Project management guide: Tips, strategies, best practices

Project management plays a crucial role in enabling business transformation. Here is a breakdown of what project management is and how to execute it effectively in service of strategic goals.

Project management: Tips, strategies, best practices
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Project management is a complex discipline rife with enough key phases, knowledge areas, and terms to fill a glossary. To simplify the key components of successful project management, CIO.com offers the following comprehensive guide to project management, including tips, strategies and best practices.

Project management definition

Project management is a business discipline that involves applying specific processes, knowledge, skills, techniques and tools to meet project goals and deliverables successfully. Project management professionals help drive, guide, and execute company-identified value-added goals by applying processes and methodologies to plan, initiate, execute, monitor, and close all activities related to a given business project in alignment with the organization’s overall strategic objectives.

Project management methodologies

Choosing the right project management methodology (PMM) is a vital step for success. There are many different and, in some cases, overlapping approaches to managing projects. The most popular PMMs in practice today include waterfall, agile, hybrid, critical path method, and critical chain project management, among others. Agile, which includes subvariants such as Lean and Scrum, is increasing in popularity and is being utilized in virtually every industry. Originally adopted by software developers, agile uses short development cycles called sprints to focus on continuous improvement in developing a product or service.

PMO vs. EPMO

Successful organizations codify project management efforts under an umbrella organization, either a project management office (PMO) or an enterprise project management office (EPMO).

A PMO is an internal or external group that sets direction and maintains and ensures standards, best practices, and the status of project management across an organization. PMOs traditionally do not assume a lead role in strategic goal alignment.

An EPMO has the same responsibilities as a traditional PMO, but with an additional key high-level goal: to align all project, program, and portfolio activities with an organization’s strategic objectives. Organizations are increasingly adopting the EPMO structure, whereby, project, program, and portfolio managers are involved in strategic planning sessions right from the start to increase project success rates.

PMOs and EPMOs both help organizations apply a standard approach to project management. In setting standard approaches, PMOs and EPMOs offer the following benefits:

  • ground rules and expectations for the project teams
  • a common language for project managers, functional leaders, and other stakeholders that smooths communication and ensures expectations are fully understood
  • higher levels of visibility and increased accountability across an entire organization
  • increased agility when adapting to other initiatives or changes within an organization
  • the ready ability to identify the status of tasks, milestones, and deliverables
  • relevant key performance indicators for measuring project performance

Project management certification

Successful projects require highly skilled project managers, many with formal training or project management certifications. Some may have project management professional certifications or other certifications from the PMI or another organization. Project management certifications include:

PMI certifications

Other project management certifications

  • CSM: Certified Scrum Master
  • CompTIA Project+ Certification
  • PRINCE2 Foundation/PRINCE2 Practitioner
  • CPMP: Certified Project Management Practitioner
  • Associate in Project Management
  • MPM: Master Project Manager
  • PPM: Professional in Project Management
  • PMITS: Project Management in IT Security
  • Certified Project Director

Find out more about some of the top project management certifications to pursue in 2020 and beyond.

Project management tools

Project management software and templates increase team productivity and effectiveness and prepare the organization for changes brought about by high-impact projects. CIO.com has compiled the ultimate project management toolkit as well as some open-source tools to help you plan, execute, monitor, and successfully polish off your next high-impact project.

Project management software falls into multiple categories. Some tools are categorized as project management software; others are more encompassing, such as project portfolio management (PPM) software. Some are better suited for small businesses and others for larger organizations. Project managers will also often use task management, schedule management, collaboration, workflow management, and other types of tools. These are just a few examples of the project management software and tools available to help simplify project management.

Some of the most popular project management tools include:

Project management skills

Effective project managers need more than technical know-how. The role also requires several non-technical skills, and it is these softer skills that often determine whether a project manager — and the project — will be successful. Project managers must have these seven non-technical skills: leadership, motivation, communication, organization, prioritization, problem-solving, and adaptability. It's also beneficial to have a strategic mindset, have change management and organizational development expertise, agility, and conflict resolution capabilities, among other skills.

Project management jobs and salaries

By 2027, the demand for project managers will grow to 87.7 million, according to PMI, but these hires won't all be project manager titles. While the more generic titles are project manager, program manager, or portfolio manager, each role may differ depending on industry and specialization. There are also coordinators, schedulers, and assistant project managers, among other roles.

