Project management is a popular business field that can open up opportunities in nearly any kind of organization, and it’s a great fit for those who like planning, organizing, and leading teams through a process from start to finish. At Post University, we offer a comprehensive master’s program in Project Management, and we’re happy to explain how it works to anyone who is interested in pursuing a career in the field. Here’s what you should know:
Project Management Overview
“Project management” sounds like something every manager has to do—and, to some extent, that’s often the case! But the discipline itself focuses on how projects are completed. Sometimes, different approaches work best for different types of projects.
Organizations may favor some approaches over others. They may even hire leaders in an effort to discover which approach will work best. This includes starting, executing, monitoring, and finishing a project—and it includes figuring out the best way to run the project itself, like how to assign resources or what stages to divide the project into.
Because of this, project managers need to master a wide variety of skills and in-depth knowledge about many different factors, including risk management, time management, budgeting, quality control, human resources, and, of course, communication.
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Benefits of Project Management
Project management leadership is popular in organizations around the world because informed project decisions have a number of benefits. More and more businesses are understanding that managers cannot simply walk in and give teams goals to accomplish, especially with complex projects that have a lot of moving parts. Reasons to adopt project management expertise include:
- Familiarity with different approaches
A project manager doesn’t just lead a team to complete tasks—they determine the best process for the project to follow. Knowledge of these methodologies, which we’ll explore below, allow managers to choose the most efficient option that will cause the least frustration for the team.
- Cost savings
Project managers specialize in applying resources in the best possible ways to reach goals. The result is frequently more accurate project budgets—and better cost savings, in general—for the organization.
- Fewer errors with better risk management
From product defects to returned shipments or service problems, each error represents a failure of the process at some point. Project managers specialize in finding these flaws and correcting the process to remove them. This helps increase customer satisfaction, build brand reputation, and develop other advantageous factors.
- Better team collaboration and communication
Choosing the right approach to a project makes it easier for the team to collaborate and encourages them to communicate in more productive ways. The team often ends up happier and more coordinated as a result.
- Meeting new challenges or restructuring
Sometimes organizations are interested in adopting new practices in the workplace to meet goals more effectively or to address specific problems they see cropping up. This could include adopting a new technology or finding a better way to meet challenging deadlines. In these cases, a project manager’s training and experience can be a great fit for making the right decisions.
- More flexibility
Project managers can also help choose processes that give organizations more flexibility in how they complete projects, where they allocate resources, and what they want to get done first.
Project Management Methodologies
Project management uses a variety of very specific methodologies or ways of approaching and completing a project. These methodologies can vary, choosing different foci or priorities, and a skilled project manager should understand how they work. Many are complex enough that they offer their own certifications or required training for managers to use them most effectively. Below, we’ll look at several of the most popular options:
Agile project management uses iterative steps that take careful measure of the current state of a project after each stop along the way. Then, they revise plans for the next step, as needed. This makes agile approaches very flexible, ideal for projects that can change a lot as they go on, such as the software development cycle.
A key aspect of agile management is the concept of “sprints.” Sprints are the period where all planned actions for the step are taken. A sprint is followed by a careful review of the step and its outcomes to see where the project has currently progressed, then new plans are made for the next sprint. It takes skill and experience to plan sprints and reviews in succession while still keeping the end goals of the project in mind and avoiding scope creep or an overworked team.
Scrum is a specific framework or platform used to support a project management process. We mentioned sprints in the Agile process above—the sprint is technically part of Scrum. In fact, the Scrum framework as a whole was developed to support the Agile process.
Scrums also include a Backlog of tasks that the final project needs, a Daily Scrum of progress updates, and a Retrospective or review of the Sprint after it is completed. Scrum also includes specific management and team titles, although these aren’t always used. Scrum’s framework is particularly popular in engineering and software fields. It’s important that managers adapt Scrum to current project goals and the workplace as a whole—all while avoiding making Scrum more important than the project tasks themselves. Everyone involved must understand their Scrum role, responsibilities, and deadlines, so great communication is key.
Waterfall, much like Scrum, is a specific approach to project framework, but it attempts to codify a broader task management process that can be used in all kinds of industries without forcing teams to learn too many new practices.
Waterfall starts with a massive planning session that creates detailed sequential phases that the project moves through, one at a time. Only when the specific goals for one phase have been completed does the next phase begin (in contrast to options like Scrum, where multiple aspects of the project can be in different phases of completion).
The plan typically moves through gathering documentation, designing a process to complete steps, implementing a change, testing, deployment, and review or maintenance—as needed. After each primary step, there’s usually a feedback loop to check if the project is still on schedule and problem-free. This is a popular option for an organization that’s planning on a big structural change, adopting new technology, or launching a new product.
