Starter guide for project management

Project management is vital for the success of any business. Every organisation tackling any problem or task can benefit from a systematic way to keep moving parts on track. 

What is project management? 

In a general sense, project management means applying a process or methodology to the completion of a temporary task with a defined goal. That could be anything from building a website to planning a wedding. The fact that a project is temporary is what differentiates project management from day-to-day management.

A project manager, therefore, is the person responsible for planning that process and monitoring its results. What does a project manager do? They define a project, launches it, follows its various elements and makes sure that it gets completed within budget and on time. They manage expectations when it comes to timelines, goals and a project’s scope, too, so leadership and communication skills are as integral to the role as organisational ones.

Do you need a project manager? If your project has several components and several people working on it (or more), the answer is probably yes. Having a project manager makes it more likely the project will be both successful and profitable, as a project manager with a defined methodology can prevent cost overruns, scope creep and confusion of all types. “Scope creep” is a term often used to describe a project’s tendency to become bigger or to develop different requirements over time. This symptom sometimes happens simply because of miscommunication. Preventing scope creep is still one of the biggest drivers of a project’s success, according to a 2018 survey  of thousands of PMs and executives from a range of industries. 

But how do you know how to choose the right project management approach for your business? There are lots of practical ways to conduct a project. Think about what the project entails, the number of people working on it, the dependencies that rely on completion of other parts and so on. 

Read on for the tried-and-true types of project management that can help your business stay organised and thrive. 

Five popular types of project management

1.Critical Path

  • A “critical path” method is a type of step-by-step project timeline. It’s best used when at least some of the tasks needed to complete a project depend on one another. 
  • A project manager using critical path first lists the tasks, then determines which tasks depend on one another and which tasks can be delayed without holding up the entire project. This PM is mainly looking for the quickest way to complete a project with the least amount of downtime in between tasks. 
  • The chronological sequencing of tasks, then, is a big focus here, as is the estimated duration of each task. Project management software can help make these calculations, too. 

2. Waterfall

  • A “waterfall” project management method is also sequential. One of the traditional project management tools, it calls for a strictly linear progression of tasks that leads to project completion. It heads only in one direction, like a waterfall.
  • The waterfall method works best when team members rely on the completion of other tasks before starting their own. It also works best if there aren’t likely to be many big surprises or changes along the way.
  • A waterfall method allows projects to scale well, as it is a design-heavy and disciplined approach that can keep even large projects in check.

3. Agile

  • As its name implies, “agile” is one of the most flexible project management methods. It was designed for teams that must be able to respond quickly to market forces or client needs. 
  • Agile breaks a project down into a series of iterative cycles, or “sprints”. For example, in the software industry, those sprints usually include both the development and QA testing of one aspect of the overall product.
  • Agile provides flexibility when your team doesn’t need complete control over deliverables. For example, if a working prototype of a project is your first goal, flexibility and client feedback is more important than sticking to a strict protocol. 

4. Scrum

  • A “scrum” falls under the broader category of agile project management. It is based on small teams using short, focused sprints to achieve iterative goals. 
  • These sprints usually last for a defined amount of time, usually no more than a few weeks. 
  • A scrum is principally designed to break a more extensive project down into manageable chunks. It has defined roles for team members, set objectives for each sprint and a method for evaluating each sprint.
  • Each sprint has a defined deliverable, too. Members of a sprint team usually conduct short, daily check-ins during the sprint and a review meeting at the end of it.

5. PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique)

  • The “PERT” technique is typically used alongside critical path project management. It’s a tool whose main goal is to reduce the costs and time needed to complete a project.
  • Often used in manufacturing or construction projects, PERT works best for large-scale, complex projects that have a defined sequence of tasks.
  • One of PERT’s main features is a visual diagram of the project’s tasks and timelines. Within this diagram, users can draw arrows to define the “critical path” (see above). The tasks on this path are those needed to complete the entire project. 

How to choose the right type of project management for you

Here are a few questions you and your team might ask after you’ve determined the main focus and main goals of your project.

What is the industry of the project?

  • Considering what world you’re working in can eliminate certain types of project management methodologies automatically. Some methods work best for software development, for instance, while others work best for large, sequential projects like building construction.

How flexible is your timeline?

  • More rigid timelines will need more linear project management methods, such as critical path or waterfall. 
  • What are your start and end dates? If they’re strict, linear PM methods might work best; if they’re malleable, and other aspects of the project are more important, an agile approach might work best.

What is your budget?

  • Having a fixed budget might mean you need to have a fixed timeline. That might mean you’d choose a more fixed approach, such as critical path or waterfall.
  • Some project methods, such as waterfall and PERT, tend to be better for larger teams. If you don’t have the budget for a larger team, those methods may not make sense.

What kinds of teams will you be working with?

  • Scrum and other forms of agile methodologies work best with several small, self-directed teams that communicate well. 
  • Are there any special roles needed? Flexible methods such as agile can help with projects that have a lot of moving parts and need small, nimble teams.

How involved will all the stakeholders be?

  • If your clients or other stakeholders will be involved along the way, you’ll need to consider that when planning out team size, complexity, timeline and budget.
  • An iterative, responsive model like agile is most helpful when you’ll be checking in frequently for feedback.
  • On the other hand, if your team or your clients are resistant to change, you may want to pick a method that lays everything out upfront. 

How complex is the project?

  • Complexity affects the budget, timeline and team size, but it also affects the methodology. Simpler, shorter projects with clear and fixed requirements often work best with a waterfall or similar, linear method. 
  • Will the project need to scale up? A large, complicated project also might benefit from a more heavily planned and consistently documented method, like critical path or waterfall.

No matter what type of project management you choose, trying out a specific method can help. With project management tools in hand, a complex and chaotic task can become efficient, collaborative and cost-effective.

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