What is Project Management? Definition, Types & Examples

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Key Takeaways

  • Project management is the application of specific knowledge, skills, methodologies, and techniques aimed at achieving specific and measurable project goals, including, ultimately, successful project completion.
  • Project management differs from general “management” in that it relates directly to the goals and time-bound objectives achieved within the scope of a project itself, on a limited timeline, rather than an ongoing one.

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Examples of Project Management

In order to better conceptualize what project management is, it’s helpful to understand how project management plays out in real-life applications. Here are a few examples of how project management is used across various industries every day: 

Example One: Project Management in Construction

In 2005, BAA Airports Ltd. was presented with an enormous task: remodeling Terminal 1 within Heathrow Airport, the busiest international airport in the world while keeping the terminal open to the 20 million annual travelers that pass through the airport. The project was extremely complex, and made even more challenging by a strict deadline and significant public health concerns, given the construction project was taking place within an active terminal. 

Throughout the project lifecycle, David Buisson, PMP, and the project manager in charge of the Heathrow renovation project, encountered many unexpected obstacles, including asbestos in the ceiling and inconsistencies with the floor level. Buisson and his team were able to properly navigate project challenges, operational risk, and communication management with key stakeholders. They successfully delivered the project on time and on budget—without any major mishaps—utilizing the PMBOK Guide from the Project Management Institute, the standard guide for project management professionals.

The 2005 renovation of Heathrow Airport Terminal 1 is widely considered one of the most successful case studies in construction project management to date. 

Example Two: Project Management in Healthcare

During the Covid-19 pandemic, pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, AstraZeneca partnered with the University of Oxford to address the international need for a vaccine. The research partners at Oxford University had begun showing promising research around an early vaccine option. Paired with AstraZeneca’s manufacturing capabilities and global supply chain experience, it was a no-brainer for the two entities to pair up to address the pandemic. 

However, the partnership would face numerous challenges throughout the project lifecycle, including, most notably, a highly unpredictable and rapidly evolving public health crisis. Adaptability had to be the name of the game, and the structured guidelines of project management provided a baseline for the team to work from. Ultimately, the project was an overwhelming success, with over 1 billion doses of the vaccine delivered to over 170 countries.

Example Three: Project Management in Aerospace Technology

The Mars Pathfinder Mission began in 1996 as a result of budget cuts within NASA, shifting the organization’s focus to projects that could be completed “faster, better, and cheaper.” The goal was to spend less than $150 million dollars on the project in total and implement it within 36 months. Based on the initial goals established by NASA, just getting the spacecraft to Mars and landing it in one piece would have been a success. 

Instead, by the time the project reached completion in September 1997, the Mars Pathfinder returned 2.3 billion bits of information, including more than 16,500 images from the lander and 550 images from the rover, as well as more than 15 chemical analyses of rocks and soil and extensive data on winds and other weather taking place on Mars. Ultimately, the project was such an exemplary example of project management at work that it won the Project Management Institute’s coveted ‘‘Project of the Year Award’’ for 1998. 

What is a Project Manager?

One of the most coveted roles for anyone seeking to build a career in project management, project managers are the ones who take ownership over the entirety of the project lifecycle from start to finish, from directing team efforts to navigating day-to-day challenges, implementing project management strategies, and more. Ultimately, they are responsible for the successful competition of the project and the distribution of key deliverables and project outcomes. 

Responsibilities of a Project Manager

Project managers are responsible for a wide range of project-related duties, including but not limited to:

Essential Project Manager Skills

Project managers handle a wide variety of project-related responsibilities and duties, and understandably, need to wield a broad and flexible skillset. Some of the essential skills a project manager should possess include the following:

Soft Skills

  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Organization
  • Time Management
  • Adaptability
  • Decision Making
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Conflict Resolution

Hard Skills

  • Knowledge and proficiency in project management methodologies
  • Process Management
  • Risk Management
  • Financial Management
  • Proficiency in relevant tools and software
  • Data visualization
  • Scheduling

Phases of Project Management 

Check out the video below for an in-depth walkthrough of the five phases of the project management lifecycle. 

1. Project Initiation

The project initiation phase focuses on establishing a high-level vision for the project while securing approvals from sanctioning stakeholders. This phase is not meant to dive into excessive detail, but rather to get the ball rolling and get the team thinking about what is to come.  Read more about the initiation phase.

