What is Project Management?

calendar Oct 2, 2022
author Written by Marco Biondi

Taking a project from idea to execution, and doing it well, is the lifeblood of a project manager. 

It’s less about jumping on people’s backs to remind them of looming deadlines and meetings, instead, project management follows a set of methodologies and processes to maximise each stage of a project lifecycle.  

Each industry poses different challenges and there are suitable methods for each, we’ll talk about those later, but one thing remains the same no matter the circumstance: there is always the expectation to deliver on business objectives. 

Let’s start our guide on project management by first defining what it means.

How is project management defined? 

Project management refers to the framework used to guide teams to success. Through the organisation, planning and directing of projects that meet objectives, budget, and deadline constraints. 

Some project management stats

In a report conducted by Finances Online in 2020, we get a feel for how important project management can be to an organisation and conversely, how damaging it can be to not have projects managed well. 

Here are some key takeaways: 

  • Organisations that use proven PM (project management) practices waste 28 times less money than those who don’t
  • Around 67% of projects from organisations that undervalue project management as a driver for change, result in failure
  • On average, 11.4% of investment is wasted due to poor project performance 
  • Project managers that hold a certificate earn 22% more than those without 
  • 91% of US CEOs believe that skill directly affects financial performance 
  • If management takes 5 or more hours to make a decision, the failure rate of agile projects is 22%, and the likelihood of producing unsatisfactory results is 53%

You can read the full list of ‘95 Essential Project Management Statistics’ here

What is the project management process? 

To ensure consistency of results, project management uses a five-phase process that consists of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling and closing. 

Here we’ll break down each phase and what they entail.

1. Initiating 

The first step in a project lifecycle is the initiation phase. It's during this phase that a company decides whether a project is vital and determines the high-level expectations for the project. 

Typically, stakeholders will judge the need for a project in a number of ways:

Using a business case 

This explains how the project meets the business’s long-term goals. It also describes an overview of the scope of the project, and what resources the business will need including the tools, budget and time for completion. 

Business cases are the first port of call in convincing upper management of the need to invest in a project. 

Conducting a feasibility study 

This details the likelihood of a project’s success based on all of the high-level factors such as time, budget and scope constraints. The feasibility study lets stakeholders know whether the project is financially and technically viable to pursue. 

Creating a project charter 

A project charter is a comprehensive document that a project manager completes during the initiation phase,In it, you’ll detail the objectives, the processes and resources for executing and monitoring objectives, and mention which stakeholders will need to be involved as you move through each stage of the project lifecycle. 

2. Planning 

The planning phase is where project managers develop a roadmap that the team can follow throughout the project lifecycle. Following the authorisation of a project charter, a project plan is created to outline key deliverables and milestones and how each will be completed. 

A good project plan will go into more detail on which team members will be involved, their roles and responsibilities, the budget and timeline constraints, potential risks and plans for communications between the team and stakeholders. 

A popular framework for establishing goals is the SMART method

  • Specific - What is the specific goal you are trying to achieve? What steps are involved? Who is responsible for achieving this goal?
  • Measurable - What data or information will be used to measure and track the success of the goal?
  • Achievable - What are the most important goals and are they feasibly achievable? 
  • Relevant - Is what you are doing relevant to achieving the overall goal?
  • Timed - What is the projected time for completion? When will you start? When will you implement tasks? 

3. Executing 

This is where the theory is put into practice! All of the information formulated in the project planning phase is executed while the project manager tracks the progress of the team and adapts to any changes. 

The execution phase links closely with the next phase, monitoring and controlling to keep everything running smoothly and on task. A typical structure for executing deliverables looks something like this: 

  • Start with a kick-off meeting to introduce the project and what’s expected 
  • Decide which team members are involved and their responsibilities 
  • Set the resources you’ll need to complete the project 
  • Set up tracking systems to measure progress
  • Execute project plan
  • Manage workflows 
  • Hold status review meetings to check progress and identify roadblocks 
  • Modify and update project plans 
  • Communicate progress and report to stakeholders 


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4. Monitoring and controlling 

As mentioned in phase three, execution, the monitoring and controlling phase happens simultaneously alongside it. It’s no good hitting GO! and hoping for the best. Project lifecycles need to be carefully monitored throughout to keep teams, tasks and milestones in check. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to assess progress, here are some examples of how you can track performance: 

  • Project objectives - is the project currently running within the proposed budget and is it on course to meet the stated deadline? 
  • Check the quality of deliverables - is the output up to standard? Does it meet the expectations of the business and stakeholders? 
  • Productivity and cost tracking - are the team performing efficiently, is there a way to improve efficiency? Are the spent resources in keeping with the budget and will the project be successful based on current performance? 
  • Modifying projects - are there risks or issues that need addressing and how quickly can they be actioned? Will the scope of the project need adjusting because of them?

5. Closing 

The final phase marks the completion of a project and it’s turned in to the client, stakeholders or another internal team member. Closing a project is an opportunity for managers to review the failures and successes with their team. A post-project review reveals critical insights that can be used in the future. 

Some indicators of whether a project has been successful would be: 

  • Did you accomplish what you set out to do? 
  • Are the clients satisfied with the outcome?
  • Did you accomplish business objectives and satisfy upper management? 
  • Was the project completed in line with the project plan? 
  • Were there valuable lessons to be learned from the project and process? 
  • Are the team happy with the performance and output? 

All that’s left to do now is get the relevant parties to sign off on the project so it can be officially closed out. Then grab the team for afternoon cocktails! 

Different project management methods 

Although there is a proven five-phase process for project management, there are in fact several methodologies you can use to dictate how a project is approached, managed and monitored. 

Here are the 5 most commonly used frameworks for project management:

1. Waterfall 

Waterfall project management priorities upfront planning that details each and every stage of the project, to be completed in sequential order. Before moving on to another stage, the first must be completed so it flows naturally (like a waterfall). The waterfall methodology is deemed the “traditional” approach to project management. 

2. Agile

Much like the name implies, the agile methodology is designed to deal with unexpected variables and enables the team to make incremental changes to projects on the fly. With projects that have unknown details or are expected to change often, the agile method sets teams up to cope with this volatility. 

3. Lean 

The lean methodology aims to trim any excess waste and increase efficiency at each of a project’s stages. This happens by mapping out the entire project lifecycle and seeing where to build value from a customer perspective at all times. 

4. Scrum

The scrum framework is the most popular type of agile methodology. Scrum focuses on small teams, meetings, frequent communication between teams and iterative, short development cycles known as ‘sprints’ to get the job done.

5. Kanban

The kanban methodology emphasises a continuous workflow through visualisation. So each stage of the project is visually mapped out using cards and columns to show what needs to be done and when the project can advance to the next stage. 

Final thoughts 

Project managers, and the subsequent processes they follow, are instrumental in delivering successful projects that meet business objectives and win high praise from clients. They are responsible for driving teams, controlling the lifecycle and producing excellent results. And their value is only growing to be more recognised and sought after for organisations wanting to thrive. 

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