Project Management for Beginners and Experts

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Leadership

Leadership

All about Project Leadership

Introduction to Project Leadership

By definition, a project environment is full of change. It’s what we do. But change can feel unsettling for the people going through it, including the project team. Strong leadership skills help guide, motivate and provide direction for project stakeholders.

‘Leadership’ is multi-faceted and includes knowledge of leadership theory, skills such as influencing, negotiating and coaching and behaviors like acting ethically. There’s a lot that goes into effective project leadership.

Ready to dive in? We’ve got a wide selection of relevant podcasts on essential leadership skills for project managers to help you develop and grow your career.

Leadership Featured Podcast: Leading Projects Without Authority

Listen now to this featured Podcast on project leadership.

You've been there, right? You've managed a project where nobody on the team reported to you. But what can a project manager do to succeed other than beg borrow or steal in this situation? In this featured podcast interview with Jeff Kissinger we look at what project managers can do to successfully deliver their projects even in situations where they are leading without authority over the people on their project.
Jeff Kissinger and Cornelius Fichtner
Jeff Kissinger and Cornelius Fichtner
Scroll down to see the full list of our leadership podcasts.

Jump to full podcast list

Leadership in Project Management

Leadership in project management is an essential skill for steering the project to a successful completion. Like leadership in other areas of business, leadership in a project context requires you to demonstrate a range of competencies and behaviors. From directing the team to project governance, leadership is fundamental to ensuring your projects deliver a great result.

Project management and leadership go hand-in-hand. As the project lead, you both manage the project and lead the team. A crucial part of leadership is setting the vision and inspiring the team to work together to achieve it - you can see how important that is in a project context.

Delivering any project is a team effort, and while there are teams that operate without a clear leader, in business it’s most common for someone to be in the leadership role, guiding and directing the team towards their goals. If that someone is you, read on! We’ll be discussing what makes a great leader and how you can develop project management leadership skills.

What is Project Leadership?

Project leadership is the art and science of steering a team towards the successful delivery of a project. It ensures that together, the team accomplishes more than they could as individuals because project leadership brings people together to achieve a common goal. And hopefully, have fun working together at the same time!

Here's the PMI definition of project leadership:

The knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to guide, motivate, and direct a team, to help an organization achieve its business goals.

Do you need a formal leadership position to be a leader on a project? You might ask that question if you are thinking about the leadership responsibilities of a project director vs project manager.

The truth is that you can lead at all levels. The project director will lead the effort at an executive level, driving senior support and engaging with peers across the organization. They will also set the project's vision. The project manager leads the team on a day-to-day basis, to deliver the vision. Other people on the team can demonstrate project leadership skills, even if they aren't in a formal leadership position as well.

The Difference Between a Project Manager and a Project Leader

A lot has been written about the difference between leadership and management, and the main thing to be aware of is that management is about tasks while leadership is about people. Your project management skills will help you manage the work and your leadership skills will help you lead the team.

As a project manager, you are leading and managing – often at the same time. You are responsible for managing and controlling the work and the project process, but also for motivating and directing the team.

While you need to be both a project manager and a project leader, it helps to understand the differences between those two roles. You can see the main differences between project leader vs project manager highlighted below.

Project manager

  • Directs the work
  • Schedules activities
  • Reports on what has happened
  • Takes tactical action to keep the project on track
  • Develops others

Project leader

  • Leads the people
  • Guides people towards the vision
  • Plans for future changes
  • Anticipates problems and opportunities
  • Inspires others

What is a Project Lead?

A project lead is someone who is responsible for part of the project.

The project lead responsibilities include:

  • Leading a workstream or the involvement of a functional area
  • Managing the resources in that workstream or area
  • Managing project risk related to that workstream or area
  • Developing a schedule for the part of the project they are responsible for.

For example, you may have a project lead for testing who oversees all the system and user testing required for the project.

The main difference between project lead vs project manager is that the lead is responsible for a single strand of the project. The project manager has responsibility for the whole project.

However, there is no standard set of project management job titles and your organization may use the term project lead to mean something else, perhaps the most senior executive responsible for multiple projects.

5 Essential Project Leadership Skills

Effective leaders draw on many essential project management skills and competencies. The top five leadership skills for project managers are:
  • Communication
  • Team leadership
  • Conflict resolution
  • Motivation
  • Crafting solutions
Now let's look at each of those core leadership skills in a bit more detail.

Communication

Communication skills is one of the core project management competencies. Being able to communicate is very important for leaders because so much of what project leaders have to do involves working with others. You can’t collaborate effectively if you can’t communicate.

Leaders can speak to individuals and groups, in person and over the phone or web conferencing, and convey ideas. They can also put those ideas into writing to ensure the message is shared and understood.

Communication isn't simply about sharing your messages and talking to others. As Jarrett Jackson writes in Forbes, knowing how to listen is just as important.

Communication really is one of the top qualities of a project manager, especially in a leadership role.


Team leadership

The leader sets the vision. They inspire the people around them. Someone with excellent project leadership skills builds agreement and cohesion through the team, as well as being able to do day-to-day team management.

Team leadership on projects involves creating an environment for everyone to excel. The project culture that surrounds them is one that people are drawn to. Stakeholders want to be involved on the project because they know you will ensure the work gets done and at the same time create an environment that’s pleasant to work in.


Conflict resolution

Conflict is inevitable in situations where you are introducing something new or changing something. Effective leaders know how to harness conflict for good, as the best solutions arise when ideas are challenged.

Conflict can be positive for teams because it allows all voices to be heard and differing views to be put forward – often that results in a better solution and more effective project outcomes. However, leaders need to be armed with conflict resolution strategies to ensure they can identify and tackle conflict proactively before it escalates into an issue for the team. Check out the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument for practical resources on approach conflict. Another of the essential project manager core competencies is to have a range of strategies for addressing conflict.


Motivation

Leaders motivate others to take actions, even when they aren’t officially in charge. As a project leader, you work out what makes the other people on the team feel like they are making their best contribution and you’ll do your best to give that to them.

Everyone is motivated by different things, and an individual’s motivation can change over time. Great leaders recognize those differences and empower people to do their best by creating a positive working culture.


Crafting solutions

Part of creating a positive working culture is empowering the team and the wider stakeholder community to get involved in crafting solutions. That means removing roadblocks so each team member can complete their tasks and input creative ideas without having to worry that something is in the way.

