Whether you're a seasoned project manager or a new one, the start of a project can be a little overwhelming. You'll have tasks to organize, people to manage and communicate with, and deadlines to meet. And if that's not enough, you'll have to stay on budget, meet with project stakeholders and check on everyone's progress regularly.
It'll be easier to handle the project management process if you break down tasks into more manageable steps that can guide you and your team to success.
Everything about project management revolves around building a plan and executing it, which is why I've put together an essential list of project management steps to follow.
At a glance: What are the project management steps?
- Step 1: Project initiation and conception
- Step 2: Planning and ideation
- Step 3: Project launch and execution
- Step 4: Project monitoring
- Step 5: Closure and presentation
What are the five project management steps?
These are the core five steps you’ll need to complete a project from start to finish. Each step includes individual tasks to complete or metrics to measure your project plan.
By the time you’ve finished, you’ll have the right deliverables to present to your stakeholders.
Step 1: Project initiation and conception
This is the kickoff phase of the process and one of the project management basics, where a business need is discovered or client request is received.
You’ll then spend your time analyzing the need or request to determine whether or not the project is feasible or valuable for your team or business.
What initiation and conception could look like:
- Receive a project idea from a client or discover a specific business need.
- Research the need or idea from budgetary, workload, and necessity standpoints.
- Determine the feasibility of completing such a project.
- Inform stakeholders about whether or not the project is feasible.
- Reevaluate if new factors arise based on the perspective of the stakeholders. Repeat this process if necessary.
This is the best opportunity you will have to shut down a project before any issues arise without losing any major time or resources.
Even if you stop a project in its tracks at this point, that doesn’t mean its feasibility won’t improve in the future, especially if money or manpower are the pain points in your evaluation.
Step 2: Planning and ideation
Once you’ve decided that your project is feasible and beneficial, it’s time to put together a detailed project management plan that you will present to your stakeholders.
What planning and ideation could look like:
- Set up a planning meeting with the project stakeholders.
- Set goals and define project success using KPIs (key performance indicators).
- Define project roles and responsibilities.
- Develop a project schedule and cost estimates.
- Present your plan to the project stakeholders.
Step 3: Project launch and execution
We’ve reached the meat and potatoes of the project life cycle: launch and execution. You’ve drawn up all of the plans and set up fail-safes for most of the anticipated pitfalls, so it’s time to make it happen.
What project launch and execution could look like:
- Host a kickoff meeting with your team as well as the project stakeholders and go over the project details, deliverables, and deadlines.
- Enter project goals, deliverables, and resources into your project management software.
- Assign your project tasks to their respective team members through your project management tool.
- Meet with your team members weekly or bi-weekly to discuss project task progress and next steps
This project management principle is subject to numerous changes and repetition of specific steps, including adding new project tasks and goals.
Make sure you keep your project stakeholders in the loop about any new roadblocks, tasks, or alterations to the deliverables.
Step 4: Project monitoring
This is where the project KPIs (key performance indicators) that I mentioned in the planning phase come into play. It’s time to measure the performance of your team against the goals and key metrics you set in your plan to determine if any changes need to be made.
A few KPIs you can track:
- Time spent: The amount of time spent by each individual team member on the project.
- On-time completion: The rate at which project tasks were completed by the given deadline.
- Planned hours vs. time spent: The amount of time spent on tasks as well as the overall project versus the estimated time to complete.
- Number of schedule adjustments: How many times your team had to shift deadlines.
- Cost performance index: A comparison of the budgeted cost of work already done versus the actual amount already spent.
- Budget line items: Detailed list of individual expenditures.
- Return on investment (ROI): Measuring the value of a project against its overall cost.
Step 5: Closure and presentation
Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of your project and it’s time to reap the rewards. But first, before you party too hard, it’s time to present the deliverables of your project and evaluate the final project report.
What closure and presentation could look like:
- Develop your final project report and budget.
- Present project deliverables and any key metrics to your stakeholders.
- Hold a town hall with your team to discuss how they felt about their work, the process, and what could improve for the next project.
