If you’re interested in project management, you already are or plan to become a project manager, or you’ve been given this role without requesting it. In this case, you’re an “accidental project manager.”
Whatever the case, learning project management will help you not only in your career but also in your everyday life. Planning a trip, redecorating your house, or starting a new business are just a few projects you might encounter. Understanding project management and how it works will also help you with your projects.
In this article, I cover the basics of the main project management topics. At the same time, each section offers a link to an in-depth article on that topic with detailed information, templates, and actionable advice. The articles are constantly updated with the latest developments in the project management field.
Since there is much information to read and digest, please bookmark this article and return to it whenever you have time or want to dig deeper.
1. What is project management?
Project management is the process and the ability to plan, organize, and execute a project from start to finish. It involves defining the project scope, creating a schedule, managing resources, tracking progress, and delivering the project on time and within budget.
In a nutshell, project management helps deliver a valuable outcome by applying specific strategies and expertise and using specific tools.
The process, or “the project,” is a set of temporary actions to create value through unique processes, products, or services. A project combines tasks, activities, and deliverables to achieve the desired outcome.
Read more about the basics of project management.
2. How to become a project manager
The project manager is a professional responsible for overseeing and coordinating all aspects of a project, from start to finish. He must ensure the project is completed on time, within budget, and to a specific quality standard.
You must complete a formal project management certification or program degree to become an accredited project manager. However, not all project managers are accredited. These are accidental project managers because they’ve been attributed this role when no one else was available for the job.
Besides the formal certification, to become a project manager, you must also develop soft skills and invest time into understanding the field you’re working on. The most essential skills are communication and negotiation, leadership, organization, problem-solving, attention to detail, accountability, and critical thinking.
This complete project manager guide offers all the information you need and the step-by-step process you need to go through to become a successful project manager.
3. Project manager responsibilities
Whichever career path you choose, the first thing you do is have a clear understanding of your responsibilities. When you know what you’re responsible for, you have clarity and focus and stay out of trouble.
Although the list is quite long, these are the most critical responsibilities:
- Delivering the project on schedule and within the allocated budget.
- Ensuring that the project meets the required quality standards and specifications.
- Managing the project team and resources effectively to achieve the project objectives.
- Overseeing the project planning, monitoring, and control processes to keep the project on track.
- Addressing any issues or risks during the project and implementing appropriate solutions.
Or, let’s put it this way: the stakeholders—the people interested in the project—are happy when the project is completed on time, within budget, meets the agreed-upon quality standards, and, if possible, without too much hassle.
In this article, we look at an extensive list of pm responsibilities and how to ensure you do your project manager job properly.
4. Product manager vs. project manager
Product manager and project manager are two roles often mixed up, especially in a tech company. Why? Besides the fact that they sound similar, they also overlap in qualifications and skills. Often, the same person does both jobs (without even knowing it).
Things get clearer after we understand the difference between a product and a project.
A project is often undertaken to create or deliver a product, service, or outcome, whereas a product is the project’s result. A product often requires ongoing maintenance and support, while a project is completed when the goals are achieved.
The product manager role is more strategic. The product manager is the person who sets and owns the product direction, staying with it until the product is removed from the market. He talks to customers to gather requirements, identifies problems, decides which opportunities to go after, creates a product roadmap based on specific features, and prioritizes development tickets.
The project manager role is rather tactical. The project manager takes the product vision from the product manager, develops a project plan, and ensures the development teams hit the goals and deadlines. Simply put, the project manager is responsible for delivering the product within the agreed budget, time, and quality.
This product vs. project manager guide explains the differences in more detail while answering the critical question, “Can you handle both roles simultaneously?”
5. Project management phases/life cycle
Each project goes through a set of steps from creation to completion. In theory, there’s a small debate regarding the number of phases: some say five, and some say four. In practice, though, they are the same:
- Project initiation phase
- Project planning phase
- Project execution, monitoring, and control phase*
- Project closure phase
*Some split this into two: the project execution phase and the project and control phase
The first phase is dedicated to determining client requirements and analyzing whether or not you have the essential resources to complete the project.
In the planning phase, you write down the detailed steps needed during the project development life cycle.
The third phase is the most important stage, during which you prepare deliverables and control the evolution of the project.
In the final phase, you close all contracts and discuss what went well and what went wrong in the project to prepare for future projects.
In this guide, we look closer at each phase, and you’ll learn the most important aspects of each one.
