Project management is about planning, execution, and reevaluation. It’s a cyclical process that rewards those who make informed decisions on the fly, and with the right plan, any project can succeed. All it takes is understanding the project management steps from start to finish.
I’ve put together a detailed five-step blueprint for executing the project management process, complete with tips and suggestions. You can expand on the steps here, or repeat them as many times as is necessary, but the core structure should always remain the same.
At a glance: Steps to follow in the project management process
- Step 1: Initiation and conceptualization
- Step 2: Planning and ideation
- Step 3: Execution
- Step 4: Monitoring
- Step 5: Closing
An overview of the project management process
This is one of the project management basics every professional should know before executing any new assignment. Follow these steps and tips to ensure a successful project delivery every time.
Step 1: Initiation and conceptualization
This is the kickoff phase of the project life cycle where you establish a business need or receive a new request from a client. You first need to analyze this new business need or client request in order to determine feasibility and value.
Otherwise, you’ll spend your time executing a project that wastes your time, wastes your money, or damages your reputation when the project isn’t delivered as promised.
What initiation and conception looks like:
- Receive the project proposal from a client, or discover a specific business need.
- Research the potential budget, workload, and necessity of the project idea.
- Make a determination on the feasibility of the project based on the previously mentioned criteria.
- Present your findings of feasibility to the relevant stakeholders.
- Make adjustments if the stakeholders believe them to be necessary.
The initiation phase is the best opportunity you’ll have during the entire project to reconsider your commitment without costing your business any major time or resources, so be thorough in your evaluation.
Step 2: Planning and ideation
Fantastic! You’ve decided your project is feasible and beneficial to you and your stakeholders, and now it’s time to construct a project management plan. These are the five steps for creating a thorough project plan.
What planning and ideation looks 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.
Your project plan is your blueprint for success, so don’t be afraid to revisit steps in the planning process in order to ensure that you present a quality final draft to your stakeholders.
Step 3: Execution
This is the project management phase we’ve all been waiting for. The execution step is the meat and potatoes of your project management process, so it’s time to put your team on the grind, avoid your anticipated pitfalls, and churn out deliverables to your stakeholders.
What project launch and execution looks like:
- Bring your team and stakeholders together for a kickoff meeting to go over the project details, deliverables, and deadlines.
- Plug your project goals, tasks, deliverables, team members, and resources into your project management software.
- Assign tasks to your team members in your project management tool.
- Schedule weekly or bi-weekly meetings with your team members to discuss task progress, roadblocks, and next steps.
Flexibility is key during this phase of the project. Prepare yourself for numerous changes to the project, including new tasks and goals. As a word of caution, don’t forget to keep your stakeholders in the loop about any changes you make to the project timeline or deliverables.
Step 4: Monitoring
Remember the KPIs (key performance indicators) I mentioned in the planning phase? This is where they’ll come in handy!
It’s time to monitor and measure the performance of your team against the goals you set during the planning phase.
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 individual tasks as well as the overall project versus the estimated time to complete them.
- 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: A detailed list of individual expenditures.
- Return on investment (ROI): A metric measuring the value of a project against its overall cost.
Step 5: Closing
Congratulations! You’re finished with your project, and you’ve delivered what you promised to the project stakeholders. However, before you get too excited, there are a few last steps you need to take.
What closure and presentation looks 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 you could improve for the next project.
That’s it! You’ve completed the project management process, and if everything went according to your plan, with your tasks and deliverables completed on time, you have every reason to celebrate!
How to conquer the project management process
Sometimes we need a little extra help to complete a project. I’ve put together three key tips that’ll help you complete the steps above and make it through the project management process unscathed.
Tip 1: Use project management software
You can manage a project, or you can manage a project efficiently. Project management software helps you organize your tasks, manage deadlines, improve team communication, and track your project resources all in one centralized system.
Spend more time with your team and facilitating the success of your project rather than dealing with mundane details with the use of a quality project management tool.
Pro tip: Don’t go it alone when selecting a project management software. Enlist our help at The Blueprint to help you make a decision about which tool is right for you and your team with our project management software reviews, comparisons, and rankings.
Tip 2: Communication is the key to success
Communication between you and your team can make or break a project. Project management software can help turn your team communication from good to great, but it can’t fix any foundational issues.
Open the dialogue early on, and make honest communication a key pillar of working on your team. Otherwise, you’ll soon find your team missing more deadlines than making them.
Pro tip: Weekly or bi-weekly meetings are the perfect opportunity to encourage communication between teammates, especially if they are coming to you with deadline or quality-control issues. Use these failings to highlight the importance of team communication.
Tip 3: Try to avoid scope creep
Sometimes plans change, and you have to take on new tasks in order to meet the needs of your stakeholders. This means it’s important to keep an eye on the scope of your project in order to avoid scope creep.
If you aren’t careful, these new tasks can blow your project well beyond the buffer zones you’ve scheduled into your deadlines.
Pro tip: This is where communication with stakeholders is critical. If scope creep is unavoidable, make sure you always alert your stakeholders if it turns out these new tasks will eat into your scheduling buffers. Never keep your stakeholders in the dark if it looks like you’re going to fall behind on deadlines.
Should you use project management software?
There are circumstances when software is required, and other times, you can pass on it.
When to use project management software
You have everything you need: a project, a team, and a plan. All you need now is a quality tool to help you execute your project efficiently.
Here are four instances when project management software will benefit you and your team.
- Improving project communication: If your team is comfortable with speaking up about task needs, completion times, and pitfalls, but you lack a centralized system to do so, project management software can help you organize and incentivize your team’s communication.
- Bringing multiple teams together: Why make cross-team communication harder than it has to be? Project management software can help you bridge the gaps between different teams and departments of your business.
- Managing project budgets: Some projects don’t have any financial management needs, but if they do, there are project management software platforms that can help you manage and track your project budgets and invoices.
- If you require specific project data: If your project requires meticulous data tracking, leave the Microsoft Excel spreadsheets behind, and try out a project management tool.
When to skip the software
Project management software isn’t for everybody. In most cases, it is a fantastic tool to help improve the efficiency of your project management process, but it isn’t a foundational fix-all.
Here are a few instances when you might reconsider using project management software.
- You’re lacking strategy: Project management software won’t help you through your aimless wandering. If your team is lacking a project strategy, no one can save you other than yourself. Organize your house before you go looking for a new software option.
- You’re a one-man team: Personal project management software exists, but it’s not always necessary. If you’re working on simple, one-man projects, you can often get away with using mobile to-do lists, calendars, and reminder applications.
- You’re on a tight schedule: It takes time to onboard you and your team to a new project management tool, and waiting until a project is ready to launch isn’t the time to begin shopping around. If you already have a tool, stick with it until the end of this assignment, and revisit the need for something new when you’re not under deadline pressure.
- You’re on a tight budget: Let me clarify: You should pass on a paid project management software if you’re on a tight budget. You don’t have to shell out money for quality if your needs are simple. Budget for the software you need.
Need help picking the right software?
Now that you have a roadmap for the project management process, we at The Blueprint can help you select the right software for your team.
I’ve reviewed some of the most popular project management software platforms currently on the market, including:
Whether you’re new to project management software or you’re operating on years of experience, our reviews on The Blueprint will help you make the right choice for you and your team.
Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Atlassian and Microsoft and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.