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Project management: a manager’s deep dive

Written by ManagementDirect Tuesday 03 August 2021
The best managers also need to be great project managers. Here’s a deep dive into the fundamentals of project management
Person looking at a GANTT chart on a computer screen

For this CMI ‘Deep Dive’, we’ve dug around in ManagementDirect, the incredible online treasure trove that’s exclusive to CMI members. Our topic is a perennial for all managers: project management.

Let’s start off simply: what actually is project management?

Project management is defined as the process of leading a piece of work (usually carried out by a team)  and achieving all project goals within the given constraints. The primary constraints are scope, time and budget.

A project can be anything from digitising historic paper receipts and invoices on an online system, relaunching the company website, or conducting an internal skills audit.

This project management checklist can help you see the overall structure of and expectations for a project. This checklist can be used by project managers and project staff as a tool to inform other activities – for example checkpoint meetings and highlight reports. The checklist should be regarded as an ‘active’ document in the same way as a risk register or stakeholder analysis – so it’s not a case of filing it away upon completion.

The project lifecycle

The project life cycle refers to a logical sequence of activities to accomplish a project’s goals or objectives. Regardless of scope or complexity, any project will go through a series of stages during its life. The boundaries between the stages are usually blurred in practice, because the phases tend to overlap. A project will typically begin as a result of a report or feasibility study that may have been run as an individual project. However, every project, whatever its size, should go through these stages:

  • Initiation/project start-up
  • Planning and organisation
  • Implementation with monitoring
  • Completion and evaluation

So how should we approach a project?

No matter the scale or scope of a project, there are some fundamentals that you need in place.

  1. A project mandate. This is, effectively, an authority to do the start-up work with a view to running the project. The mandate sets out detail of the project’s intention – such as scope, responsibilities, objectives, constraints – but doesn’t need to get bogged down by the details. At the very least, a mandate should outline the project idea and name a manager who will be executive and take responsibility for the project overall.
  2. A project initiation document (PID). This document is used to capture basic information about the project which is needed to correctly define and plan the project. The PID should expand upon the project mandate and state what the project is aiming and planning to achieve and the reason for the importance of meeting these aims.
  3. A team. Every project needs a project manager, and around them will be a team of hand-selected people whose skills will help the project’s success. Think of other projects you’ve either led or have been involved in – what variety of skills were around you? Which of those colleagues could help you with this project? Whose experience and expertise do you trust? Can your line manager offer some advice and insight into who should be involved?
  4. A project plan. This should tie together information from the mandate, the initiation document, the insights of the team, and the objectives. Outline the tools you will use, the timelines, the roles and responsibilities, the costs, the tests, and any other relevant information. On ManagementDirect, you can view a comprehensive guide to creating a project plan outline.

Wait – did you mention tools?

There are a variety of tried and tested methodologies and tools, checklists and templates which can help you and your team achieve your project’s goals. To name a few:

Gantt charts

This can help with timelines and visualising how a project progresses through the intended pipelines – and therefore help identify blockers. Gantt charts today are often generated using project management software but are also easy to construct using a spreadsheet. PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) is a modern variation of the Gantt chart. Members can find out more about Gantt charts here.

RAG reporting

RAG stands for red, amber, green. This traffic-light approach indicates the urgency of the elements of the project and which could potentially threaten the overall success of the programme. A status of red, amber or green should be assigned to each component, with appropriate recommendations and/or actions put in place where threats are identified. The RAG report highlights what is on target, as well as emphasising slippages. Members can find out more about RAG reporting here.

Managing projects checklist 

Created by CMI, this comprehensive checklist provides a step-by-step overview of how to approach project management. It’s a fantastic and thorough resource that can be shared with the relevant players, so everyone understands how their part fits into the bigger picture, and can help you stay on track if you hit a roadblock. Members can find the checklist here.

Agile project management

By embracing rather than trying to suppress uncertainty, and leveraging the team’s ability to manage complexity rather than relying on process, agile methods can help project managers to respond more flexibly. Four guiding principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto are: individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; responding to change over following a plan. Members can discover lots more about the Agile methodology on ManagementDirect.

Things to consider for the end of a project

As you approach the final stage in the project’s lifecycle, it’s time to reflect and learn from all that’s happened so far.

Evaluation 

Outlined in the project life cycle, this stage can often be overlooked or not considered part of the project itself – however, it should not be neglected. A final report should detail the findings of the post-implementation review. Ask yourselves: how did it go? Has the product or service you’ve worked on been well received? Do you need to make any changes? After a short while, new problems and requirements will be identified, and the whole cycle will begin again!

Creating a project report 

At the end of a project there is generally a requirement to provide the client or senior management team with a detailed account of what happened, how it happened and with what results. More often than not, this comes in the form of a formal written report, but that doesn’t have to be the case; you could provide the same information via PowerPoint or a facilitated workshop. Members can find out more about this type of project report here.

If you’re looking to take on a series of new projects in your organisation and need to train up a new team, why not check out CMI’s bitesize learning module on project management for a complete overview of project management? Featuring case studies, tools, advice, and checklists, this features everything you could possibly need to know about preparing for and undertaking a project.  

If you’re just looking for a couple more top tips, why not check out our Insights article: 5 project management skills every business leader needs.

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