Empowering leaders also push decisions down the hierarchy to the lowest possible level, letting experts make the choices about the solutions needed to keep the project moving forward.


Other Project Management Competencies

Leadership is one of the sides of the PMI Talent Triangle®, along with technical project management and strategic and business management skills. Recently, the profession has started to add digital skills into the mix for project leaders because they are so important to being able to deliver projects in our increasingly complex and digital environments.

Does that sound like a lot of project manager core competencies? You'd be right. The list of project manager skills and competencies you need to excel in the role is vast, and ranges from technical competencies like project risk management and scheduling through to the leadership skills we discussed above.

Being a good project leader often means blending a range of different skills, techniques, behaviors and competencies in the right proportions, at the right time. It's truly part art, part science!

Leadership Approaches and Theories

There is no single way of approaching leadership, or a single kind of person who makes a great leader. Project leadership theory tells us that it’s a combination of characteristics and the ability to adapt to different situations, that makes a great leader.

Leadership is something that you can learn to do, and you can improve your skills by building your understanding of leadership theories in management. The three core leadership theory families that translate to the world of project delivery are:

  • Trait theories
  • Behavioral theories
  • Situational theories
Below you'll find more information on each of these types of leadership theory.

Trait theories

Trait theories relate to project manager strengths. This way of looking at leadership defines the qualities and characteristics that are helpful when leading a team. For example, resilience, integrity, trustworthiness, assertiveness and so on.

There was a school of thought that said these qualities were innate and that you were either born with them or you weren’t. That idea is no longer part of leadership concepts and theories, fortunately. We know that an individual can take steps to become more assertive or resilient, or to develop any other type of characteristic useful in a leadership setting.


Behavioral theories

Behavioral leadership theories focus on what a leader does. Some leaders are autocratic, making decisions without input from their team. Others are collaborative, encouraging input and empowering their teams.

There is nothing wrong with either approach, or any approach in between. There is a time and a place for all styles: you wouldn’t expect a battlefield leader to call a huddle so the team could chat about options, would you? In that situation, a decision needs to be made quickly. However, that autocratic approach wouldn’t work when meeting with a residents’ group about building a new airport close to their homes. A collaborative, listening leadership style would engage the community more effectively.


Situational theories

Situational leadership is a way of determining what leadership style to use in any given situation. These approaches to leadership are also called contingency theories.

They consider whether taking a task-based or people-based approach is most effective. They also consider the people you are leading. What kind of support and encouragement do they need? A leader adapts his or her leadership style not only to the business context and project situation but also to the needs of the team. Someone who has never done a particular task before will need more hands-on support from their team leader than someone who is confident performing that task.

The Impact of Good Leadership on a Project

Leadership was cited in a study on what causes project failure as one of the top reasons why projects don't meet their goals. Projects with strong leadership and executive support are more successful than those without. Here are three top benefits of good project leadership.

1

Work moves forward quickly

When someone is actively leading, the work moves forward at pace because decisions are made in a timely manner. This helps the project finish on time while delivering all the expected elements of project scope.

2

The project has a clear direction

A leader makes sure the team understands and aligns behind a common objective. A clear direction provides context for decision-making and ensures everyone knows what the project is going to deliver.

3

Conflict is resolved quickly

The project leader is always looking out for conflict and can step in to manage it before issues escalate into a crisis.
The importance of leadership in project management can’t be over-estimated. It makes a positive difference to project success and the value delivered to the organization. The good news is that the best project management training includes leadership topics so you get a rounded view of what it takes to lead a project.

Why is Good Leadership Essential?

Think about the leaders in your workplace, or previous workplaces. Whose leadership inspires you? Each leader applies their skills and knowledge in a slightly different way to get the best out of the environment and the people they work with.

Leadership in project management helps shape the way the work evolves, ensuring that the team moves towards the objective at a steady pace. They make work fun and they motivate everyone to want to do their best.

Without good leadership, the project team will struggle to find the best route forward, and they might not even know where they are going. Leadership is essential to make sure the team is focused on the right things at the right time, and that the goals for the business and the project are met in an effective way.

How To Be a Good Project Leader

Leadership is both an art and a science. If there was a foolproof 'how to' guide to leadership, we probably wouldn't see such high project failure rates across all kinds of businesses! However, there are five steps you can take to improve your leadership skills:

  • Step 1: Focus on the team
  • Step 2: Flex your style
  • Step 3: Learn how to facilitate
  • Step 4: Connect and build relationships
  • Step 5: Get out of the way

Do you want more information on how to make those things work for you? Thought so! Here's our 5-step guide to how to be a good project leader.

1. Focus on the team

Being a good leader means not making it about you. You only have a leadership role because people are prepared to follow you.

When you work with subject matter experts, any issues on the team are rarely because they don't know enough. Problems tend to be because of miscommunication, lack of direction or conflict. As a leader, you have the power to correct all of those. Focus on the team and how you can develop their skills and create an environment for them to do their best work.

2. Flex your style

There are lots of different ways to lead, and we saw some common approaches and leadership theories above. What's important is that you know which styles work for your team and when to use them.

On a project you'll need to use a range of styles to suit the situation and who you are talking to. For example, you'd want to be more directive with a new member of the team who hasn't previously done the type of task you are now asking her to do. If you were delegating work to an experienced colleague, you would use a different style again.

There are plenty of leadership approaches to choose from so do your research and find out what works best for you and your project team. And remember, just because it worked on your last project doesn't mean it's the right approach for this project!

3. Learn how to facilitate

So much of being a good leader is about being able to communicate, and not in a directive, "I'll just send an email" way. Learn how to facilitate conversations between team members and you'll see collaboration and communication rates dramatically improve across the team.

4. Connect and build relationships

Project teams are made up of individuals. They are professionals working often in their own field and loaned the project for a specific reason. Great leaders know how to connect with individuals at all different management levels across the organization.

The connections you make on this project will also help you in the future. Approach each project as an opportunity to build relationships and strengthen your internal network. You never know when you might need to work with members of this team again.

5. Get out of the way

Nobody likes to be micromanaged, so great leaders know how to get out of the way.

