The Project Management Process

Even if it isn’t your profession, you’ve likely managed a project before. Overseeing a group project at school, planning a dinner you’ve cooked with your partner, organizing a group vacation, or planning an event — all these activities involve aspects of project management.

Project management, at its core, is the process of overseeing every step of a project, whether that’s deploying an app, building a house, or launching an ad campaign. The project management process starts at the project’s ideation and ends at its completion. While different people and organizations have different project management strategies and ideas, there are a few codified systems that project managers use across industries to ensure their projects go off without a hitch.

Basics of Project Management

The main responsibilities of a project manager are planning, executing, monitoring, and launching or completing a project. In order to be successful at every step, project managers must have an in-depth understanding of how to manage each of these responsibilities and the corresponding project stages for the successful completion of a project.

There are, of course, more specific tasks that project managers must complete. First, they need to make an overall plan for the project — identifying the scope, timeline, budget, and tools or systems necessary to complete the job. Next, they have to assemble the right team by bringing on people with the right knowledge and skill sets, such as subject matter experts.

Once the team is ready, the project manager assigns tasks to each person based on their skills, knowledge, and abilities. Then they must lead the team, ensuring that everyone is doing their job and meeting internal deadlines. They will have to check in with individual members, watch out for any issues along the way, and give the team the support and tools they need to succeed. Throughout the process, they also have to manage the project’s budget and timeline, making sure that they’re not going over budget or causing roadblocks that might delay the project.

Project managers must also maintain contact with stakeholders, executives, and clients, keeping them abreast of how the project is progressing and answering their questions along the way. Managing the expectations of stakeholders can be just as important as managing team tasks.

Lastly, project managers must document the project to identify valuable information and strategies learned along the way. This not only helps a project manager be more successful in future projects, but also helps to educate and inform other teams within the same organization as they embark on new projects themselves.

Project management is a fast-growing field, making it a very appealing career path. High job growth means that more and more companies are looking to hire project managers. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), between 2017 and 2027, the project management-oriented labor force in seven project-oriented sectors is expected to grow by 33 percent, translating to nearly 22 million new jobs. This is a much higher growth rate than the U.S. national average for job growth, which is at 7.7 percent (PDF, 181 KB), according to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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The Project Management Life Cycle

Each project manager develops their own opinions and preferences on how a project should progress, and each organization likely has its own best practices for project management. One constant that remains the same is communication. Project managers must excel at written and verbal communication, keeping team members, executives, and stakeholders apprised of project status, challenges, and milestones.

Another commonality among all projects is that they are composed of a series of phases. Each phase will require its own unique strategy, and some phases may even require new team members to come on board.

5 Phases of Project Management

The PMI has developed widely adopted standards for project management, which include the five project management phases:

1. Initiation

2. Planning

3. Execution

4. Monitoring and control

5. Closure

An image highlighting the five phases of the project management process.

Understanding these phases is crucial for project managers, and the PMI even offers a certification program for project managers — the Project Management Professional® (PMP) — certification to demonstrate proficiency.

Initiation phase

The main goal of the initiation phase is to make sure the project definition meets business needs (called requirements) and that all stakeholders and project team members are aligned on what project success looks like. This includes the definition of success metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators) that the project will be measured against during the project and post-completion.

During this phase, a project charter will be developed. This document details the project’s goals, timeline, scope, and constraints, as well as key team members and their roles. The charter will also identify the key stakeholders — those who have strong interest in the project — including internal and external clients and management. This document usually does not include the technical requirements of a project, but rather includes a high-level overview of objectives and anticipated outcomes.

Sometimes, during the initiation phase, a project manager will conduct a feasibility study. This means that research is conducted to analyze the viability of the project, determining whether it is likely to succeed using current assumptions and plans. Feasibility studies can also identify potential issues that could surface during the project, giving the project manager the ability to plan ahead and develop contingency plans to address them.

Planning phase

In the planning phase, the project manager creates the project plan, which is a series of documents that lay out the following:

  • Project scope (contained in the statement of work)
  • Project outcome goals and key requirements
  • Tasks and activities associated with the delivery of those expectations
  • Project budget
  • Resource planning
  • Timelines and milestones
  • Risk management analysis
  • Change management

When it comes to setting project goals, the SMART and CLEAR methods are among the most popular.

An image about SMART vs. CLEAR goals in project management.

