Welcome to the EPM Ultimate Project Management Guide. In this guide, we hope to get you successfully running your own projects in the quickest time possible. This guide is both a primer and a complete guide to managing projects.
Ready? Let’s get stuck in…
Maybe you’re trying to build a new software app with your small team? Perhaps you’re trying to build a new house? Or perhaps you’re trying to build an important component of the first consumer-oriented space-going vehicle.
Whichever it is, if you need a plan to get it done, but you’re new to project management, then this ultimate project management guide is for you.
Before we get into the detail, we need to cover a couple of basic definitions. First, we define what a project is:
By temporary we mean that a project has a start and an end. Because of this, it must also have a scope (list of things it is trying to get done).
When we say that a project is unique, we mean that it is not a routine operation, but a set of interrelated tasks designed to achieve a single goal.
The interrelated nature of tasks means that projects often involve different types of people working together who wouldn’t normally work together, for example, plumbers and plasterers in the case of a house, or the development team and marketing in the case of launching a new software app.
Projects can be large and complex beasts with the potential to go wrong, and because of this, they must be expertly managed so they are delivered on-time, on-budget, and as specified. This is the role of the project manager.
Broadly speaking, there are two main parts to this project management guide. The first part looks at project management methodologies, and the second part looks at the hard tools and skills you need to succeed as a project manager.
Some of the greatest achievements of mankind have required project management. Think of The Great Pyramid at Giza (circa. 2500 BC), or The Great Wall of China (circa. 210 BC), or to give you a more recent example, the Apollo 11 mission that put a man on the moon (1969). You can read more about the history of project management here.
All of these undertakings require huge amounts of people to work in an organized fashion in adherence to a plan to achieve an objective.
Let’s look at the Apollo 11 mission in a bit more detail. This project took a finite period of time to complete – a little less than 10 years, and at its peak over 300,000 people were involved in making it happen. It would be impossible get anything done with 300,000 people if you allowed them to self-organize so a plan would have been in place. For such a huge project, it would have been broken down into a number of projects and programs and come under the umbrella of one huge overarching program.
Despite the fact that project management as a role has been around for thousands of years, as a discipline it is still evolving, with new tools and techniques being developed all of the time. Some of the major recent advances in project management include the invention of the Gantt Chart in 1910, the Critical Path Method in 1957, and Waterfall Lifecycle in the 1970’s. More recently, project management has been changing with adapting to the movement towards Agile.
Don’t worry if these terms are new to you, by the end of this project management guide you’ll not only understand these terms but be able to apply the techniques too.
Before we get into the meat of this project management guide, we need to define some terms which will appear again and again in this article.
Feel free to skip this section and refer back to it as you encounter terms later in this article.
In the same way that we people speak different languages, and programmers write software in different programming languages, and people drive different brands of car, so too there are multiple methodologies for managing projects.
In this section of the project management guide we’re going to go through each methodology one by one, so at the end of this section, you’ll be able to select the one that is right for you.
Ready? Then let’s jump into the meat of this project management guide.
The Waterfall Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) was introduced by Winston W. Royce in 1970. This is probably the best-known model you’ll learn today.
In this model, each stage must be completed before you can move on to the next stage. There is a formal review (sometimes called a gate) at the end of each stage to check that everything in the current stage has been completed and that the business case is still valid before the next stage is started.
You’ll sometimes see the Waterfall model referred to as Traditional Project Management (TPM). This is because it’s the oldest model in the list and it is typically the first model everyone learns.
The stages of the Waterfall model are Requirements, Design, Implementation, Verification, and Maintenance. Note that some articles and textbooks will use variations on these names.
The Waterfall model works best where it’s difficult to complete tasks in parallel or where it’s important to emphasize design and planning before beginning the actual work, for example, building a house.
In a nutshell, the Waterfall model doesn’t cope well with change once the project is underway.
Use the Waterfall method when the requirements can be well understood and are unlikely to change during execution, for example, it’s ideal for a construction project.
PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge and was created by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The basic process of PMBOK is as follows:
At first glance, this looks very similar to the waterfall model, but there is more to PMBOK that what you can see in the diagram about, which I’ll explain shortly.
Having just described the PMBOK process now is the time to tell you that PMBOK isn’t really a process or methodology! Instead, it’s a body of knowledge build around project management. Because of this it also tells you how to do: time management, scope management, integration management, cost management, quality management, human resources management, communications management, and risk management.
As a plan based approach to project management, the advantages of PMBOK are similar to those of the waterfall model.
Just like the Waterfall model, use PMBOK for projects such as build a house or a plane, where the requirements can be easily understood at the outset and are unlikely to change much over the course of the project.
PRINCE2 stands for PRojects IN a Controlled Environment. I often think of PRINCE2 as being the UK equivalent to PMBOK. It was created by the UK civil service and the first release of PRINCE2 and its associated certifications was in the mid-1990s.