Your role as a leader is not to be into the details but to remove roadblocks and protect the team from distracting office politics. Get out of their way so you can focus on the leadership and project management tasks that you know will add value to the project, like building relationships with other stakeholders.

Summary

As we've seen, one of the keys to project management is being a good project leader. You can do that at any level in the organization, whether you have a formal leadership role or not. In the role of project manager, you can lead your team towards delivering change to meet the organization’s objectives.

A good project leader is someone who demonstrates the skills we covered above, and you can do that in many different ways. There are a number of different leadership styles, all of which are valid. Good leaders choose the most appropriate skills and style to suit the needs of the team, the organization and the project in the moment. They lead by example. They show respect for their colleagues while creating a vision of the future we all want to be part of.

The best advice for becoming a project leader is to look at people you admire in leadership roles and work out what they are doing that inspires you so much. It’s not a good idea to try to directly copy what other leaders do. Instead, try to pinpoint the behavior they show and bring that into your own working style.

Leadership is something you can improve with time, study and focus. The featured podcasts on this page will give you a range of fantastic examples of what leadership is and what it should be. Why not use those as a starting point for your own journey into becoming a fantastic project leader?

There are as many forms of leadership as there are people who lead. Your job as a leader is to make other people successful. It's to align the people on your team, or within your organization, so that they feel empowered to drive the project to completion.
Joseph Flahiff

PM Podcast Episodes on Project Leadership

Below are just a few of our favorite PM Podcast episodes that talk about leadership.

The Power of Project Leadership

Listen to Susanne Madsen discuss how to shift your mindset to one of project leadership. Learn about leadership styles in project management, building trust with stakeholders and how to use powerful techniques to build high performing teams. This interview draws on Susanne's excellent book, The Power of Project Leadership.

Episode Details

Susanne Madsen
Susanne Madsen

Are you an Inclusive Project Leader?

Companies with diverse leadership teams are 21% more likely to outperform the companies rated in the bottom quartile of diversity. In this interview with expert Agata Czopek, you'll learn how to describe the attributes of an inclusive leader, identify techniques to improve performance by addressing the unconscious bias, and see that privilege is invisible for those who have it.

Episode Details

Agata Czopek and Cornelius Fichtner
Agata Czopek and Cornelius Fichtner

Effective Meeting Leadership

This interview with Kevin Wozniak focuses on effective meeting management. It covers one of the project management basics that is most difficult to handle - managing stakeholders using different combinations of direct, dotted line, and influential management. In the interview we demonstrate how to effectively lead meetings and manage participants using various management styles and explain how to actively engage meeting attendees to participate in meetings in a valuable manner.

Episode Details

Kevin Wozniak and Cornelius Fichtner
Kevin Wozniak and Cornelius Fichtner

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

At its core, project management is all about effectively leading your team. Emotional intelligence for project managers and project leaders can be just as important (if not more) than knowing how to interpret project performance information. In this interview with Kim Wasson you'll learn about emotional intelligence and leadership, how one unhappy person can ruin your plan and how to lead through that situation.

Episode Details

Kim Wasson and Cornelius Fichtner
Kim Wasson and Cornelius Fichtner

See more episodes on leadership

Summary

You might think of leaders as the person with the most power on the project, but project managers often don’t fit into that category. You can still find an appropriate leadership style, and flex the power you do have to support your time, communicate effectively, look forward, guide and influence stakeholders to create project deliverables that have a positive impact on the organization. Where are you going to start?

Continue reading

Project Management

Project Management

All about Managing Projects

Introduction to Project Management

Whether you are organizing a training session for your colleagues or planning to construct a huge engineering plan, project management will help you achieve what you need to do.

Project management is the way we apply knowledge and processes to work in order to complete that work in the smoothest way possible. Ultimately, we are using tools, methods, skills, techniques and the experience of the team to achieve the objectives set for the work.

Projects have a clear goal, which means we can plan how to get there and work through a structured plan to ensure that the goals are achieved.

Featured Podcast: How to Complete Your Projects 50% Faster

Listen now to this featured podcast about project management techniques.

What if you had to do your project in half the time as previous projects, or be fired? Learn about techniques you can use on almost any type of initiative to get products successfully to market in record time. You'll hear expert tips from Douglas Knutzen about how to speed up a project by leveraging scheduling, execution and team techniques, and (almost more importantly) how to lead teams in high-pressure situations.
Douglas Knutzen and Cornelius Fichtner
Douglas Knutzen and Cornelius Fichtner
Scroll down to see the full list of our Project Management podcasts.

Jump to full podcast list

What is Project Management?

Project management is where business objectives are initiated, planned, executed, monitored, controlled, and delivered. When the objective is met, project management ensures the work to complete the activity is closed down efficiently so the organization can get maximum use out of the end result.
Of course, the practice of project management can be used for anything that needs to be delivered to certain constraints, such as meeting a deadline or sticking within a budget. That includes volunteer activities, and we even know of business leaders using PM techniques in their home lives to ensure their personal projects get finished!

The History of Project Management

So where did the profession start? Many of the project and program approaches in use today evolved from informal practices: after all, people have always needed to get things done, even if they didn’t call them projects or have the job title of project manager.

Over time, successive innovations in the realm of project and program management have led to how we manage strategic change today.

1896

The first version of what we now know as the Gantt chart was created by Karol Adamiecki in 1896. He called it a harmonogram and published it in 1931. Meanwhile, around the world, other engineers and professionals were using similar techniques.

1917

We don't exactly know when Henry Gantt started using the now-famous visual scheduling tool, but he was definitely using Gantt charts in 1917 to manage wartime production.

1957

The 'Critical Path Method' (CPM) was developed in the late 1950's. It was a joint effort between the DuPont Corporation and the Remington Rand Corporation and they used it for projects to do with managing plant maintenance.

1958

The 'Program Evaluation and Review Technique' (PERT), was developed by the U.S. Navy Special Projects Office in 1958. They worked with the Lockheed Corporation and Booz Allen Hamilton to come up with this approach as part of the work on the Polaris missile submarine program.

1962

The idea of a work breakdown structure came out of the Polaris missile program. In 1962, the US Department of Defense, NASA and the aerospace industry published a joint document describing the approach used -- which today we recognize as the WBS.

1965

IPMA, the International Project Management Association, became the world's first project management membership association when it was founded in 1965. At that time, it was called INTERNET. They later changed the name when something else with a bit more reach used the same term!