Critical Path Method (CPM)
When a manager looks for a “critical path,” it’s the shortest possible path to reach a goal while hitting every necessary task between the start and finish of a project. CPM is all about managing time, and typically assigns times to each task so that the leader knows how long everything will take to complete. Then the project can be organized to be completed as quickly as possible by assigning the team to the right tasks at the right times (some may need to be started later, and some earlier, while tasks dependent on each may be given top priority).
It’s no surprise that critical path approaches are common for projects that have tight deadlines. However, it can take a lot of training and experience to find a good critical path without cutting corners: CPM tends to be more common with teams who need to use it very frequently, such as in industries with lots of crunch and competition.
Critical Chain is similar to Critical Path, but the difference is in priority. While Critical Path is designed to help when time is short, Critical Chain is designed to help when resources are short. It’s a form of analysis that defines exactly what resources (people, equipment, technology, and also time) each task in a project will require. When these are accounted for, the project leader can then arrange their use at appropriate times to complete tasks.
This approach helps avoid different parts of the team fighting over the same resources, like a particular computer or editing room. Critical Chain also includes buffer periods of time to account for the unexpected. It is often used in combination with Critical Path, or as an alternative when there are plenty of physical resources to consider. The goal, however, is similar—to complete the project as quickly as possible with what is given.
PRiSM, or Projects integrating Sustainable Methods, is an excellent choice for companies that want to complete a project while also focusing on social responsibility, conserving resources, and being as efficient and eco-friendly as possible. It’s usually a five-phase approach that devotes time to understand the resource cost of a project and looks for ways to minimize impact on the environment. It also incorporates long-term planning to ensure that the result of the project is properly supported and ultimately sustainable far into the future.
These aspects make PRiSM a popular choice for developments and other construction projects, or any project where there could be environmental effects that need to be studied first. However, outside of these areas, PRiSM can have limited application. It also needs complete buy-in from all decision-makers in the organization or it cannot be performed.
PRINCE2 or Projects IN Controlled Environments, is a process-focused management approach that focuses on plenty of documentation and separate plans for each stage of the project. (It’s also the chosen project management option for various governments, including the UK.)
PRINCE2 allows managers to divide very large projects up into different stages and create unique plans for each stage. It’s focused on practical needs and encourages forming plans by asking key questions about scope, timelines, and budgets.
This option and the extensive documentation required works well in highly regulated industries where organizations need to make sure they are following every rule, or for lengthier and more complex projects that involve a lot of details. PRINCE2 also makes it easier to include some tolerances or potential deviations from the plan based on unexpected events—which is important when forming budgets and timelines.
Six Sigma’s name comes from the study of bell curves and deviations: The project management system is likewise focused on minimizing deviation and creating a process that results in achieving repeatable goals over and over with a very low number of problems, errors, or defects. It includes five key principles when creating this plan, including measuring value streams, getting rid of flaws that create deviations, and making it easy to start the process again once it’s been completed.
Six Sigma is a popular option for production and factories, but it also goes far beyond those fields. Any service business that repeats the same kind of orders can benefit greatly from Six Sigma. Because of this versatility, there are divisions within Six Sigma that practice various methods of reducing deviations and improving accuracy.
How to Pick the Right Methodology
The variety of different project management systems leads to an important question: How does an organization decide what’s best?
As you can see, some types of product management systems are made to work well within specific fields, which can make the choice easier. PRINCE2 is probably going to be the best option for businesses that need to pay attention to a lot of details and follow extensive regulations. PRiSM is the best option for guaranteeing an eco-friendly development project. In cases like these, the answer may be clear. But for other organizations, choosing the right project approach can be more challenging.
This is where training, experience, and research become so useful. Project managers study what the priorities of the organization are, what the team looks like, and what resources are at hand before making an informed decision about which methodology works best. As project managers work, they gain experience about which methods tend to synergize with different kinds of teams or businesses.
It can be disruptive for a workforce to switch from one methodology to another, so it’s important for managers to do their research ahead of time. However, as companies or value offerings change, sometimes project methodologies need to change with them, so it’s also necessary for project managers to know the signs for when it’s time to adopt a new practice. There is also a growing amount of software that can help managers pick the right frameworks based on inputs about the organization they are working for.
Earn Your Project Management Degree at Post
As you can see, project management can be a particularly deep field, with room for many different specialties to meet different needs. That’s why education and training are particularly important for those seeking project management positions at a professional level. To learn more about our project management degree program, take a look at what a Post University master’s can provide for you, and what possibilities await in project management!
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