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The Project Management Process Explained

Written by Tyler Wetzel on Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Construction site

Photo by NAVFAC

For all but the smallest projects, experienced project managers use well-established project management methodologies. These can be basic or advanced in nature but most follow a similar path. These separate paths have some differences in emphasis, and they tend to use slightly different terminology, but they generally share two key features: projects are delivered in stages, and certain common project management processes run across these stages. Of course there’s variation between each company’s processes.

Project Management Process Cycle

Most projects can be described using the model above:

Phase 1 - Initiation and Closure Activities

Assemble Team

Assemble Team

Just like the Avengers, you must assemble your project planning team of super heroes and deviate out initial roles and responsibilities. Be sure to include appropriate representation from customers/clients, and even subcontractors and vendors. After the team has been assembled it’s a good idea to document your initial project setup.

Your Project Initiation Document does the following:

  • Defines your project and its scope.
  • Justifies your project.
  • Secures funding for the project, if necessary.
  • Defines the roles and responsibilities of project participants.
  • Gives people the information they need to be productive and effective right from the start.

Deliverables and sign-off requirements are usually identified in the Project Initiation Document.

Define Project Objectives

With the project team in place, the overall project purpose will be verified, and detailed project objectives developed. A phase-exit review will be conducted to ensure that the project is ready to move into the next phase, which is planning.

Phase 2 - Planning


Define Project Scope

The next step is to formulate a Work Breakdown Structure which will outline all the goals and time frames for particular tasks. This is useful for determining costs, duration of work and scheduling. This also allows the complete project to be split into appropriate sub-projects and/or phases. It’s a road map for the project.

Sample WBS

Construct an Initial Plan

After all tasks have been identified and organized according to significance, the project team can arrange and organize the project in a network diagram called a Initial work-plan. This plan clarifies time frames and goals much like a Gannt chart and is useful for determining whether a project is meeting its deadlines.

Sample Initial work-plan

Add Resources, Costs, Risks etc.

After the Initial work-plan has been completed a project member can add additional details that would pertain to the project’s finances, risk assessments and overall cost of resources and expenditures. Estimated resource usage information can be allowed for resource forecasting. Cost is also important, and expenditures can be added to the plan to create estimated cash-flow requirements. Risk management can also be useful on projects.

Obtain Stakeholder Buy-in

This is the last step of the planning phase. The plan should be reviewed by all interested parties to ensure that their interests are best represented in the plan. A phase-exit review will be conducted to ensure that the project is ready to move into the next phase, which is control.

Phase 3 - Control

Project management control

Publish the Plan

Once the plan has been finalized, you can distribute it to your stakeholders and parties of interest. This communication step is basic but essential for keeping everyone on the same page as the project progresses.

Collect Progress Information

The project team should document all their actions, milestones and developments in a report. This will allow the compilation of data, such as:

  • Activities completed within the past two weeks
  • Activities forecast for the next two weeks, with a focus on activities on the critical path
  • Funds expended vs. fund expenditure forecast
  • Prioritized issues report

Each project report will be reviewed by the management which will determine if the goals were reached for each step. An exit review will be compiled and distributed among stakeholders. Moreover, the project team manager can establish metrics, such as earned value, activity float statistics and financial indicators to better document their progress.

Analyze Current Status

At this step, the project manager can review and analyze all project reports and determine potential pit-falls, and where problems are likely to occur in the future. Moreover, this step allows managers to focus on the critical areas of the project. Project evaluation will be written up and distributed.

Adjust the Plan, and Manage Project Change

The project manger, along with his team, will adjust or update the project plan. Adjustments will focus on reducing risks, accommodating scope changes, or compensating for activities that were not on schedule. Afterwards, the plan will re-published, and the cycle will be repeated until the project is complete.

Close Project

When the objectives of the project have been completed, the project manager will shut down the project. This will involve some financial closure tasks, as well as archiving of the project materials. A final project report will be assembled and lessons learned may be included for future reference.

Additional Reading

Check out Project Management Phases and Processes by Mind Tools for a more in-depth look at how experienced project managers use well-established project management methodologies.

Read next: What You’re Missing by Being Awake

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