1969

A group of individuals came together in 1969 to form the Project Management Institute in the USA. Today, this membership organization supports professionals via its network of Chapters around the world.

1989

Earned Value Management as a concept had been around since the 1960's but it was considered difficult to use. Over time, the benefit of being able to combine project performance elements to show earned value became clearer. In 1989 EVM became part of the way program management and procurement was done in the US government after EVM as a discipline moved to the leadership of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition.

1995

Dr. Edward Hoffman founded the NASA Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership (APPEL) in 1995. NASA is now seen as a leader in project team development.

2001

In 2001 the Agile Manifesto was written by a group of software enthusiasts who got together to discuss lightweight process. That meet up was the beginning of the history of agile and changed the face of modern projects, especially in IT.

2006

OSP International LLC was formed in 2006 with the objective of coaching project managers to prepare for their Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam. Since then, we've gone on to support professionals with a range of PMI certifications as well as credential maintenance by providing approved PDUs.

Why Do People Need Project Management?

The importance of project management is clear. Here are some of the reasons why project management is necessary.

  • It provides a standardized approach to completing work
  • It provides the governance required to get a quality result
  • It helps organizations prioritize their resources and efforts into what really matters
  • It reduces conflict and increases the chance of a successful result.
Still need convincing? Let's dig into those reasons.
  • It provides a standardized approach to completing work

    Studies show that carrying out work in a structured way leads to a better result, and you can probably see how that works from your own experience. Strong project control delivers better quality outputs, helps you use the expertise of the team in a more efficient way and meet the needs of a variety of different stakeholders.
  • It provides the governance required to get a quality result

    Governance provides oversight and accountability by making sure leaders are able to challenge the project director and team. It also ensures there are quality metrics in place and that the team is focusing on the right things to get the best result.
  • It helps organizations prioritize their resources and efforts into what really matters

    Business strategy is delivered through projects, so it's important your organization invests in the right ones. A mature approach to project control and delivery means business resources are spent on initiatives that drive the organization forward.
  • It reduces conflict and increases the chance of a successful result

    Processes, tools and techniques provide control and help you get where you want to be with the least amount of friction. Experienced leaders know that while you can always bend (or even break) the rules, a good understanding of project management best practices will help you get better results with less conflict. In turn, that helps manage expectations and leave stakeholders satisfied.

The 5 Project Management Processes

There are 5 project management process groups. These are:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing.

You may also hear these referred to as the 5 stages of project management. Every team guides their work through these project management steps, although the actual tasks involved may look a little different depending on the methodologies used. Below we review each of these process groups in more detail so you can see how they fit together to create a framework for delivering results.

Initiating

During the Initiating phase, the project manager puts together the project charter. This stage ensures the team has a clear vision for the project and the approvals required to begin delivering the work. The project management triangle of time, cost and scope is considered so the team have parameters to work to.

Planning

In the Planning process group the team comes together to work out how to deliver the work. They will produce a project management plan, using input from a range of experts and the PMO. The planning phase ensures the team understand the scope of the work and have a clear roadmap for what they need to do and how to do it.

Executing

Most of the project deliverables are produced in the Executing process group. It’s here that the majority of ‘doing’ work takes place. Everyone on the team completes the actions determined in the project planning stage. The team works with relevant stakeholders across the organization to ensure buy in and support for the changes being delivered.

Monitoring / Controlling

Monitoring and controlling is the act of making sure the work is carried out according to the plan. When the project manager notices something isn’t going quite right, they can make changes and take corrective action to realign the work. Project governance also falls into this process group as the project leader and sponsor provide oversight to ensure everything stays on track.

Closing

Finally, the last project management process group looks at Closing. This is the final part of the work. The deliverables are completed and handed over to the end customer. The team holds a PM lessons learned meeting to review how the project went and to consider improvements for the future. This is also the perfect time for a celebration to mark what was achieved!

Project Management Methodologies

There are many project management methodologies, frameworks and approaches that can be used to allow a multidisciplinary team to come together for a finite period of time to work on a shared objective.

Below are some common project management methods.

  • Agile
  • Scrum
  • Predictive
  • Hybrid

Managing a project starts long before anyone starts doing any ‘real’ work. There is a lot of planning, discussion, debate and effort that goes into eliciting requirements and making sure the project team can deliver the organization’s vision.

Projects are different from the day-to-day operations of your business because they deliver something unique and with a finite end. Even if the deliverable created by the change goes on to be used for many years, the project administration to deliver it stops once the deliverable is created.

Change initiatives therefore need a different management approach to business-as-usual work.

All methodologies share similar concepts and objectives of project management. Someone decides to do something, an individual or team works out how that work should be done, then the work is done and the effort stops. The exact tools, techniques and project management life cycle phases differ depending on the methodology in use. Choose the approach that best suits the way your team works and the culture of your organization.

Below we discuss the 4 core project management approaches in more detail. Which of these is most suitable for your next project?


Agile

‘Agile’ is actually a family of different approaches for managing work that share common principles. Being Agile and working in an Agile way means following the philosophy set out in the Agile Manifesto and living the values of flexibility and iterative design.

Scrum

Scrum project management sits within the Agile family and is a way of putting the Agile principles into practice. Scrum provides a process to deliver work in an iterative way and has been widely adopted by the software development industry because it allows for incremental delivery.

Predictive

Predictive methodologies are those where you plan the work at the beginning and then follow through on that plan. This approach works well for activities where you need to have a complete view of the whole scope and exactly what will be delivered. For example, project management in construction. These approaches are often called ‘Waterfall’ because of the way each life cycle phase feeds into the next phase until the work is completed and closed.

Hybrid

Hybrid methodologies take the available project management best practices and blend them together to create a unique and tailored solution. You might have a team using a predictive Waterfall approach but the software tasks are delivered by an IT team using Scrum, for example. Hybrid approaches are very flexible and can use the best of all methods to create a way of working that is totally bespoke to your organization.

Who Are Project Managers?

Project managers are people who lead projects. They are experienced in their industry and hold a range of internationally-recognized project management certifications including the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® or Project Management Professional (PMP)®. They work across every industry and vertical, supporting the delivery of organizational strategy by leading the work to make it happen.