2. Project Planning

During the project planning phase, teams build upon the vision established in the initiation phase in much more detail. First, teams must answer a few essential questions surrounding what the project will aim to accomplish, how the project will be carried out, when it will begin, on what timeline, and how project success will be measured. Once those initial questions have been answered, teams can dive into building out project infrastructure, covering essential topics such as:

  • Project scope
  • Deliverables
  • Key stakeholders
  • Goals and milestones
  • Resources needed (internally and externally)
  • Team roles
  • Project timeline
  • Potential risks or roadblocks
  • Dependencies
  • End of project outcomes

3. Project Execution

The project execution phase is the starring act of the project, and where most of the deliverables come from. During this phase, the project manager coaches and guides the team to present essential project deliverables while keeping stakeholders in the loop and monitoring progress against key milestones and KPIs. Throughout the project execution phase, project management systems, such as project management software, can make life easier by keeping track of deadlines and deliverables, serving as a platform for team member collaboration, and more.  Learn more about project execution.

4. Project Monitoring 

During the monitoring phase, the project manager(s) keep tabs on the progress of the project overall and the status of the team. Whether teams are on track and delivering stellar results or struggling with roadblocks and challenges, the project manager can help eliminate stressors, solve problems, and communicate updates with key stakeholders. Read more about project monitoring.

5. Project Closure

The closing phase of the project lifecycle is a time for wrapping up project activities, delivering project deliverables and outcomes, and reflecting on the wins and losses of the project overall. Communication is key within this final phase, where team members have an opportunity to reflect and celebrate. Learn more about the project closure phase.


Download Our FREE Project Lifecycle Guide

Project Management Methodologies

Project management methodologies establish a guiding set of rules and principles that teams can implement in order to achieve greater efficiency while maximizing positive project outcomes. Each methodology approaches project management through a slightly different lens, providing teams with a specific set of repeatable steps to follow throughout the project lifecycle. Methodologies are rigid and cannot be used in combination with other methodologies.

Project management frameworks can exist within methodologies, providing a more focused view of how a methodologies guidelines can be applied and implemented. While the structure and rules follow the teachings of the methodology, frameworks can color in detail how and when those rules are applied in a project setting. 


Agile

Agile project management focuses on an iterative and highly flexible approach to project management that focuses on delivering the project in pieces throughout the project lifecycle, rather than all at once at the project’s conclusion. In Agile project management, teams have more flexibility to adapt to challenges and redirections than in more structured methodologies, such as Waterfall.

Best for: 

  • Software development teams
  • Teams dealing with high levels of uncertainty
  • Teams who are creating prototypes that need multiple levels of edits and changes
  • Teams working closely with external parties and stakeholders

Waterfall

Waterfall project management is a traditional approach to project management that involves rigid, sequential project phases. In the waterfall model, each phase of the project must be fully completed before the next phase can begin, and project deliverables are turned over only at the conclusion of the project.

Best for: 

  • Projects with a well-defined goal
  • Projects with concrete timelines
  • Teams who need to define rigid project requirements early on

Project Management Frameworks

Scrum

Scrum project management, as the name suggests, is inspired by the camaraderie and teamwork of a Rugby team within the Agile methodology. Led by a Scrum master, Scrum teams are encouraged to learn through their experiences, self-organize as they problem-solve, and progress throughout the project lifecycle. 

Best for:

  • Smaller teams tackling numerous unknowns and ever-changing variables
  • Teams who are creating prototypes that need multiple levels of edits and changes
  • Teams working closely with external parties and stakeholders

Kanban

The Kanban framework is a subset of the Agile methodology that emphasizes continuous improvement and flexible task management. In the Kanban framework, teams utilize Kanban boards, vertical boards that separate individual task cards into categories based on their status in the project lifecycle (for example: “not started,” “in progress,” and “completed”). 

Best for:

  • Teams who are new to project management and looking for a simple, organized framework
  • Projects with numerous individual tasks and assignments
  • Teams who need quick access to a high-level view of task overviews and completion status

Critical Path Method (CPM)

Critical Path Method is a project management framework within the Waterfall methodology that identifies critical and non-critical tasks, prioritizing them based on their importance—eliminating bottlenecks and roadblocks. The CPM method emphasizes the importance of calling out relationships between tasks and task dependencies. 

Best for: 

  • Teams managing large, complex projects
  • Projects that require a large number of tasks with subtasks and dependencies
  • Teams who want to maximize efficiency and prevent roadblocks from the start of the project (especially for projects that have a high likelihood of complication) 

PRINCE2

PRojects IN Controlled Environments, or PRINCE2, is a framework within the Waterfall project management methodology that emphasizes organization and control. Frequently used in the UK and internationally, The PRINCE2 model breaks down projects into smaller, more manageable chunks in order to manage risk and resources while clearly defining team roles and responsibilities. 

