Project Management Guide for Beginners

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If you’re new to project management, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed with so many new terms and ideas to master. Don’t worry, that’s why we’ve compiled this helpful guide of project management essentials for beginners so you’ll be ready for project excellence in no time!

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What Is Project Management?

Project management brings together a specialized set of ideas, tactics, and techniques aimed at successfully completing measurable and specific goals that contribute to the successful competition of a project or project portfolio. 

While the scope of project management is broad and encompasses a wide range of ideals and teachings, it’s understood much more easily through the lens of specific tactics called methodologies. 

What sets it apart from general “management” is its direct connection to the objectives and time-bound targets realized within the project’s defined scope and constrained timeframe, as opposed to an ongoing, continuous management approach. 


Read more: What is Project Management? Definition, Types & Examples


Why Is Project Management Important?

Project management is one of the most important aspects for an organization to prioritize today. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), organizations that don’t properly include project management in their strategies have more than a 60% higher rate of overall failure. Yet, organizations that make project management a priority see the inverse effect, with increased strategic alignment, better quality control, and ultimately, more successful projects in the long run.


Read more: What Is Agile Project Management?


The Top 5 Things to Know If You’re a Project Management Beginner

  1. Project managers are experts in project management who help organize, manage, and execute successful projects. While they are far from the only career path within the project management industry, project managers are one of the most common roles you will hear about.
  1. Project management tools are a flexible way to personalize your team’s project management strategy – and they’re essential to keeping your project on track. Project management software, collaboration tools, and project charts are a few of the tools you will want to explore. 
  1. Project management strategies and tactics are shared through methodologies and frameworks that detail how and when strategies can be applied and their best use cases for various types of projects. 
  1. Project management is one of three essential elements in organizational project management: project management, program management, and portfolio management. (More about that here)
  1. Project management is an ongoing process, meaning that continuous improvement and change are an integral part of maintaining a strong project management strategy.

Understanding the Essentials: Project Management Methodologies & Frameworks

While the terms “methodology” and “framework” are often used interchangeably in project management, they are, in fact, very different. In project management, methodologies refer to a very specific set of rules and guidelines that are to be followed to the letter when working on a project. On the other hand, frameworks are less rigid guidelines that provide adaptable paths for the application of methodological principles.

frameworks and methodologies venn diagram.

Read more: Agile Software Development Methodology & Principles


The 3 Elements of Organizational Project Management

PM job hierarchy.
A visual example of the responsibilities and roles of a project manager, program manager, and portfolio manager.

Project Management: While project management refers to a larger study of best practices in managing and completing successful projects, it also refers to the running of an individual project, when compared to program or portfolio management.


Read more: The Four Elements of Project Management


Program Management: Program management aligns all of the projects within a specific department of an organization with clearly defined goals and objectives that serve departmental and organizational needs. A program manager works closely with project managers to implement project strategy at the departmental level while overseeing project progress more granularly.


Read more: What’s Your Project Management Style?


Portfolio Management: Portfolio management monitors and tracks the activities of all projects within an organization, at the program and project level. This is the highest level of organizational project management that focuses on ensuring that all organizational projects are in alignment with business goals. 

Project Management Software

As the name implies, project management software encompasses a wide range of software offerings that aim to help teams complete projects successfully and on time. While individual features vary from vendor to vendor, project management software, at its most basic level, allows teams to schedule and assign tasks, organize essential files, break down large tasks into smaller subtasks, manage multiple projects at once, and view projected project timelines. 

Depending on a team’s level of familiarity with project management and their individual project needs, they may use project management software alone or in combination with other project management tools, such as Gantt charts, collaboration tools, and Kanban boards. 

Example of a project dashboard and the interface of project management software.
Example of a project dashboard and the interface of project management software.
Source: monday.com, accessed October 2023.


Read more: 10 Best Project Management Software for 2023


What Top Project Management Certifications Do I Need?

In the field of project management, certifications are essential to highlighting your mastery of project management concepts, improving your earning potential, and furthering your career. Whether you’re new to project management right out of college, you’re looking to make a career shift, or you’re an experienced project manager with years of experience, obtaining certifications from accredited organizations, such as the Project Management Institute (PMI), is the best way to prove your worth in the competitive marketplace. 

Below is a list of the top certifications you should explore, regardless of your experience in the project management field. 

Top 5 Project Management Certifications

Certification NameBest ForLevel of Difficulty
Master Project Manager (MPM)Experienced Project Managers 
Project Management Professional (PMP)Best Overall Pick for Careers in Project Management
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

Preparing for the PMP Exam and Accreditation
Associate in Project Management (APM)Entry-Level Project Management Preparation
Google Project Management: Professional CertificateLearning Beginner-Level Basics


Read more: 5 Best Project Management Certifications for 2023


Phases of the Project Lifecycle

In order to properly master the basics of project management, you need to understand the various phases of the project lifecycle, from beginning to end. 

  1. Project Initiation
  • Defines project vision, goals, and objectives
  • Outlines clear milestones and project timeline
  • Identifies potential risks and roadblocks throughout the project

  1. Project Planning
  • Outlines an estimated budget and plan for resource management
  • Answers the “what,” “how,” and “when” of the project plan
  • Clarifies project scope

  1. Project Execution
  • Monitors project status as actions are taken
  • Engages stakeholders and team members in open communication
  • Relies on predetermined systems to keep execution moving forward smoothly

  1. Project Monitoring & Control
  • Tracks team performance against KPIs and goals
  • Compares projected budget and scope outlines against project progress in the status quo
  • Monitors quality of deliverables

  1. Project Closure
  • Reflects on major wins and losses throughout the project lifecycle
  • Delivers final deliverables and project outcomes
  • Provides an opportunity for team reflection and discussion


Read more: 5 Phases of Project Management Life Cycle You Need to Know


How to Implement a Project Management Strategy for Your Organization

1. Take stock of the status quo

Before you take any steps toward implementing a project management strategy for your organization, you need to take stock of your unique situation. Perhaps you already have a well-flushed-out project management strategy with dedicated project managers. Maybe you’re a small business owner just venturing into project management for the first time. 