You may also hear the team 'project leader'. As the profession matures and more companies adopt structured approaches, we are hearing that description more often. In fact, it fits better with the job role for someone who leads change. Whether you are constructing a huge oil and gas plant, improving an internal process or launching a new digital app, leadership is an essential part of making sure project work is completed effectively.

How to be Successful at Project Management

So what does it look like to be successful at leading project work? Here are the steps needed to deliver a great result every time.

  • Set the goal
  • Define requirements
  • Create a plan
  • Build the team
  • Do the work
  • Allow for change
  • Monitor progress
  • Manage risk
  • Handover the result
  • Close the project

It looks simple, doesn't it? Just a list of ten short tasks! However, when you start work you'll realize that everything needs to come together in harmony to ensure activities happen as expected, in the right order and with the least amount of friction. That's the skill in project management: making sure the work happens smoothly, despite the inevitable changes and challenges along the way.

Let's look now at those ten steps in more detail so you can see what's involved.

Step 1

Set the goal

The first thing to do to ensure project success is to establish the goal. What are your objectives? What are you delivering? You can normally find this information in the business case or project request.

Step 2

Define requirements

Now you know what is expected, break down those expectations, wants and needs into specific requirements. This is your project scope. It defines every activity you need to complete in order to reach the goal.

Step 3

Create a plan

With your list of requirements in hand, now you can plan how you are going to achieve them. Think about the resources, budget, team and time you need to be able to finish the work. Document your approach so everyone is clear: that becomes your project plan.

Step 4

Build the team

You can't complete all this work alone, so you need a team around you. Secure the resources who have the skills to do the work. Then make sure they have the tools necessary to complete their tasks. Bonus points if you can keep motivation high throughout the life of the project!

Step 5

Do the work

With your plan in place and your resources secured, it's time to get on with doing the work. Lead the team and remove any roadblocks in their way, but step back enough to let subject matter experts take the lead for their own activities. You can use a coaching leadership style to support the team.

Step 6

Allow for change

As Helmuth von Moltke reportedly said, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." In other words: plan for change because it's going to happen. Make sure you have a change management process in place to deal with the inevitable requests to do something different. And stay flexible! You can change pretty much anything given enough time, resources and budget.

Step 7

Manage risk

Risk management is important when you are making changes or launching something new because it helps you plan for what might go wrong. Make sure you are constantly identifying new risks and coming up with approaches to manage them.

Step 8

Monitor progress

Leading the work involves staying on top of the tasks and making sure everything is progressing to plan. Check in with the team regularly to help resolve any issues they might be having with their work and so you can report progress.

Step 9

Handover the result

Once the work is complete, you can hand it over to the receiving organization, whether that is a client or an internal department. Make sure you provide any user guides, training or support materials so they know how to get the best out of the change you have delivered.

Step 10

Close the project

Finally, now the customer has their product, you can close the project. Carry out a project review (also known as lessons learned or retrospective) to assess how everything went. Finalize any procurements and archive your documentation and plans. Then celebrate what you have achieved!

There is always something you can do better, and organizations constantly strive to improve project management maturity. You can maintain good project management by developing a learning culture. Look at the process for lessons learned or retrospectives and actively implement what comes out of those discussions.

What processes can you improve? How can you adapt your methodology to be even more effective? The answers to these questions will help improve project management performance and give you and your team every chance of success.

What are you going to learn today with our range of podcast interviews?

Project managers and leaders actually make things happen. We're the drivers behind the plan. While business journalists love to go on and on about the entrepreneurial CEOs and their breakthrough ideas, the fact is that a very smart project team led by a project manager was the true impetus behind the actual delivery or execution of those clever ideas and that is a key distinction that gets overlooked a lot of times. People just see the cool, shiny ideas but they miss the whole hardworking, sweaty backend of innovation kind of thing, the hard work that actually makes the actual product at the end of the day.
Paul R. Williams, PMP

PM Podcast Episodes on Project Management

Below are just a few selected PM Podcast episodes about topics related to managing projects.

Project Scope Management: The Secret to Project Success

In this interview with Karthik Ramamurthy we discuss his findings into how project scope management will make or break your project. Listen in as we discuss the successful scope management techniques from across continents. You will discover how ineffective requirements gathering, poor scope definition, gold plating, and uncontrolled creep inevitably lead to project failure. And to counteract this, we analyze, adapt, and apply seven proven scope management techniques to increase the probability of completing the work successfully.

Episode Details

Karthik Ramamurthy
Karthik Ramamurthy

Developing Your Project Assumptions List

Beth Spriggs shares why project assumptions can get dangerous and talks about common assumptions you might find on your project. In this interview, you'll learn how to develop and expand your assumptions list. Managing the list is a key - and yet often overlooked - part of managing expectations and ensuring work completes successfully.

Episode Details

Beth Spriggs and Cornelius Fichtner
Beth Spriggs and Cornelius Fichtner

Lessons Learned Management Techniques

Lessons learned is no doubt a term you have come across. But how do we get the most out of the effort involved? What process do we follow? What lessons learned project management techniques can you use? Are all documented lessons learned equally valuable? In this podcast, Elizabeth Harrin shares practical tips for ensuring your projects benefit from lessons learned.

Episode Details

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin

How to Spot the Warning Signs & Rescue a Troubled Project

Learn to recognize the warning signs of troubled projects with Kristy Tan Neckowicz and Connie Inman. Stop your initiative becoming a failed project management case study with these tips! We discuss approaches to right-sizing your processes and share practical tips on how to keep your next project “on track” to successful delivery.

Episode Details

Kristy Tan Neckowicz, Connie Inman and Cornelius Fichtner
Kristy Tan Neckowicz, Connie Inman and Cornelius Fichtner

See more related episodes

Summary

Leading projects is a hugely rewarding job, with plenty of job prospects and a positive outlook for the future. As project professionals, we have the opportunity to use best practice tools and techniques to shape our environments and make a real impact through our work.

Project management is the way organizations deliver their strategic plans, big and small. It is a growing and vibrant business area, with plenty to learn and a wide variety of areas where you can specialize if you want to. We'd love to part of your journey!

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Project Plan

Project Plan

All about the Project Plan

Introduction To Project Plans

Every project needs a plan! But where do you start? How do you know what to include and what is important to think about before the project work begins? And what are the likely challenges you’ll see when putting together a structured project plan?

