What is Project Management? A Guide for Beginners

When people talk about career paths in tech, you hear cool lists like web development, UI/UX design, technical writing, digital marketing, cyber security, and so on, but nobody seems to mention project management. Why?

Project management plays a really important role in the tech space, and without it, things fall apart. See it as building a house; it is the foundation on which you lay blocks and build. Without the foundation, the blocks would not be able to stay strong on their own, and whatever house you build will fall apart over time. Yes, it is that important.

If you’re new to project management, don’t worry. I will guide you by giving you a simple and clear overview of what it is all about. Welcome to PJM 101: project management for beginners. 😉

Ready? Let’s dive in!

What is a project?

A project is a set of tasks that must be completed within a defined timeline to accomplish a specific set of goals. For example, building a financial services application in 8 weeks.

For the project to be successful, the right resources have to be deployed within the timeframe. These resources include human and non-human resources and they form the project team.

As it is with every project, the project manager must be able to identify the resources needed so that they can easily plan, and manage the resources based on the plan. If they don’t do this, the resources will be mismanaged and the project is more likely to fail.

What are the other major characteristics of a project?

Key characteristics of a project

  • Every project needs a project plan

Imagine traveling to a place you’ve never been to, without directions; no map, no compass, no clue. Just you, in the middle of nowhere trying to figure out your destination. Can you imagine how frustrating the journey will be?

For a project to be properly executed, the project team has to get clear directions from the project manager, who prepares the project plan.

The project plan describes every aspect of a project, from the project goals, schedule, budget, and to other important areas.

  • Every project needs a project manager and a project team

What is the point of a plan without the people, who will execute it? Project management is a team effort, which means that for a project to come to life, people have to work together to get the job done, while someone leads them and manages other resources effectively.

  • All projects go through the same lifecycle

No matter the type of project, or the industry it falls under, all projects follow the same path, the same phases, which we call project lifecycle. They are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closing.

  1. All projects are subject to the same constraints

These constraints are time, scope, and cost. This simply means that projects must be completed within a defined timeline, achieve a defined set of tasks and goals, and be delivered under a certain budget. 

Now, let’s dive into the what, how, and why of project management.

What is project management?

Project Management is essentially the process that involves planning, organizing, supervising, and controlling a project from start to finish, in order to achieve a specific set of goals.

It’s like driving a car; you have to drive your way through the bumps and smoothness of the road until you reach your destination. 

Project management involves setting clear project objectives, developing a detailed work plan with schedules and timelines, establishing roles and responsibilities for team members, identifying necessary resources, tracking progress and meeting milestones, and communicating effectively throughout the project. 

The project manager in this case, having known the goals, also has to be aware of the resources needed and what resources are available, and how to use them to complete the tasks, in order to have a successful project.

Let’s go back to the example of building a financial services application, which is expected to take 8 weeks to complete. Here’s an overview:

  • Project goal: To build a user-friendly, lightweight app that can help their customers make financial transactions with ease. 
  • Project constraints
    • Time: 8 weeks
    • Scope: Conduct research, design the interface, do the front-end development, etc.
    • Cost: ₦700,000
  • Project resources: computers, internet connection, office space, mobile phones, and the necessary software.
  • Project team: developer, product designer, content designer, UX researcher, product manager, and of course, the project manager.

The project manager oversees the whole project by planning, scheduling, monitoring, and ensuring the project is a success.

Besides tech, many industries depend on project management approach and tools to get their project done, including construction, engineering, marketing, etc.

Stages of project management

The stages of project management or the project lifecycle also fall under the ‘what’ of project management. As a peculiar characteristic of all projects, they must go through all 5 phases before they can be deemed successful. They are:

  • Initiation: This is the first stage of a project’s lifecycle, when a project is just taken up. Here, the project team meets with project stakeholders, receives the brief, and they agree on the scope of the project.

  • Planning: After initiation, the project manager goes on to plan; determine the goals and objectives of the project, the resources needed, assign tasks to the right people, and deploy resources to the right quarters. 

  • Execution: Here, the project begins to receive life. The project team converts all the plans by completing their required tasks.

  • Monitoring and control: In the course of the project, there is always a need to monitor its progress, in order to ensure the goals are met. Also, if there’s any unexpected change or issue, the project manager can put control measures in place. 

Some people include delivery after this stage; after the project has been completed, they deliver the project outcomes to their stakeholders or end users.

  • Closure: Every project has to end, whether it is successful or not. Most times, a project is closed after the goal of the project has been achieved. Any pending tasks are completed and proper documentation is kept for future reference.

          Approaches to project management

          The approaches are the ways we plan, schedule, and execute projects; the hows of project management. They are like different paths to get to the same goal. Some popular approaches include agile, scrum, waterfall, and kanban, but let’s focus on the basics.

          1. Waterfall methodology

          Waterfall is the oldest approach to project management. Think of it as the traditional way. Before starting the project, everything is planned out step by step. Each phase must be completed before moving to the next one. It’s good for big projects with clear requirements.

          1. Agile methodology

          Agile is currently one of the most widely used project management methodologies. Instead of planning everything at the beginning, the project is broken into smaller parts called sprints. Teams plan as they go. The deliverables don’t have to be perfect until the project ends. Agile is great for adapting to changes and getting things done faster.

          1. Hybrid methodology

          Hybrid is like mixing and matching. Sometimes, people use parts of different approaches to fit their projects. It is like creating your own recipe to make sure the project gets done just right. For instance, mixing agile and waterfall together.

          Key terms in project management you should know

          1. Project Scope

          The project scope is like the project’s map. It is a key aspect of the project planning stage. It is where you plan everything, like goals, deliverables, tasks, and dates. It is the starting point that sets what you want to achieve and how you’ll get there.

          1. Project Stakeholder

          A project stakeholder is anyone connected to a project. Stakeholders consist of everyone involved, from team members to investors. They can impact the project in different ways, so it’s important to understand who’s on your team.

          1. Project Deliverables

          Deliverables are the specific results you’re aiming for. They can be physical things or ideas. They’re like the reason you started the project in the first place. If you’re building an app, the app itself is the deliverable. If you’re a brand consultant, a brand strategy session could be a deliverable.

          1. Project Milestones

          Milestones are goals set before the project starts in order to track progress. They are like project checkpoints. They help you see if you’re on the right track or if adjustments are needed. Without milestones, it’s difficult to know whether you’re on the right track or not.

          Why is project management important?

          No organization can afford not to have a project management function, no matter how big or small. It helps prevent chaos, ensure everyone stays on the same page, avoid misunderstandings, and ensure projects are completed on time and within budget. Here is a list of other reasons why project management is so important:

          • Ensures the goals of the project align with the goals of the business
          • Helps to reduce the risk associated with the project
          • Improves productivity and the quality of work
          • Gives leadership and direction to a project
          • Allows for proper monitoring and control of a project
          • It is a tool to help improve relationships with stakeholders
          • Helps to increase customer satisfaction
          • Saves time and money
          • Improves collaboration among a project team
          • Gives room for better decision making
          • Gives the business a competitive advantage
          • It makes the project more organized

          Is project management for you?

          Project management is like your compass on a journey. It takes you from an idea to a desired destination. By understanding the basics, you’re ready to explore the world of project management and its endless possibilities.

          Even if you’re not looking for a career in project management, you still need to be aware of these fundamentals. After all, everyone on the project team is involved in project management in one way or another. The more you understand it, the better you’ll be able to work more smoothly on any project. 

          Now that you’ve seen how cool project management is, do you think it is for you? If yes, expect another piece soon!

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