6. Project management methodologies
Probably the most complex aspect of project management, the methodologies, methods, and frameworks used in project management are constantly changing and adapting.
Projects and teams are very diverse; for this reason, there are a multitude of methodologies that are used in project management.
There still needs to be some clarification about what a methodology, a method, and a framework represent.
A methodology is a set of methods, practices, processes, techniques, procedures, and rules. They contain a series of steps and activities for each phase of the project’s life cycle.
A method is a systematic procedure, technique, or mode of inquiry employed by or proper to a particular discipline. In other words, a method refers to a single action, technique, process, or way of doing things.
A framework is an overview of how the guidelines should be implemented.
While methodologies offer strict principles, a framework is more flexible because it adapts to a company’s needs, leaving room for the project manager to find the best way to complete the projects.
Some of the most popular project management methodologies, methods, and frameworks are:
- PRINCE 2 – a project management method that enforces the need to split project accountability between a board and a project manager.
- Adaptive Project Framework – a framework that borrows elements and processes from other methodologies to create projects in a personalized way.
- Critical Path Method – a method that generates a sequence of critical activities that determines the most extended succession of tasks that must be completed on time for the project to meet the deadline.
- PRiSM – a project methodology built around environmental factors that helps project teams eliminate pollution and save energy.
Read our extensive guide about project management methodologies, methods, and frameworks.
7. The project charter
A project charter is a concise document that contains the project’s scope, stakeholders, benefits, and objectives. Its purpose is to give stakeholders minimum but vital information to authorize the project.
Usually, the project manager creates the project charter and presents it to the stakeholders for approval. A misconception is that the project sponsor is responsible for writing the project charter, but sponsors might not have the time or expertise to do this.
You should not confuse a project charter with a project management plan. While the latter is a comprehensive document containing all the details and steps required to complete the project, the project charter is brief (3-4 pages, at most) and doesn’t include all tasks.
A project charter should contain the following:
- Objectives and targets
- Risks, assumptions, constraints, and dependencies
Check this detailed article about the project charter, where you can also find a downloadable project charter template.
8. Project management plan
A solid project management plan outlines all the information you need to ensure the completion of the project on time and within budget and scope. Think of it as a detailed map indicating the shortest and safest route you must take from point A to point B.
Its purpose is to help you organize the team’s activity, save time you’d otherwise spend on clarifying misunderstandings, and save money you’d waste on useless resources.
Creating a detailed plan is often the most overlooked step in the project’s life cycle. That’s because you don’t see its purpose, or worse, think of project planning as a bureaucratic time-waster. But even in the case of smaller projects, having a project plan is vital. It gives clarity and, more importantly, as pointed out above, will save you time and money in the long run.
In our extensive guide, you’ll find out if there’s a difference between a project management plan and a project plan or how to create a project management plan step by step. You can also download a project management plan template.
9. Project schedule
While a project management plan is a formal, approved document that outlines how the project will be executed, monitored, and controlled, the project schedule is a timeline of tasks, activities, milestones, durations, and deadlines.
The project schedule includes a comprehensive list of tasks, who’s responsible for what, what resources are needed, and how long each task takes. It should be simple enough to be understood by all stakeholders yet detailed simultaneously to be followed by those who must execute it.
For complex and long-term projects, PMBOK—a standard terminology and guidelines for project management—defines activities, sequences, and resources as individual processes with inputs, tools, and output.
A simple project schedule, though, looks something like this:
This guide looks at a project schedule’s theoretical and practical aspects.
10. Project resource plan
A resource plan—or resource management plan—refers to assembling resources (people, money, and technology) for a project, allocating and using them in the most coherent way to improve efficiency and contribute to the completion of the project in time and within budget and scope. It is a balance between demand and capacity. The resource plan is the project manager’s responsibility.
To create a resource plan, you always want to start by looking at the tasks that need to be done, as stated in the project management plan.
Regardless of the specific work methodology, effective resource management requires the following:
- Balancing the demand for work with the available resources and capacity
- Aligning work with the needs of the business
- Prioritizing, planning, and scheduling work with the right teams, people, and skill sets
- Managing workloads and resources effectively to ensure efficient delivery of outcomes
Effective resource management involves strategically allocating resources to meet business goals and deliver value to stakeholders.
Ideally, the project manager should use resource management software to create the resource plan and make adjustments when necessary.
Check this article to see how you can create a project resource plan and schedule your team step by step.