On this page you'll find the answers to those questions and more! This is your one-stop guide to project planning.

We also have a range of expert podcast interviews with practitioners and thought leaders who can help you think strategically about what project planning means for your project.

Featured Podcast: Every Project Leader Needs a Project Plan

Listen now to this featured podcast on project plans.

In this featured podcast you learn why every project leader needs a plan, drawing on tips and lessons from Ron Black's book: Leadership - The Everyday Superhero's Action Guide to Plan and Deliver High-Stakes Projects. If you don't feel like a superhero right now, you will after listening to this episode!

In our discussion, Ron and Cornelius focus on introducing you to his "Super Power Points". These are poignant one-liners (i.e. "To finish faster, start a little slower") that he offers at the end of each chapter to summarize the message. We review each of the 15 points from the opening chapters and Ron gives us his insights and recommendations that show why even the best project leader needs a project plan. You'll pick up some great insights to support your planning process. Enjoy.

Ron Black
Ron Black
Scroll down to see the full list of our podcasts about planning.

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What is a Project Plan?

A project plan is a document which details how the project will be managed, delivered, monitored, controlled and closed down.

The project plan is a document that lays out everything the team needs to know about how the project will be managed. It’s normally made up of several sub-plans that cover quality, stakeholder engagement, team management, communication, risk, quality and cost management, and you might include other elements if your project environment calls for them. Essentially, include in your project management plan everything you need to document how the project will be managed and controlled going forward. A project overview template will help because it covers all the processes the team needs to follow so that everyone understands the steps to take.

Your project plan is a critical document. It sets out how you will execute the project and the processes and practices for running the project. It's basically your guidebook for doing the project management on this project, laying out how you as the project leader, and the team, will approach completing the work.

It is more than your list of tasks and dates – that list is what project managers normally refer to as a project schedule. The schedule is an important part of the plan, but it’s not the only part. The team decides which project methodology you will use, who needs to be involved and how you will handle things that might or do go wrong -- all that information goes into the plan.

Why is Project Planning Important?

Project planning is important because:

  • It confirms the project's objectives
  • It establishes the scope of the work
  • It helps manage expectations about how the work will be done

Project planning confirms the objectives

Planning is the process of working out how you are going to deliver the project with the team. Therefore it's really important to clarify exactly what you are supposed to be delivering. Planning conversations help confirm and clarify the project's objectives so everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing.

Project planning establishes scope

With your objectives clear, another reason why planning is important is because you get to have a conversation about what's in scope. And, conversely, what is out of scope. You'll use the scope management process to define exactly what the project is going to deliver and what hasn't made the cut.

Project planning manages expectations

Meeting as a team and having these preliminary conversations about how you will approach the work is also important for another reason: it makes sure everyone is clear on how the work will be managed. You are setting expectations about who is doing what, and how, right from the beginning. This can help reduce conflict later on and means the team share common expectations.

The 5 benefits of project planning

With around 11% of investment wasted due to poor project performance, it's important to consider what you can do to plan for success.

What is the most important part of the plan? It's that you have a clear objective about what is going to be done. It’s crucial that everyone has the same understanding about what is to be delivered, so the team can work together with a common goal.

There are many other needs for project planning including:

  • Understanding what resources are required to deliver the work and who will be accountable for what.
  • Working out how long it will take to deliver the work and how much it will cost.
  • Thinking about what problems might come up during the project so you can consider how to address them before they happen.
  • Considering how the team will work together.
  • Learning from past projects and using project plan examples from previous work to help plan your current initiative.
Let's look at each of those items in a bit more detail.

1

Understand the resources required

One of the top benefits of having a plan for your project is that you start to understand the resources required to deliver what's in scope. That could be people, equipment or money. The project's needs for resources are likely to change during the life cycle, so it's important to understand what's required to get the job done. If any individuals need training to help them succeed, you can plan for that.

2

Work out the project's duration

You won't have all the information required at a very detailed level yet, but you can start to think about how long the project will take. You'll want to include key milestones and fixed deadlines in your project plan so everyone knows what dates they are working to.

3

Consider how to approach problems

Another benefit of planning is that you get to think about how to deal with problems before you hit a problem! You use risk management approaches to consider and plan for what might happen. You can also document how you will deal with issues.

4

Agree how the team will work together

Are you using Agile approaches? Are you going fully virtual or will your team have a shared office you can base yourself in? Talk about how you are going to work together and record your decisions so everyone is clear.

5

Learn from past projects

The final benefit to spending time on creating your plan is that you can learn from past projects. Look at the organization's lessons learned database (NASA has a great one) and improve the way you approach this project. Do more of what was proven to work in other projects and don't make the same mistakes other project teams did!

When Do You Need a Project Plan?

The project planning phase happens at the start of the project. Preparing your project plan document is something you’ll do as the project gets started. You'll normally work with input from the project sponsor and the rest of the project team. You’ll need their support and agreement for many of the components of the plan, for example, who is going to do the work and how much it will cost.

Every project needs a plan, and the good news is that every other project in your organization should have had one. So you don't need to start from scratch. Find an example of a project work plan from a past project and use that to get started.

As a project manager, your technical skills take you far but they don’t take you far enough. When the project starts getting more and more complex, the leadership skills become more and more important.
Niraj Kumar, PMP

How to Write a Project Plan

So how do you write a project plan? There are 7 steps to follow:
  • Define the objectives
  • Assemble the team
  • Document your project scope
  • Create the schedule
  • Plan stakeholder management
  • Agree your processes
  • Be prepared to be flexible!

The project manager’s role is to produce the project plan, even though you will not personally have all the information required to populate it. You’ll need to work with your project team, facilitating meetings and collaborating on the final document until you’ve got something you can work from.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the project planning process.

Step 1

Define the objectives

What is it that you are trying to do? The first of the project planning process steps answers this question. At this point you are looking for key success criteria, high level deliverables and overall goals. We’ll get to planning the tasks in detail a little later.

You can often find information for the project plan outline in the business case, or get it from your project sponsor if you aren’t clear on the goals.


Step 2

Assemble the team

The overall goals will give you clues about who needs to be involved. Gather together your team of experts and stakeholders. At this point, you might not know every single person who needs to be on the team, but you will be able to identify the departments and specialties that need to be represented.