In any case, the first step is answering 3 essential questions:

  • What is our level of experience with project management?
  • What goals do we want to achieve through project management in the short and long term?
  • What is our budget and capacity for exploring project management resources such as software solutions, staff, etc?

2. Build your toolbox

With so many project management tools and resources available, how can you decide which tools are the right fit for your organization? A good first step is to consider project management software, as many vendors include free trials and free forever plans that can fit within any budget while providing businesses a home base for all things project-related. 

Take time to thoroughly explore your options by researching, testing, and demoing a few top choices before making a selection. While it’s more than okay to switch vendors later on as your business grows and evolves, ideally, you want to select an option that can scale alongside you to minimize data migration down the line. 

3. Consider who will take ownership within your organization

Now is the time to consider who will take ownership of your project management strategy. Will you have a dedicated project manager or managers? Who are the key stakeholders inside and outside of your organization? How will essential personnel communicate throughout the project lifecycle?

4. Create a plan and hone in on your goals

What projects will take priority over other tasks in order to meet your most essential business needs? How will you measure the success of your strategy over time? What are your top goals that project management can help address? Whether your team is highly experienced in project management or you’re making a run at it for the first time, having a plan in place ensures your success. 

Now is the time to document your project management strategy and outline key standard operating procedures, or SOPs. While this document will look unique for each team, it should include, at a minimum, details surrounding scope, team roles, procedures, definitions, and revision history. 

This guide will serve as your point of reference as you begin exploring project management, whether you’re testing out a new project framework, adding a new member to your project management team, or implementing project management strategies for the first time. It’s important to note that this guide should serve as a living document, meaning it can be easily modified and updated over time. 

5. Roll out your trial run

Once you’ve established your game plan, it’s time to take action and put your strategy to the test. Check-in with your team frequently throughout the duration of the project and encourage open communication about what’s working well and what can be improved.

Now is the time to utilize your toolbox of resources as well. By utilizing project management software or project charts (such as a Gantt chart), you can schedule deadlines, track the progress of tasks, organize key files, and even relay updates to your team. 

6. Reflect and debrief

After the conclusion of the project, take time to debrief with your team openly about successes and failures throughout the project lifecycle. Create a plan to address any challenges more effectively next time around and stay flexible in your team’s approach to roadblocks.


Read more: Strategy for Project Managers 2023


FAQs

Project management requires adaptability before all else, as projects can throw a variety of twists and turns into even the most carefully laid plans. Yet, succeeding in project management requires other essential soft and hard skills, such as:

  • Communication skills
  • Budgeting skills
  • Familiarity with the basics of project management software
  • Coaching and team leadership skills
  • A strong attention to detail


Read more: 27+ Essential Project Management Skills for Success


When it comes to a career in project management, there is no “one size fits all.”. Some project management professionals seek the route of certification intentionally, while others find themselves thrust into the role of a project manager inadvertently.

Regardless of your starting point, consider the skills you already possess that can transfer into a career in project management. Skills surrounding time and resource management, team collaboration, communication, and adaptability are highly transferable when it comes to the diverse skillet required to thrive in the fast-moving world of project management. 

In order to maximize your opportunities and career paths, consider obtaining a project management certification to help highlight your professional capabilities. While it’s not necessarily a prerequisite to starting a career as a project manager, it can help you stand out from the crowd.


Read more: 11 Opportunities for Your Project Management Career Path


Project management is one of the most universal needs in the international market today, with the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report stating that the global economy will require 87.7 million project management roles by 2027. While project management is a universal need, it’s especially important in industries such as construction, healthcare, software development, and engineering.

The most essential component of project management in any industry, in an organization of any size, is always communication. At its core, project management aims to help teams work together more effectively to achieve even the most complex project goals – and that starts with communication. From project initiation to closure, communication ensures that everyone involved in the project lifecycle is up to date on the latest developments, working smoothly together, and able to freely communicate questions and concerns as needed.


Read more: Effective Project Management Communication Strategies


Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, create a connection between everyday team tasks to projects themselves and overall organizational objectives. These indicators measure progress within projects themselves as well as how those project’s successes speak to overall organizational goals. Over time, KPIs highlight the correlation between team efforts and goals, making it easy to identify work trends and improve performance.

Traditionally, a stakeholder analysis involves identifying key stakeholders and their relevance to the project, clarifying the level of involvement each should have. In order to identify project stakeholders, it can be helpful to work backward, first identifying the intended outcome of the project in order to more clearly identify internal and external project stakeholders. 

For example, if you’re looking to engineer and deliver a new product to market, it’s clear to identify your ideal target audience as a stakeholder. Carefully review notes about project scope to identify essential internal and external stakeholders, taking into account 3rd party contractors and vendors as a stakeholder as well.

The project initiation phase is the first step in the project lifecycle – it’s also the most important step. During the initiation phase, essential information about the project is relayed to the team and key stakeholders, giving everyone the opportunity to ask questions and communicate expectations surrounding the project.

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