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Project Management helps companies, large and small, achieve their goals and objectives. However, before an understanding of project management can be provided, a brief description of what a project is might be needed.

At its simplest, a project is a group of tasks that all need to be completed to reach a specific goal. These tasks can be in a sequence with one needing to be completed before the next one is initiated or can be run in parallel. The point of project management is achieving that clearly defined goal and can be quite a complex undertaking.

Projects are best run by Project Managers who, depending on the objective are responsible for scheduling, task and resource management, risk mitigation and so much more. Project Managers work across teams with a variety of tools and resources and are responsible for projects over the course of the Project Lifecycle. Before we define the project lifecycle we will explore the role of a project manager in more depth.

What is a Project Manager?

The project manager has quite a large remit as they are the person responsible for ensuring a project is completed on time and within budget and scope. However, while their responsibility is quite large, in many cases the resources they have available to accomplish these goals often report to leaders in other areas of an organization. As such project managers need to have strong leadership skills and the ability to work across boundaries and teams. Note that in some cases, the project manager role overlaps with a product managers responsibilities, so it's important to learn the differences between project and product managers.

Why Companies Need Project Managers

Companies that fail to deliver on time risk impacting customers which can have a negative effect on the bottom line. Good project managers help companies achieve the goals they have set out to meet. They provide the teams working on the project with a specific vision that aligns with the companies objectives so they understand the underlying importance.

Projects can be accomplished without a project manager, but if a company wants to do it efficiently and within budget, a project manager is almost a must. Project managers help control project scope and costs ensuring that the designated team is not distracted and can focus on the task at hand. They are responsible for scheduling tasks in the right order and reporting progress to leaders so that any risks can be dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

Defining the Project Lifecycle

There are many different project management methodologies around the world. One of the largest and most well-known is the Project Management Institute (PMI), which has defined five unique phases for any project.

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The five phases of the project lifecycle are as follows:

1 -- Project Initiation

Projects need a charter and the initiation phase is where this is created. In the project initiation phase, project managers try to understand the business objectives of a project and its overall scope. During this phase, project managers look for and identify key stakeholders and also confirm project funding.

2 -- Project Definition and Planning

The project planning phase is a key step in determining what all of the different tasks are with a project. Specific goals are established that are ideally defined using the SMART methodology so that all parties are aware of what needs to be accomplished and by when. The project definition phase also includes an understanding of the overall costs of implementation and the resources needed for success. Project planning might sound like a phase that only occurs at the start of a project but in reality, this phase continues throughout a project as work gets done and deliverables get adjusted.

3 -- Project Execution

This phase of a project is where the bulk of the work happens as tasks identified in earlier phases are completed. Project managers are responsible for ensuring that identified tasks are completed in accordance with the agreed-on schedule and also responsible for making adjustments based on unplanned changes that occur through the project.

4 -- Project Performance and Monitoring

During this phase, project managers measure specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to ensure that the project is on track. Based on the ongoing results of this measurement, adjustments are made to plans where appropriate.

5 -- Project Closure

All projects have a defined beginning, middle, and end. The Project Closure phase is the end of the project. Project managers need to create lists of tasks that were not completed during the course of the project and also prepare reports on resource and budget utilization. Staff seconded to the project management team for the duration of the project are also returned to their teams during this phase.

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Project Management Methodologies

When it comes to running a project, there are two different methods that most businesses have come to embrace as a standard. The Waterfall method is more of a sequential process where specific tasks are done in order from start to finish. With the waterfall model, the initial project scoping phase is critical as it is often difficult to make changes mid-stream.

The Agile model is very different from the waterfall model. Agile is most common in software development teams and is used for small iterative projects that are known as sprints. Basically with agile, a larger project is broken down into smaller phases with each phase having a measurable benefit. Agile is great when frequent change is envisioned as teams are able to pivot.

Project Management Tools

Projects do not require specific tools to be successful. However, having the right tools in place can make projects run more effectively and efficiently. When considering tools, they can be defined in a variety of different ways from scheduling tools to task management and communication.

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Let’s take a look at some of the most popular project management tools and methodologies and project managers:

Kanban Board

The Kanban Board was popularized by Scrum project managers as a means of tracking work in progress. They are an excellent method of tracking work in progress and are especially popular in Agile project teams.

With Kanban boards, project managers can visually depict where specific tasks are in the process and can move tasks between different states quickly and easily. Simple Kanban boards can be as uncomplicated as To Do, Doing, Done but they can be easily expanded based on business requirements.

Collaboration Tools

When working with projects either within teams or between companies, the right collaboration tools are essential. Collaboration tools help keep people informed about the progress of tasks and deliverables in real-time which is much better than email. In addition, cross-company integration tools like Exalate can help ensure different systems used in disparate companies are flexibly and autonomously integrated, helping keep teams on track.

Gantt Chart

The Gantt Chart is an extremely useful tool in planning and organization. Modern Gantt charts let project managers set milestones and deliverables with an allocation of resources and time. A Gantt chart helps leaders understand limitations and perhaps more importantly make adjustments to deliverables. Gantt charts have the ability to have interlinked tasks so if one task is delayed, subsequent tasks can be automatically adjusted.

Workflow Software

Project management at its core is about making sure all the moving pieces go to the right person at the right time. Keeping things organized with Kanban or Gantt charts is one thing, but actually having a workflow software to keep things moving automatically is even more effective. Assign, automate, track and train with one tool. Create more accountability, increase consistency, have fewer errors, less digging for answers and faster training are just some of the benefits.

Project Management in Closing

Project management is not a new discipline. Regardless of whether we are talking about the creation of the Hoover Dam or the first man on the moon, people have been using schedules, teams, and more to get the job done. People have been managing projects for centuries which can be seen in some of the biggest landmarks on the planet and the greatest accomplishments of the planet. Modern project management methodologies really only started in the 1950s with the advent of modern manufacturing processes and over the years since, it has continually been refined and updated.

Project management and project managers today are found in every organization and business. With burgeoning competition around the world, companies understand that innovation and change are essential for growth and success. With a clearly defined and operational project management process in place, businesses are much more likely to hit the sales targets they have set and achieve the goals they have promised.