Step 3

Document your project scope

Now we come to working out exactly what tasks are required. You can create a project scope document, requirement documentation and a Work Breakdown Structure, or any combination of those things that will help everyone on the team understand the full scope of the work. This is where your skills in how to facilitate productive project planning meetings will be really useful! Remember, curiosity improves project management so keep asking questions! Get the group together and talk about what project planning questions you need answers to in order to establish what tasks are required.

For each task, estimate how long it will take, how much it will cost and assign someone to take responsibility for it.


Step 4

Create the schedule

The project planning process is not the time to create a very detailed project schedule, but you do need an idea of how long the project will take, key dates and milestones.

Take your list of tasks and work out the order in which they need to be completed. For example, you can’t paint the walls of the new office before the building has been constructed. Your subject matter experts will be important here: they should advise on the order for their tasks. The links between tasks that determine the order of work are called dependencies.

Once you’ve got high-level information about how long tasks will take and what order they need to happen in, you can go ahead and create an outline project schedule or timeline. Use a project management software tool to make things easier. You’ll end up with a visual representation of your project work in a format everyone can see and understand.


Step 5

Plan stakeholder management

Consider who needs to be involved in the project and how you will engage them in the work.

Some of your stakeholders will be responsible for project tasks, so add their details into the project schedule. This step helps you see who has a lot of work on at any one moment in time. You don’t want your resources to be overloaded, so you might need to make adjustments to the schedule to allow for their other commitments. Remember, many project stakeholders are involved in multiple projects so they might not be available to you on a full-time basis.


Step 6

Agree your processes

The project schedule is an important part of the plan, but you’ll also want to look at how the team will manage other project management processes. Think about how you will ensure the budget is managed efficiently, how you will track and measure quality, and how you will cope with risk and changes. Take the time to consider how you are going to address those important project management processes and document how you will work together.


Step 7

Be prepared to be flexible!

The main purpose of project plans is to document what is going to happen so everyone knows what is expected of them. But plans change. As the Agile Manifesto says, responding to change is valued. Experienced project managers will tell you that as soon as you start the work you’ll find you need to make adjustments.

If you start the project and realize you need a different approach to managing project risk, for example, then change your practices and update the plan to reflect your new way of working. Just remember to let the rest of the team know that things have changed so they reference the right document. If the changes are significant, you might need to go through the project document approval process again.

Be prepared to be flexible and make whatever changes you need to so the team stays on track.

Project Plan Templates

Even if you don't have a plan from an old project to start from, you can still speed up the process by using a document template. Templates include all the relevant headings and topics that should go in the plan. Many templates even have sample text in them so you can see an example of a simple project plan to give you ideas about how to document your own work.

We have collated our recommended project plan templates and we even did a podcast episode about them! In the video podcast, you can see the sites we recommend and take a peek inside a couple of template examples. Watch the episode about project plan templates.

You can create plans in any kind of software. If your company doesn't have a standard for what to use, look for a template that will help with how to create a project plan in Excel or Word.

Project Management Plan Checklist

Here’s a quick-start project management plan checklist so you can make sure all the important elements are captured in your plan.

  • Do you know your project’s goals?
  • Do you understand the project planning steps?
  • Have you held a project planning meeting?
  • Do you have a project planning template?
  • Have you completed a work breakdown structure or scope document?
  • Have you secured the right resources to do the work?
  • Have you estimated task durations?
  • Have you mapped task dependencies?
  • Have you assigned resources to tasks?
  • Have you checked to see no one has too much (or too little) work to do on any day?
  • Have you got a plan for what happens when things change?
  • Has your plan been approved by the team and the project sponsor?
  • Have you put your schedule in a project planning tool?

Planning is a collaborative effort to ensure the project runs smoothly. A great plan will start your project off in the right direction!

PM Podcast Episodes on Project Planning

Below you'll find a curated selection of podcasts on the topic of project plans and planning. These are just a few of the episodes available on all aspects of project management.

How to Plan Your Project Using Index Cards

Bryan Barrow is an advocate of using index cards as a planner. In this podcast interview we discuss the problems with planning your project using sticky notes. You'll learn the benefits of index card planning for your project, in particular on improved leadership, greater financial control, improved project governance and improved cross-department team-working and collaboration.

Episode Details

Bryan Barrow
Bryan Barrow

Planning and Controlling Megaprojects

Mega project management requires a different take on classical project management approaches. In this podcast, we look at why the focus on delivering within cost and schedule constraints once the project enters the execution phase isn't enough for complex projects. You'll learn why the ultimate success of a complex program has very little dependency on how the program is managed once the construction phase begins and far greater dependency on what happens before that phase begins. Planning a megaproject begins much earlier. And even if your project is nowhere near 'mega', you'll pick up practical tips to use in your own work.

Episode Details

Frank Parth
Frank Parth

Advanced Product Quality Planning

Advanced product quality planning (or APQP) is a framework of procedures and techniques used to develop products in industry, particularly the automotive industry. Learn more about this approach to planning in this podcast interview with Marygracesoleil Ericson.

Episode Details

Marygracesoleil Ericson
Marygracesoleil Ericson

How to Facilitate a Project Planning Meeting

Planning your project effectively is a major factor for a successful result. In this interview we talk to the authors of How to Facilitate Productive Project Planning Meetings - A Practical Guide to Ensuring Project Success. Learn what is wrong with how you might be managing your project planning meeting, and what facilitation and facilitative style means. Packed with loads of practical tips, you'll feel more confident about facilitating after listening in!

Episode Details

Rich Maltzman and Jim Stewart
Rich Maltzman and Jim Stewart

See more episodes on project planning

Summary

A good project plan saves you a lot of time because it removes uncertainty and provides a structure to follow for the whole project life cycle. It also removes a lot of the debate and discussion about whether the project has met quality criteria or how something should be done – because you’ve already documented and agreed what needs to happen.

Project planning can take time, but it’s time well spent. You are ultimately helping the team be more successful by setting them up for success. Strong planning results in a stronger outcome and fewer headaches along the way.

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Risk Management

Risk Management

All about Managing Risk on Projects

Introduction to Risk Management

A risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives. Managing those events is what project risk management is all about. Sometimes, you want to avoid a threat happening; sometimes it’s worth encouraging it.