11. Project management software
The project management software provides a comprehensive suite of tools for managing the entire lifecycle of a project. It helps project managers and stakeholders track progress, manage resources, control costs, track work time, and ensure quality throughout the project. Modern project management software features often include task management, resource management, file management, time tracking, and budgeting.
Project management software comes in many shapes, from more general tools to industry-specific. The online reviews platform G2 lists more than 440 applications. While only some of these are dedicated project management software, if you look for a universal and popular tool, there are still at least 50 you could choose from. The rest market themselves as project management software but are insufficient compared to established PM tools.
If you want to save hours of research and read a comprehensive review of the best project management software you can use for your projects, check this article.
12. Stakeholder management plan
As the name suggests, a stakeholder is a person who has a direct stake in the project, someone who finances, oversees, or executes the project. It can be a project sponsor, manager, team member, contractor, or customer.
The stakeholder management plan ensures you will lead with a plan instead of your heart.
In a nutshell, the plan will determine who the project stakeholders are—even if they’re not part of the project—and how to engage with them before any conflicts of interest arise.
The plan shouldn’t be too complex, or it would end up defeating its purpose. When creating one, you should focus on four things:
- Create a stakeholder register. List and categorize everyone that has an interest in the project.
- Develop a stakeholder communication plan. It’s a set of communication rules based on the stakeholders’ level of influence
- Run a risk stakeholder analysis, from the “unaware” to the “leading” stakeholder, and put a label on each person
- Build a feedback loop for stakeholder management, which is mandatory if you want to know if what’s been implemented at previous points has worked as planned.
Example of a stakeholder register
The following article details each step and provides a template to help you create an accurate stakeholder management plan.
13. Project take over
You’ll be asked to take over other projects as your project management career progresses. That happens because the previous PM has been fired or moved or your skills are fitter to handle that project.
What do you do? Where do you start? Here’s a checklist of the things you should do when you face this situation:
- Check the project charter and project plan
- Ask for other documentation and metrics
- Meet the sponsor
- Meet the previous project manager
- Meet the team
- Create a transition plan
In this article, we look at each step in detail. You’ll also find there a free printable checklist.
14. How to avoid project failure
The project manager’s worst nightmare, project failure, is something you’ll face sooner or later, whether you’re an experienced or novice project manager. Countless factors can cause a project to fail, and sometimes, things might not be in your control. More important is to detect the warning signs in time so you can take the appropriate measures.
Below are the four warning signs you should look for as a project progresses.
- Improper planning as a result of unclear scope
- Team communication problems
- Undefined metrics and no tools to track the progress
- Customer detachment
The following article discusses these factors that can lead to project failure. You should also pay attention to inadequate team training, unrealistic schedules, low morale, too many useless meetings, or the dreaded scope creep.
15. Project management training
Whether you plan to pursue a project management career or you’ve been assigned this role without your will, project management training is something you can’t ignore.
A study conducted by PMI—a not-for-profit professional organization for project management—compared the level of education of underperformers to that of “champions.” The study found that:
- The underperformers have a meager project success rate (32%) compared to champions (92%).
- Project champions were significantly more educated and invested in their professional development than underperformers.
Specifically, 77% of project champions had undergone a formal process to improve their project management skills, compared to only 19% of underperformers. This highlights the importance of investing in education and training for project managers to achieve better results. The study suggests that the more educated and trained project managers are, the more likely they are to succeed in their projects.
Depending on your resources and availability, there are many things you can try:
- Official project management training – the safest way to ensure an accredited institution, like PMI® or APM® (Association for Project Management), trains you. Their courses offer widely-recognized certificates that all project management practitioners can get to prove their knowledge in this field.
- Project management training conferences, seminars, and events. One such event is PMI’s Global Summit. This event is mainly for project management professionals who want to earn PDUs, invest in career-building skills, and build their community network.
- Project management training webinars – these online conferences are free (most of the time) or require a subscription to the organization that holds the webinar. Here are some of the APM’s events.
- Free project management training – education shouldn’t be expensive, or so we believe. There are lots of free qualitative project management training opportunities out there. Check, for example, this video by Chris Croft, where he explains project management in under 8 minutes.
This article presents the best paid and free project management training opportunities you can benefit from.
16. Project management blogs
Project management blogs can be a primary source of knowledge, mainly if project management experts contribute to or own them. Considering their growing number, finding the best ones to follow can be difficult and time-consuming.
We have thoroughly analyzed more than 300 project management blogs and resource websites. Our final list is based on their posts’ quality, frequency, and accuracy.