Just like PMBOK, PRINCE2 doesn’t just define the phases it also defines Components and Techniques.
The Components of PRINCE2 are Business Case, Organization, Plans, Controls, Management of Risk, Quality in Project Environment, Configuration Management, and Change Control.
The Techniques of PRINCE2 are: Product Based Planning, Change Control and Quality.
PRINCE2 has similar advantages to the other planning based project management processes we’ve looked at (PMBOK, and Waterfall):
The drawbacks of PRINCE2 include:
A construction project is an ideal candidate for PRINCE2 as the requirements can be understood upfront and aren’t going to change too much during the lifetime of the project.
First, let’s get something straight. Agile isn’t a project management process. It’s more of a concept as to how projects could and should be managed.All the methodologies looked at so far in this project management guide have been plan based; Agile is reactive. Agile is a set of principles encapsulated by the Agile Manifesto:
Agile promotes short iterations to produce working software that is then shipped to the customer. This allows Agile to be a far more reactive way of delivering projects.
As already mentioned, Agile isn’t a project management process but instead a series of principles, however, there are a number of frameworks build on these principles to help manage the development of software, including SCRUM (which we’ll look at next in this project management guide), XP, and DSDM.
The principles of Agile lead to the following advantages:
Agile works really well for software development but not so well for projects such as construction where there is a long inventory lead time.
Unlike the other models we’ve looked at so far (PMBOK, Waterfall, and PRINCE2) there is very little planning needed to get started and useful working software can be delivered almost immediately.
SCRUM is named after the scrum/scrummage term from rugby. SCRUM is based on the Agile principles and involves small close-knit teams work in an intensive but independent manner. A SCRUM team usually consists of around 6-8 people who work together in short iterations, known as sprints, but with time for review and reflection built into the process.
Before we give an overview of the process, let’s define some terms from SCRUM:
Now that we’ve got those basic definitions out of the way, an overview of the SCRUM process is as follows:
The Agile principles state that you should break your work down into small manageable parts involving lots of customer interaction. SCRUM then tries to turn this into practice by adding a process, regular meetings, and team roles. What Agile and SCRUM don’t do is specify how you should manage the building of each of these smaller chunks.
This is what Lean tries to fix by adding a standardized workflow to the creation of each all the chunks.
Lean doesn’t actually specify what this workflow should be, but it does say that it should contain the following 7 principles:
The advantages of Lean included:
The disadvantages of Lean include:
You can use Lean right across the organization, not just in software or manufacturing systems.
Note: If you are interested in applying Lean principles to the startup world, we have a complete summary of the Lean Startup book by Eric Ries, available here.
Kanban is in widespread use today amongst Agile teams, but it isn’t a project management process, nor is it an Agile tool or framework. Kanban grew out of the Lean manufacturing movement mostly derived from the Toyota Production System. Kanban is a workflow tool that businesses can use to help them work on projects of any size.
The work of all Kanban teams revolves around a Kanban board, which can be either physical or virtual (a good, free, Kanban board tool I like to use is KanbanFlow). The key thing that a Kanban board must achieve is to visualize the work of the team, ensure their workflow is standardized, and that all blockers and dependencies are found instantly and immediately resolved.
Each entry to see in the diagram above is called a Kanban Card. Kanban cards contain important information about each piece of work being done, including who is responsible for the work item and how long it is estimated to take.
In practice for teams who need to get things done Kanban works as follows:
The advantages of Kanban include:
The disadvantages of Kanban include:
Scrum is said to work best when you have a team of 7 people, or very close to this number. When you have teams half this size, say, 3 people, SCRUM is often too formal. In this case, Kanban can often be ideal, as you can still keep quality, and by reducing meetings you can increase the time available for productive work.
Now that you understand the most important project management methodologies, the attention of this project management guide will switch to look at the tools and techniques available at a project manager’s disposal to manage projects.
By now you should understand the different project management methodologies that are on offer, but what range of skills does a project manager need to be successful? Broadly speaking a project manager will require technical project management skills, interpersonal skills, and some business and leadership skills. This is shown in the diagram below:
The goal of this project management guide is to teach what you need to get up and running with your first project, so we’re going to be concentrating on the technical project management skills. In fact, we won’t be covering interpersonal and business skills everyone reading this article will be coming from a different experience level in those areas, so those are best learned elsewhere.
However, if after completing this Ultimate Project Management Guide you’d like to learn more about interpersonal and business skills then fear not, we provide some points as to where to start with these topics at the end of the guide.
Now that you’ve seen the different methodologies for running project’s we’re ready to learn some of the hard skills in this project management guide, that is the tools and techniques that project managers actually use to manage projects.
