Project management can be a wildly complex and diverse field. Construction project management and software development project management share a name, but can look completely different! Like any profession, there are project management basics upon which everything else rests. These basic building blocks are the foundation that supports every project as it goes from idea to reality. Whether you’re a project management rookie, or a wily seasoned veteran, these are the project management basics.
Structure and Organization
Chaos worked well for evolution, but it required a few hundred million years. When you have goals and deadlines, this isn’t an option. Projects require structure, and that structure is created by organization. Project plans are defined by long term goals, but they in turn define the short term goals needed to get there. These milestones get broken down to the granular tasks needed to achieve them. This breakdown is then mapped onto a timeline. Tasks are assigned to team members. Contingency plans are devised, risk management is analyzed, and resources allocated. Now the project has a structure – step by step, there’s a map from start to finish.
The skeleton of the project is there, and now it needs nerves. Messages have to travel across the team, updates have to be provided to the brain trust of the project, stakeholders need to know what is going on…communication is imperative. Project managers must take in all the data, sift it, and send it along to the people who need it. Progress must be reported. Changes to the project plan need to be documented, and the plan needs to be updated. Everything from knowing what Fred is doing in the field, to how Jessica’s negotiations with the vendor are going, to the client deciding that the colors of the stationery need to be purple and mauve…communication channels are crucial.
Who is doing what, and when – these are the questions that the project plan are supposed to answer. But things happen, as the colloquialism goes. Project managers delegate tasks, coordinating the workflow across the team. Here is where the communication gets important – the project manager needs to know each task’s status. Besides this being crucial for the overall progress of the project, it is also important for balancing the workload across the team. Making sure everyone has the right tasks, and isn’t being overworked (or underworked), is a key part of project management. This is where project management tools can play a key role.
Project management methods can be applied to anything from software development to building a parking garage to planning a concert. While each kind of project can require different details, there are project management basics that will always remain the same – planning, communication, and task/workflow management.