As we progress in our careers and gain valuable experiences, we often find ourselves thrust into roles we knew little about, tasked with delivering value to our companies, clients, and even ourselves. Regardless of our current positions, the need to plan and oversee projects frequently arises. We strive to excel in our responsibilities, usually learning through the challenges we face. In our pursuit of professional growth, knowledge, guidance, and support become our allies.
In this series, I’ll guide you through the world of project management, breaking it down into five essential parts to make the journey more manageable. This will follow closely Richard Newton’s ‘Project Management Step by Step: How to Plan and Manage a Highly Successful Project’  which provides a clear and concise step-by-step process on how to structure, monitor and finish a project. I will use the book as a guide, coupled with my own personal experience in project management.
- Part 1: Starting a Project: Discover the core concepts of project management, including what defines a project, the role of a project manager, and the dimensions that shape your projects.
- Part 2: The Project Plan: Learn how to create a comprehensive project plan that serves as your roadmap to success, ensuring your projects stay on track.
- Part 3: Project Execution: Explore strategies for effectively executing your projects, managing teams, and overcoming unexpected challenges.
- Part 4: Project Delivery: Navigate the final stages of project management, ensuring that your projects are successfully delivered and meet all objectives.
- Part 5: Templates: Access a valuable resource in the form of templates and tools, simplifying your project management tasks and saving you time and effort.
Let’s start on this journey of project management together, starting with Part 1: Starting a Project. Click on the links above to navigate to the specific part you’re interested in, or follow the series sequentially to gain a comprehensive understanding of project management best practices.
Before we get into the process it is important to understand what a project is, what the role of a project manager is and how does a typical life-cycle of a project go.
What is a project?
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOX Guide 5th edition)  defines the project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.”.
Breaking this down we see that a project has a finite life-span with a start and an end date and a goal in mind to deliver something in the end whether that is a product (i.e. a new smartphone), a service (i.e. an improved customer service experience at a retail store) or a result (i.e. restructuring the various departments at a company).
A typical life-cycle of a project would be
- Understanding and specifying why you are doing the project
- Planning the project and understanding how it would need to be executed
- Executing the project and creating the various deliverables that it needs to produce based on your plan
- Ensuring that the deliverables meet the original specifications of the project
- Closing the project down
What does a project manager do?
The main role of the project manager is to structure, monitor and ensure that a project is successfully completed within the required time and cost. This breaks the role into the following distinct functions: know why you are doing the project and what the project will produce, plan the project, manage the project and complete the project.
Dimensions of a project
A project has a goal, deliverables, quality standards to adhere to, a start date and an end date, a budget and associated risks. Let us take the simple example of a small personal project to change the oil to our car. The five dimensions of the project would be:
- Scope of a project is understanding what needs to be done/produced in a project. The scope here would be to change the oil in our car.
- Quality of a project depends on the type of the project and what it will produce. In our example, we can either use a cheap oil brand or an expensive oil brand.
- Time of a project is the period required to start and end the project. If we change the oil at a garage it could take 1 hour, if we change it ourselves it might take 3 hours.
- Cost is the monetary cost required to complete it. Depending on which oil we choose and whether we will go to a garage or do it ourselves it could require anywhere between 20-50 EUR.
- Risk is of not meeting the requirements of the dimensions. For example, we might not have the budget for an expensive oil, if we change the oil ourselves we might do something wrong or take much more time to completed than we originally planned.
There is a variety of project management methodologies depending on the company, the industry and the type of product, service or result you want to create. A nice introduction to the various methodologies can be found in Wrike’s project management guide . For the purposes of this introduction we are going to use the traditional waterfall model where we follow in sequence the steps to define, plan, execute and close our project. This will provide you with the initial building blocks to be able to understand how a project should be structured and monitored to fruition.
You cannot start a project without knowing why you need to do it. This is accomplished by creating your Project Definition which will serve as the driving and motivating force for everything else that follows. The process can be simplified by answering the below questions.
For the purposes of this project definition let’s say we are an agency designing websites who has decided to update their company website.
- Why do you want to do this project? This is a short, concise statement telling you why you want to do this project and what you want to achieve once the project is completed. Example: Redesigning your company’s web-site.
- What will you have at the end of this project that you don’t have now? This will give you an understanding at what the delivery of the project would be. Example: A re-designed web-site using the latest technologies in the market.
- Will you (should you) deliver anything else? Sometimes when you are doing a project, it gives you the opportunity to work on additional items beneficial for the client, or company. These can be listed here but be cautions not to expand the project in a way that becomes unmanageable and out of scope. Example: Create a manual of the process when you are re-designing the website to serve as training for the future web developers of the company.
- Is anything explicitly excluded from the project? Do you need to explicitly exclude something from the project? This will help narrow the scope of the project and not let it get out of hand. i.e. The logo of the company would not have to be redesigned.
- Are there any gaps or overlaps with other projects – or changes to the boundaries of your project? Sometimes when a project is initiated there could be someone who has performed something related already (i.e. there is already a website template ready which was created for a previous project but never used), or your project is dependent on the output of another project (i.e. there is another project in place which redesigns the logo of the company), or your project might need to be integrated with a bigger project. (i.e. you are designing a landing page for a new product that will also need to be featured in your main website).
- What assumptions (if any) are you making? At the beginning stages of planning a project you need to make assumptions in order to narrow down the time-frame and cost of the project. These should be listed here and would serve as the baseline of your project risks. Example: The designer working on the website might get sick for a week and the project could be delayed up to a week unless a work-around is found.
- Are there any significant problems you are aware of that you must overcome? Here you can list problems/challenges you expect to face in the project Example: A junior developer will work on the project and he will have to be trained as he goes along. This will affect the dimensions of the project and the way you approach the project.
- Has the customer, or the situation, set any specific conditions on the way you do this project? A project is done to deliver value to some stakeholder, whether this is the company, an individual within the company, a customer, etc. Here you would need to list the constraints that the stakeholder imposes Example: fixed time, maximum cost, adherence to specific laws/regulations. When planning the project, it’s important to take these in mind, understand them and examine if these are possible. For example, a customer want’s a project to be done within a month however when you formulated your project plan you can see that it cannot be done in less than two months,
Once the project definition is finalized it is vital to agree it with all the stakeholders of the project, so that you are all on the same page before proceeding further with the project plan. Failure to do so might result in delivering a project that does not meet the actual deliverables of the project that the stakeholder wanted.
In this first part, we’ve established the foundations of project management, understanding what a project is, the role of a project manager, and the essential dimensions that define every project. We’ve also emphasized the importance of creating a clear Project Definition to set the stage for successful project planning.
As we continue this journey together, remember that effective project management is not only about following processes but also about adapting them to your unique circumstances. Let’s build a solid project management foundation together, continuing with Part 2: The Project Plan.
 Richard Newton – Project Management Step By Step How to Plan and Manage a Highly Successful Project Pearson Education Limited
 Project Management Institute – A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)
 Anna Mar – 130 Project Risks
 Wrike Inc – Project Management Guide: Glossary