The four top criteria we used to find the best project management blogs are:
- Consistency – Although many excellent project management blogs haven’t posted content in years, we’ve only featured the active ones to ensure you stay on track with the latest changes in project management.
- Content quality – To keep you updated with only the best content and help you avoid fake PM news or facts, we looked at how the posts were written, who wrote them, and if the information featured was accurate.
- Top content – Through the “Worth reading” section, we highlighted the most representative and highly shared posts from each blog to help you understand the blog’s topics and style.
- Influence – We considered Moz’s Domain Authority (DA) to predict how a website can rank on Google’s SERP. Additionally, we analyzed their Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR), which shows the strength of the blog’s backlink profile. Free websites don’t have this data. We also looked at their Twitter account and followers. To help you identify relevant ones, we added their current number of followers and a link to their official accounts. This will ensure you’re following the right people and companies.
The collection of project management blogs is divided into three main categories:
- Individual Authors
- Project Management Software Developers
- PM Training, Consulting Companies, and Universities
Check our list of the best 55 project management blogs you should follow.
17. PMP Certification
The Project Management Institute (PMI®) offers the PMP® (Project Management Professional) certification to prepare high-capacity professionals by validating the project leadership skills that employers seek. With a PMP certification, you stand out from the crowd since PMP-certified professionals have a reputation for working in highly successful businesses worldwide.
Obtaining your PMP certification, though, takes work. But when you look at the benefits of having one, it is worth the effort:
- It creates good networking opportunities, boosts earning potential, and gives your resume a competitive edge over other applicants.
- The PMP certification can give you the know-how to master standardized processes and improve your project delivery skills.
- With a better grasp of project management, you will be more effective in completing tasks quickly and effectively, earning the respect of your superiors in the process.
- You might also get the promotion you deserve.
- The PMI salary study demonstrates that project management certification offers significant earning potential. Having a PMP certification puts you ahead of your rivals regarding pay scales.
If you want to become PMP-certified, here’s a simple 6-step plan you can follow:
- Check your eligibility
- Check the timeline
- Create a study plan
- Keep time entries of your study sessions
- Understand, then memorize the concepts
- Read extensively on PM topics
This article details all these steps and provides a plan to get your PMP certification in 30 days.
18. Project management courses
It is estimated that 2.2 million project-oriented roles will be available by 2027 in countries like the US, Canada, Germany, or India. This is an excellent opportunity for those pursuing a project management career.
Another way of gaining project management knowledge is through project management courses and university degrees.
You have several options depending on your location, availability, or budget.
- Free online project management courses – a popular example is the free project management course offered by Google.
- Paid online project management courses – check this PMP certification course by Simplilearn.
- Official project management training – PRINCE2® (Projects in Controlled Environments) is one of the most widely used project management methodologies, with millions of professionals worldwide certified in the framework. The PRINCE2 Foundation course is an ideal starting point for individuals looking to pursue or progress a career in project management.
- University project management courses – you can study project management at a private university. For example, Georgetown University in the US offers a Master’s Degree in project management.
- Online university project management courses – if you prefer online learning, check out this Master of Project Management from PennState World Campus.
In this comprehensive article, we look at other courses you could choose from and read the opinions of some instructors and professors about them. You’ll learn more about their experience as trainers and see why they think their project management course is helpful for you.
19. PMO, EPMO, PPMO, PGMO, and PSO
You shouldn’t have an issue understanding these acronyms if you’re an accredited project manager. Yet, if you do project management in your spare time and you’re not familiar with these departments, here’s what they stand for and the hierarchy inside a company:
A company can have none, one, some, or all of these departments. Choosing one over the other depends on the degree of help you need and the complexity of your projects. They all fulfill different roles and are placed in separate hierarchical spots.
Large organizations make the switch from smaller departments, like PMOs, to more complex ones, like PPMOs.
This article explains in detail the role of each department.
20. Project management glossary
Project management isn’t just for the experts. As an accidental project manager, you’ll probably encounter terms you’re not familiar with. Understanding these project management terms, techniques, processes, and tools used daily to manage projects is mandatory. Not knowing what these stand for or how to use them can cause confusion and delay a project until all misunderstandings are fixed. This is why it should be easy for everyone to know when and how to use these.
Here, you can find a complete list of project management terms you might encounter during your career. Bookmark this article and return to it whenever you find a project management term you want to understand.
Laurențiu started his marketing journey over 18 years ago and now leads a marketing team. He has extensive experience in work and project management, and content strategy. When not working, he’s probably playing board games or binge-watching mini-series.