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Start Your Business Startup Basics

What is Project Management?

project management Project managers do the scheduling, tracking and managing of the resources that go into a project. / Credit: fotoluminate | Shutterstock

Project management is the process of planning and organizing tasks to accomplish a successful project. Projects are one-time temporary efforts designed to produce a specific result, such as installing a new computer system or planning an event. They can last for a week or years, but a project has an end date. This is different from ongoing operations, which don't have end dates. Examples of these include payroll and human resources.

Project management is a big growth industry. The Project Management Institute (PMI) estimates that between 2010 and 2020, there will be 6.2 million project management jobs in the United States alone. Project managers are tasked with keeping projects on the right track. They ensure that projects finish on time and within budget, while also meeting the needs of the customer. Project managers do the scheduling, tracking and managing of the resources that go into a project.

Project management begins with the project initiation stage, where the manager develops a project charter to announce a new project and evaluate key aspects of the proposed project. The project scope must be defined, as well as risk management. The kick-off report comes next, which defines objectives, scope, requirements, timeline, meeting schedules and budget for the project.

The next stage of project management is project control. A project plan will help manage and control project execution, including resource hours and requirements. Regular status updates should be reported by the project team and managers, who should also be developing a project test plan. Testing is a critical part of the project management process, and the test plan should include key deliverables and milestones, time line, budget, and checklists for testing requirements.

Once all project tasks and milestones have been completed, the project is in the closure stage. A project closing report will be needed to summarize the process, methodology, findings, budget constraints, and what was learned during the project's process. With this report, the organization can use what was learned during this project by applying its lessons to the next project.

Project management methodologies

There are a number of methodologies that can be used for project management. Here is a list of some of the most popular project management methodologies:

Traditional project management – A step-by-step approach, traditional project management assesses the project through its five stages: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and completion. Each stage is done in chronological order, with a stage beginning only after the preceding stage has been completed. For linear work that is not anticipating significant change, such as construction projects, the traditional project management model is ideal.

Critical Path Method (CPM) – The CPM assigns each task a time duration, and then considers the necessary resources to carry out the project task within that time. This method is based on ensuring the best possible time-efficiency. For example, if one task is late by one day, the project end date extends by one day.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) – CCPM focuses on the resources at hand rather than the time needed. The critical chain is the sequence of tasks that team members are assigned. When limited resources are involved, CCPM distributes the work in a collaborative way for the team.

Event Chain Methodology (ECM) – ECM is ideal for projects with tasks that initiate chains of events. When each task is completed, a new event (and new task) is created. These events are not always anticipated, so they must be managed carefully to reach the end of the project. This methodology is designed for projects that aren't linear and cannot use the traditional project management methodology.

Agile – This approach completes the project in small sections called iterations. The project team reviews and critiques each iteration, and decides the next step in the project. Generally, each project iteration is given a two-week duration. With the agile project management methodology, project teams can respond to issues as they arise throughout the project's course. The teams can make necessary changes to a project at the right time to save resources. This process is ideal for organizations that can make decisions quickly without the need to take decisions to a committee or a board.

Scrum – Scrum is a type of agile project management where multiple small teams work in an interdependent manner. The project manager is known as the scrum master, and each team meets daily to collaborate while focusing on common interests. With scrum, iterations are completed in brief, high-intensity, and frequent work sessions by each team.

Project management tools

There are a number of tools available to help project managers through the project management process. Most are software-based, and the most common ones are AtTask, Clarizen,and Earliz. Basic project management software apps include task, team, and goal management features. Other common features include time tracking and invoicing. Examples of this include Lighthouse, CreativePro Office (which is free), Basecamp, and No Kahuna, among many others.

Wiki-based project management tools can be used instead of basic project management apps, or in addition to one. Wiki-based tools offer timelines, ticket tracking, and road mapping in a wiki interface. Examples include Trac and PBwiki. Wiki-based tools offer similar benefits to collaboration and conferencing tools, which allow you to organize projects and share files with your team. Collaboration tools enable discussions, assignments, desktop sharing, and teleconferencing capabilities.

Project Management Institute (PMI)

PMI is a project manager membership association that advocates the recognition of the role of the project manager in governments, organizations, academia and industries. The institute spans 185 countries and includes more than 650,000 members. PMI offers certifications for project managers of six varying levels. This certification helps educate users, while allowing employers to know which project managers are up to the task. According to PMI, those with certification will earn approximately 16 percent more than those without it.

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