The SMART method requires that a goal be specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound. SMART goals are metricized and specific, which can help projects stay focused on their KPIs. So, for example, “releasing our app within the calendar year” qualifies as a SMART goal while “supporting other teams in our company” does not because it is not stated in a way that’s measurable.

The CLEAR method is collaborative, limited, emotional, actionable, and refinable. CLEAR goals represent different focus criteria than SMART goals in that they are more about how the work is done, rather than the metrics. In addition, the CLEAR method lends itself more easily to iteration and change, which is often necessary in fast-paced development cycles.

Execution phase

In the project execution phase, a project manager and their team begin the work they’ve been planning throughout the previous phases. This usually requires management approval and, potentially, client contract signatures.
In this phase, the project manager is primarily concerned with resource and time coordination, as well as stakeholder and management updates. Some additional types of documentation they may use include meeting minutes and work orders (a way of tracking resource hours and costs against specific tasks), as well as quality assurance documentation that lays out testing plans and parameters.

Sometimes new information that impacts the project is uncovered during this phase requiring adjustments to the project plan. When this happens, a change request is used to document the adjustment and includes additional information including budgetary adjustments, timeline changes, and resource requirement changes as appropriate.

During this phase, the project manager finalizes team member roles and specific workflows are assigned. Tracking systems are also put in place to review task status and timelines, making sure that the project is pacing appropriately to meet key milestones.

Performance and monitoring phase

The project performance and monitoring phase happens at the same time as the project execution phase. This phase is all about making sure that the executed project aligns with the project plan. In this phase, project managers use key performance indicators (KPIs) and critical success factors (CSFs) to track their team’s progress. They may also employ scenario planning, which is the process of identifying and analyzing potential future events and how they could be addressed by the team should they occur.

During this time, project managers may need to adapt their schedules and list of resources to make sure that their project stays on track.

Close phase

Once a project reaches completion, it is the project manager’s job to hand off the project to the necessary stakeholders, clients, or colleagues who will be in charge of managing the project’s operations on a day-to-day basis. This includes all documentation, manuals, operations guides, and any other documentation that will aid in a smooth transition. There may also be a training component that teaches stakeholders how to use the completed product or service developed.

Project managers also create a detailed report that outlines how the project went, its successes and failures, and any key takeaways or lessons learned that can be reviewed and discussed within the organization and various teams involved. All the existing project documents and reports will then be stored in a common, secure location in the event they are needed in the future.

At this point, the only thing left to do is celebrate the team’s success!

Learn the Project Management Process Today

If you’re interested in learning more about the project management process, or want to jump-start your career in project management, consider enrolling in a tech project management boot camp. These boot camps teach practical, in-demand skills that employers are looking for and reinforce those skills through real-world team projects. In addition to the experience gained in these projects, learners can use them to populate professional portfolios to fuel their job search after completion. And, given the flexible schedules, online format, and short duration of many boot camps (12 to 24 weeks), it’s possible for many learners to attend while still working full-time.

Whether upskilling for a current position or starting a new career, learners will also benefit from the career services, professional materials counseling, and networking opportunities many boot camps provide.

Project Management Process FAQs

A project manager organizes, plans, and manages the execution of a project. They are in charge of assembling a team, delegating work, and keeping the project on track. They also need to be detail-oriented while still having strong management and communication skills.

There is no specific degree that project managers need to get started in their field. While there are a variety of traditional degrees that could be useful for project managers — like business, management, or psychology — there isn’t one that is considered the best. But, you can also become a project manager without a traditional degree by enrolling in a tech project management boot camp.

At its most basic level, a project is a series of activities that need to happen in a particular order to achieve a specific outcome. Projects come in all shapes and sizes and are common across all industries. For example, a project might be the deployment of an app, where a project manager needs to make sure that developers and designers are able to build an app that meets specific requirements, on a specific timeline, within a specific budget.

The most important project management principles include communication, organization, and management. A good project manager should be able to communicate clearly and effectively with not just their team, but also the key stakeholders in their project. They also need to organize the project successfully and understand the different workflows necessary for success. Lastly, they need to be able to successfully manage their team’s activities, adjust to address obstacles, and mitigate risk.

Project management might be for you if you like organizing, managing, and have a logical mind. Good project managers are detail-oriented, strong communicators, and able to successfully multitask.

Summary

Project management is an exciting role that requires effectively managing a project throughout its various phases. If you’re interested in learning more about project management, consider enrolling in a tech project management boot camp today.

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