Best for: 

  • Teams who have less experience in project management (PRINCE2 follows clearly defined, easy-to-understand steps)
  • Teams who need more clarity around specific role-based responsibilities
  • Compartmentalizing project steps and actions

Project Management Tools

Project Management Software

Project management software helps teams organize all project essentials in one place, while streamlining and simplifying the project management process overall. At every phase of the project lifecycle, project management software supports teams’ ability to assign tasks, manage deadlines, view task dependencies, track team progress against goals, access data insights, and much more. 

Example of a list-style project view in project management software. Source: monday.com, accessed September 2023. 

Read more: 10 Best Project Management Software for 2023


Project Management Charts 

Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are one of the most common planning tools in project management. In a timeline-inspired format, Gantt charts highlight tasks against the project timeline, task dependencies, and designated assignees. Gantt charts are useful for teams who want to visualize projects at a high-level view while avoiding resource overload. 

Best for: Visualizing project timelines and task dependencies

Example of a simple Gantt chart. Source: TeamGantt, accessed September 2023. 

Burn-Up/Burn-Down Charts

Burn-up and burn-down charts visually represent how project tasks have been completed across a predetermined timeframe. This type of chart is popular with Scrum teams for tracking work across sprints, as it can easily reveal the total scope of work against items that have been completed or left unfinished. 

Best for: Tracking project progress

Teamwork's burn down chart
Example of a burn down chart. Source: Teamwork, accessed September 2023.

Read more: Best Project Planning Software & Tools


Collaboration Tools

Slack

Slack is a communication-focused collaboration software that enables teams to communicate asynchronously through messaging, audio calling, and video conferencing. While many project management software offerings include collaboration features, Slack is a faster solution for teams who need to communicate efficiently as project updates come up.

Slack window, a critical tool in project management.
Example of Slack’s chat functionality, complete with a mobile app option. Source: Slack, accessed September 2023. 

Miro

Miro is a collaborative mind-mapping software that can help teams brainstorm throughout the project lifecycle in real-time. The application functions as a virtual whiteboard for teams to map ideas, add digital sticky notes, and plan out timelines.

Miro brainstorming features in project management.
Example of Miro’s team brainstorming features. Source: Miro, accessed September 2023. 

Read more: Best Collaboration Software and Tools in 2023



FAQs

A project is a temporary, time-bound sequence of tasks that aim to achieve a particular goal. Projects bring together the talents of multiple team members in order to deliver a tangible result or outcome over a predetermined span of time. Often, projects involve the work of multiple individuals, across numerous areas of expertise, requiring an upfront investment in time and resources. 

Project management provides structure and accountability to the project process while providing ongoing support to your team by way of a project manager. Here are just a few of the top benefits of project management: 

Project Management Keeps Projects on Track

According to data from Wellingtone, only 43% of projects are finished on time and within budget, and only 29% are on time. Project management structures a plan for teams to stay on time and budget ahead of time, so projects are more likely to go as planned. 

Eliminate Scope Creep

Scope creep occurs when project requirements and frame of work expand over time—and it’s one of the most significant threats to project success, with the Project Management Institute reporting that half of all projects experience scope creep. Projects that adhere to best practices in project management are more likely to stay focused on the initial objectives of the project and, ultimately, experience success. 

Enhanced Resource Management

Project management involves planning and accountability—and that can make resource management much easier. During the initial phases of project planning, teams clearly outline team roles and responsibilities while monitoring individual workloads as work progresses, ensuring that resources are allocated appropriately.

Team Coaching and Coordination

Project management efforts are traditionally led by a project manager, or at the very least, a dedicated team member who oversees team efforts while providing support throughout the project lifecycle. Having a dedicated individual who can monitor project progress, troubleshoot problems, and promote team accountability can help the project process move much more smoothly. 

While every organization’s approach to project management is different, taking stock of your goals can help guide your next move. Take time to reflect on the projects your team has completed previously. What went well? What could have been improved? 

If you don’t have the budget to hire a dedicated project manager, implementing smaller steps, such as taking advantage of a project management software solution, can help your team make big strides toward a strong project management strategy. 

Most teams will require a toolbox of project management aids, rather than a single solution by itself. In order to determine which tools are the best fit for your team, testing is key. A majority of project management software solutions offer free trials and plans, making it easy to test out a variety of options. Other tools, such as charts, planning aids, and mind maps, are free tools that can easily be tested and explored. 


Interested in learning more? Check out our FREE guide on how to choose project management software. 


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