of the tools I prefer depending upon my project methodology. Here is a detailed list of tools that might be of great use to your project

#2. Put together the right team

This is the right time to bring in the team you need to achieve the end goals. It is very important to have people with the right skillset in the team. It is also beneficial in the long run to match with stakeholder expectations. Important points to consider here:

  • How much an individual’s skillset is matching with the required work expectations?
  • If required, will they be able to work together on a task?
  • In the case of remote work collaboration, cultural differences often become a big hurdle. It is therefore important to consider their personality opinions in terms of empathy, learnings, and respect towards others
  • How much are they willing to learn?

With the right team assembled, half the work is already done for you! Now, all you need is to keep the team motivated in a good spirit

#3. Detail the tasks

The first question that comes with every project is “What needs to be done exactly?”. Now that you have understood and visualized the end goal of the project, it becomes easy to create a to-do list

Tip: View the overall project as a sequence of logical smaller tasks

Bring in your team together at this point and they will help to break the tasks into smaller stories or individual tasks

Structure these tasks using a proper task management tool. Mind mapping is a good way to visualize, structure, and brainstorm on the tasks

There are various tools available such as JIRA, ASANA, WRIKE to help you organize and manage the work through user stories & tasks & sub-tasks

New tasks will always keep on coming and you must ensure how to accommodate them in the work backlog whilst estimating cost and time

#4. Plan schedule & set milestones

One of the riskiest and challenging work is to estimate the time. Why risky? Because, if the estimate goes wrong, it creates a huge impact on many aspects of the project! What can come at your rescue being a first-time manager?

  • Organization’s past learning based on the previous projects
  • Involve your business analyst, team lead, technical lead/architect, QA lead and design lead to help you plan the tasks and make you aware of the challenges that might come in the way
  • Your experience and learning on what you’ve done before, what you have an idea about and where you need the research
  • Talk to a consultant or other project manager friend

With tasks planned and estimated, the next step is to prioritize and set milestones to measure progress. There are many techniques to prioritize tasks such as weighted average technique, review them against the SMART principleCPM to identify most time-consuming tasks and their inter-dependencies. Gantt charts are one of my favorites to visualize the schedule of resources and tasks at a given point in time. Day theming and time blocking are good scheduling techniques to get started with planning work in the most efficient ways

A good project management tool would help you visualize your schedule and keep track of progress and reporting

#5. Kick-off the project

With all this work done, you are ready to kick-off your first project. Setup a kickoff meeting. It’s crucial as it sets the expectations and work tone

Establish a clear vision and deliverables, share the project plan, arrange a short intro for team members, explain the expectations set for them and any conduct or processes to follow during this project

In the second part of this guide, we look at how you can monitor and manage changes, risks, communication, and adjustments to your plan, and why it is important to close your project

Happy project management!

This article was originally published by me on Medium

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot is the owner of this blog. She works as a Management Consultant with businesses to set up processes, and coordinate as Project Manager to help develop IT solutions. Travelling, reading, and shopping are her core interest besides work. Surbhi is available for consultant projects full-time, part-time, or remote work

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