If everything went according to plan, you’ve delivered a quality product or result to your stakeholders and now it’s time to party! Pizza for everybody! (No pineapple. Sorry, not sorry.)
How you can successfully follow the project management steps
I’ve put together three key tips that will help you throughout the project management process and ensure your deliverables are finished on time and according to specifications. I hope this helps!
Tip 1: Use project management software
Of course, the concept of managing a team to accomplish a goal has existed for centuries, but project management software has made the process far more efficient.
Project management software will help you organize your tasks, manage deadlines, improve team communication, and centralize your project resources.
All of these benefits mean less stress for you and more time spent on the details that matter.
Pro Tip: Making the decision to purchase project management software for your team is one that requires lots of research, testing, and comparisons. Luckily, The Ascent can help in this regard. Check out our picks for the best project management software, comparisons, and rankings.
Tip 2: Communication is the key to success
Project management software can help with team communication, but it can’t fix underlying communication issues. Having open lines of dialogue between you and your teammates, as well as between teammates themselves, is vital to the success of any project.
This communication has to be open, honest, and consistent in order to ensure your project stays on track and on time.
Otherwise, your team will miss deadlines and other types of crucial information, leaving your team disjointed and lost throughout the entire process.
Pro Tip: Try to encourage communication between teammates during your weekly or bi-weekly meetings. Be sure to highlight any issues that arose out of miscommunication to make your points clear.
Tip 3: Try to avoid scope creep
It’s inevitable that you will miss small details in the planning phase that lead to new tasks during the execution process. However, as you progress through your project, be sure to always account for these new tasks and the resources (especially time) they will consume.
The scope of your project can creep beyond your control if it isn’t closely monitored, leading to missed deadlines and incomplete deliverables.
Pro Tip: If scope creep is unavoidable, make sure you always alert your stakeholders if it turns out that these new tasks will eat into your scheduling buffers and deadline. Try not to keep your stakeholders in the dark about issues that will affect your deliverables.
Is a project management software right for you?
Every project needs a project manager, but does every project need software? Let’s take a look at four benefits of project management software, as well as three considerations you need to keep in mind if you choose to make a purchase.
Benefits of using a project management software
Project management software can help amplify the best aspects of your team with these four benefits:
- Improves project communication: If your team is struggling with speaking up about task needs, completion times, and pitfalls, then project management software (especially collaboratively focused software) can help you organize and incentivize your team’s communication.
- Helps bring multiple teams together: While it is possible to manage multiple teams without a dedicated project management tool, it’s far easier to make sense of all the chaos if you have one.
- Aids in managing project budgets: Not all projects have budgetary needs, but when they do, it’s best to have them in the same place you create the rest of your project reports. Project management software helps you keep your budgets close at hand along with the rest of your resources and data.
- Helps track specific project data: When it comes to large and expensive projects, you can’t leave anything to educated guesses. Project management software is perfect for your team when everything has to be documented and accounted for.
Considerations before using a software
Project management software is perfect for streamlining the project management process, but before you go out there and fork over hundreds of dollars on the first one you test, be sure to keep these considerations in mind.
- It will not fix core issues: As I stated earlier in this piece, project management software will help improve your communication, but it won’t fix any underlying core communication issues. It’s like having a very fast car and no key to start it. Work on encouraging communication between your team members before looking at project management software to fill the gaps.
- It can be pricey: Project management software is an expensive investment for your team. As I mentioned earlier, you should only make the decision to adopt a project management system after you’ve tested and compared the different options on the market.
- It takes time to adopt: Only purchase a project management software if you have the time to onboard your team; otherwise, you’ll spend precious time learning a new platform instead of working on your project. If you’re already on a tight deadline, go with what you know, not with what’s new.
Need help picking out the right software for your project?
If you’re looking to purchase a new project management software for you and your team, we at The Ascent can help you make an informed decision with our in-depth product reviews and comparison pieces. I’ve covered some of the most popular and critically acclaimed software options, including:
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