We’re going to look at:
Let’s roll up our sleeves and look at each one in turn. But before we do that, there are a couple of things we should try to have in place immediately:
The simplest way to understand project governance is to think of it as the team that the project manager will report to with ultimate accountability for the success of the project. Another part of governance will be defining the relationship between the project manager and the steering committee, for example, sending weekly status updates, presenting a deep-dive status update monthly.
It is worth having at least a draft version of a business case in place. After all, how are you supposed to understand what is important to the project and what isn’t if you don’t know what commercial or organizational impacts the project is supposed to have?
The scope of the project defines what the project will do and won’t do.
In this phase a project manager will typically:
Note that the about works really well for traditional projects using planning based project methodologies such as PMBOK and Waterfall, but it doesn’t work well for planning projects based on reactive methodologies, such as Scrum. For projects based on Agile methodologies, a better way to manage requirements is to use this simple scope management process.
Sometimes in a new project, it can be really difficult to get a project off the ground as there are lots of conflicting opinions about what should be done. Well, it’s your job as the project manager to worry about not only what gets done, but when it gets done and does this requirement help us achieve the business case. A great tool you can use to get everyone on the same page quickly is to use this fast project planning technique.
A key part of project management is managing risks, issues, dependencies and assumptions as they arise in a project. Most project managers will do this using a RAID log. It’s worth setting one up right at the start of your project so you can keep on top of risks and issues as they arise.
Another approach to beginning a project is to have a project kickoff meeting, which you can learn about here.
Planning the project is an important step towards ensuring the timely completion of the project. This step will include:
It’s worth noting that before the project manager assigns dates to activities, they will define the activities, sequence them, and estimate their durations. This allows the project manager to better understand the activities and their constraints before scheduling them.
Also worth noting is that planning is iterative – the first time through the planning process there may be lots of things that can’t be scheduled, but you take and action to find out what’s missing and you update the plan as the information comes in.
A risk is anything that hasn’t yet happened but which might impact your project. For example, if you specialize in auto insurance then there is a risk to your business when self-driving cars are introduced, as individual car owners will not need insurance and more, or at least need a different type of insurance.
Because risks can so hugely impact a project, we’ve devoted a whole section to manage it. The process of managing risks looks something like this:
The article here explains the risk management process in much more detail. It also provides a risk management process you can use if you’re managing risks on an Agile project.
Stakeholder management and communication is a very important part of a project manager’s job. The key here is making sure that the project engages with the right people in the right way.
We’re not just looking to ensure our regular project reports go to the right people, but we’re also looking to see that their Win criteria are met by the scope of the project.
This article explains this concept in more detail. Another tool which can be really useful here is a RACI matrix. We will look at this tool in more detail later.
Once you understand your stakeholders you’ll be able to put together your Project Communication Plan.
You will manage your project through a series of meetings which will happen at a particular cadence, for example:
When assigning responsibilities to your team it can be important to think about how you delegate tasks to them – this will change from person to person based on their working style and the relationship you have with them.
In this phase, you will need to adjust the plan as new issues and requirements arise or are removed.
Some really useful tools you can use during this phase of the project are:
In this phase, you will also communicate progress regularly (daily or weekly) on the progress of the project. It is likely you’ll need to send different reports to different groups of people, as for example, it doesn’t make sense to send the same report to external suppliers as it does to your steering committee.
As well as doing all the planned meetings a skilled project manager will meet with individual stakeholders from areas that could potentially affect the project schedule (time, quality, and cost) to really dig into the details, and understand the real detail behind the numbers, and think about if certain mitigations are needed. This article on scenario planning explains this in more detail.
This phase usually culminates in a detailed meeting with the steering committee where the final deliverables are signed off, and official approval is given by the steering committee to disband the project.
In this meeting, any major issues will be discussed, for example, where work was postponed in order to meet a deadline – for example, perhaps a wing of a building wasn’t completed to hit the cost target. In this meeting, the plan for these issues will be agreed.
In this phase, a Lessons Learned meeting is held to analyze what went well and what went badly. Actions are then taken from this meeting and assigned owners to ensure that these mistakes and issues are learned from and do not happen again. More information on how to perform a lessons learned review can be found here.
Finally, the project team is officially disbanded and the project is closed.
That’s it! If you’ve made it this far and also read the articles that are linked to from this article then you should have a really good idea as to how to manage your next project. We really hope you’ve enjoyed this project management guide and can use some of your learnings for your next project.
In this Ultimate Project Management Guide, we’ve provided lots of hard skills (tools and techniques) that are very useful when running projects.
There are also other skills which are important but which we haven’t covered in this project management guide:
These Business and Interpersonal skills make a good place to investigate next on your journey to project management mastery. Here are some topics to consider investigating for each area:
Image: Gérard Métrailler
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