Project managers have historically garnered high-paying salaries upwards of six figures, depending on the role, seniority, and location. Indeed provides a searchable list for job salaries, including some annual project management salaries companies are offering for these roles: 

  • Project manager: Base salary $85,311, bonus $13,500
  • Program manager: $85,796
  • Portfolio manager: $100,742
  • Software/IT project manager: $106,568
  • Project administrator: $62,093
  • Project planner: $69,528
  • Project controller: $90,342
  • Document controller: $74,899
  • Project leader: $130,689
  • Program/project director: $101,126
  • Head of program/project: $128,827

Project management phases and processes

Project management is broken down into five phases or life cycle. Each phase intersects with any of 10 knowledge areas, which include: integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communication, risk procurement, and stakeholder management. The phases, processes and associated knowledge areas provide an organized approach for project managers and their teams to work through projects, according to the following outline:

Initiating phase:

  • Integration management: Develop project charter.
  • Stakeholder management: Identify stakeholders.

Planning phase:

  • Integration management: Develop project management plan.
  • Scope management: Define scope, create work breakdown structure (WBS), gather requirements.
  • Time management: Plan and develop schedules and activities, estimate resources and timelines.
  • Costs management: Estimate costs, determine budgets.
  • Quality management: Identify quality requirements.
  • Human resource management: Plan and identify human resource needs.
  • Communications management: Plan stakeholder communications.
  • Risk management: Perform qualitative and quantitative risk analysis, plan risk mitigation strategies.
  • Procurement management: Identify and plan required procurements.
  • Stakeholder management: Plan for stakeholder expectations.

Execution phase:

  • Integration management: Direct and manage all project work.
  • Quality management: Performing all aspects of managing quality.
  • Human resource management: Select, develop, and manage the project team.
  • Communications management: Manage all aspects of communications.
  • Procurement management: Secure necessary procurements.
  • Stakeholder management: Manage all stakeholder expectations.

Monitoring and controlling phase:

  • Integration management: Monitoring and control project work and manage any necessary changes.
  • Scope management: Validate and control the scope of the project.
  • Time management: Control project scope.
  • Costs management: Controlling project costs.
  • Quality management: Monitor quality of deliverables.
  • Communications management: Monitor all team and stakeholder communications.
  • Procurement management: Keep on top of any necessary procurements.
  • Stakeholder management: Take ownership of stakeholder engagements.

Closing phase:

  • Integration management: Close all phases of the project.
  • Procurement management: Close out all project procurements.

Stakeholder expectations

Stakeholders can be any person or group with a vested stake in the success of a project, program, or portfolio, including team members, functional groups, sponsors, vendors, and customers. Expectations of all stakeholders must be carefully identified, communicated, and managed. Missing this can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and even project failure.

Here are some tips for managing stakeholder expectations.

  • Assemble a team specific to project goals, ensuring team members have the right mix of skills and knowledge to deliver.
  • Leave sufficient time in advance of a project for key individuals to delve into and discuss issues and goals before the project begins.
  • Ensure the project timeline and scheduled tasks are realistic.

Project management roles

Depending on numerous factors such as industry, the nature and scope of the project, the project team, company, or methodology, projects may need the help of schedulers, business analysts, business intelligence analysts, functional leads, and sponsors. Here is a comparison of the three key roles within the PMO or EPMO, all are in high demand due to their leadership skill sets.

Project manager: Plays the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing of individual projects. Organizations can have one or more project managers.

Program manager: Oversees and leads a group of similar or connected projects within an organization. One or more project managers will typically report to the program manager.

Portfolio manager: This role is at the highest level of a PMO or EPMO and is responsible for overseeing the strategic alignment and direction of all projects and programs. Program managers will typically report directly to the portfolio manager.

Project scope

During the planning phase, all project details must be solidified, including goals, deliverables, assumptions, roles, tasks, timeline, budget, resources, quality aspects, terms, and so on. The customer and key stakeholders work together to solidify and agree on the scope before the project can begin. The scope guides the project work and any changes to the scope of the project must be presented and approved as a scope change request.

Project budgets

Budgets play a large role in whether a project progresses, or if it can be completed. Few companies have an unlimited budget, so the first thing project stakeholders look at in determining whether a project succeeded or failed is the bottom line. This fact fuels the pressure project leaders, and their teams face with each passing day. As such, effective budget management is a primary area of focus for project managers who value their careers. The following are five strategies for maintaining control of your project budget before it succumbs to whopping cost overruns:

  • Understand stakeholder’s true needs and wants
  • Budget for surprises
  • Develop relevant KPIs
  • Revisit, review, re-forecast
  • Keep everyone informed and accountable

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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