If that sounds strange – why would we want to encourage something risky to happen? – then let’s look again at what risk really is.

Risk can be thought of as ‘uncertainty that matters’. Risks that matter include those with positive effects as well as those with negative effects (which you’ll see referred to as opportunities and threats). They can also affect any project objective, not just time or cost.

We have many podcasts to help you build your project management skills, and risk management strategies are definitely a topic worth learning more about! In this article we’ll look at the types of risk management, techniques you can use, the 5 ways to manage risk and lots of tips for handling this complex knowledge area on your own projects.

Featured Podcast: What People Really Think About Risk

Listen now to this featured podcast on managing project risk.

In this featured podcast with expert Dr David Hillson, you'll learn about what people really think when they hear the word 'risk'.

What about related words like "uncertainty," "threat" or "opportunity"? Building on established neurolinguistic theories of word/image association, this fascinating interview explores underlying tensions in what people think about risks.

You won't find this information in the Practice Standard for Project Risk Management but it's so useful when thinking and talking about risk with project stakeholders. Discover the surprising truth, and compare yourself with your peers. And of course, this episode is relevant to risk management in agile projects as well, just in case you were wondering. The insights will change how you think about risk management critical success factors. Enjoy the episode!
Dr. David Hillson
Dr. David Hillson
Please scroll down to see the full list of our risk management podcasts.

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What is Risk Management?

Project Risk Management is the process of identifying and responding to project risks with the objective of managing the impact of that risk.
The risk management process in project management includes a number of steps such as planning, analysis, identifying responses and implementing them, risk review and monitoring. We'll look into more detail about the process of managing risk in the rest of this article.

Importance of Risk Management in Project Management

Risk management on projects is important because it decreases the probability and impact of risk, making it more likely that the project will be successful. It helps us predict and manage what might happen in the future and make the best of that situation.

When most people talk about risk on a project, they are thinking about the things that might go wrong. There’s always something that could happen which would have a negative effect on the project’s performance. Maybe it would delay the project, or increase the cost. Generally, people think about risk in terms of things that would affect the project schedule and budget, but risk can impact any of the project’s objectives.

However, the other reason why managing project risk is important is because some risks are positive: we want to take the risk because if it pays off, there is a benefit to the project.

It’s important to think broadly and deeply about what kind of threat or opportunity could affect the project, so you can make adequate plans to manage the impact appropriately. And risk isn’t only limited to the project’s objectives. You will also see risk in your project as a result of variability, ambiguity and emergence. Risk leadership is a huge area!

Risk categories

One exercise you can do to help the team come up with potential problems is to think about how certain things could affect the project. Create with a list of categories (or use a prompt sheet from the PMO if you have one) and see what you can think of that would cause your project a problem from those categories. The categories could be anything: the names of departments, the workstream on the project they impact, for example. One of the ways we like to categorize our registers is by type. The three categories are:

  • Preventable
  • Strategy
  • External
  • Preventable risks

    These are risks that could be prevented with some effort from the project team. They are things you can see may happen and you can put together a clear plan of action to address them so they do not happen. For example, a key resource leaving the business or a product's pricing changing. While you can't always control these things, you can put measures in place to ensure employee satisfaction levels are high and that contracts secure future pricing at a level the business can sustain.
  • Strategy risks

    These risks affect business strategy. You'll have to think more broadly than your own project in order to come up with strategy risks. Consider what could affect your work if the strategy changed, or whether something could affect your project and also have an affect on business strategy too. For example, a change of leadership in the executive team that prompts a change of direction for the strategy.
  • External risks

    This type of risk hits your project from outside the team, and possibly outside the organization. External threats and opportunities can be hard to identify but spend some time thinking about what could happen that is nothing to do with the project but would affect your work. For example, a natural disaster or a supplier going bankrupt.

Let project team members know that they can come to you at any time if they have identified a project risk. They should be able to raise concerns and add their newly-identified opportunities and threats to the register at any point during the project.

Identifying Risks

Project risk identification typically happens at the start of the project, but it is not a one-off exercise. Risk identification should also happen throughout the project as the work evolves and people get a clearer idea about what could potentially impact the work. Let's look at what is involved.

What is project risk identification?

Project risk identification is the process of identifying what risks might affect the project and how much of an impact they would have.

How to identify risks

  • Step 1: Make sure the team knows what a risk is
  • Step 2: Brainstorm with the team to identify risks
  • Step 3: Use other techniques as appropriate
  • Step 4: Document the results in your risk register
  • Step 1

    Make sure the team knows what a risk is. A risk is something that hasn't happened yet. As a project leader, it's your responsibility to ensure they understand. Sometimes people get confused between a risk (which hasn't happened yet but might do) and an issue (which has happened already). You only want to add risks to your register.
  • Step 2

    Brainstorm with the team to identify risks. The easiest and most common way to identify what might go wrong is to discuss the possibilities with the team. Meet with key stakeholders and subject matter experts and ask them what they are concerned about. These topics are likely to be perfect candidates for inclusion in your risk register.
  • Step 3

    Use other techniques as appropriate. Brainstorming is good, but it shouldn't be the only thing you rely on. As a project manager, you might have access to lessons learned from previous projects which will help you identify appropriate risks for your risk register on this project. Your PMO might have checklists or prompt lists that will help you go deeper into the project and find the less obvious hazards. You can also review corporate risk registers that could cover new and emerging business risks like IT threats as these could also have an impact on your project.
  • Step 4

    Document the results. Finally, you need to record what you have uncovered from your conversations and analysis. Record all the details the risk register so you have a single place to track and monitor them. You can also assign each risk a category which makes it easier to report on them later.

Managing Risks

Now you have your risk register populated with the potential problems and opportunities that you have identified. You are ready to prepare actions plans for each of them. Here are the risk management steps to work through with your team.

  • Identify the risk (we looked at this in detail above so we will not review it again)
  • Analyze the risk
  • Evaluate the risk
  • Decide on the most appropriate risk management strategy
  • Monitor and review.

There are several different options for risk management on projects, and the appropriate action depends on many factors. The risk management process below covers what you should consider at each point.

Use the context of the project to inform your actions. Scrum helps manage risk: if you use that approach to completing projects, you will already be managing your exposure because of the rules you apply to doing work.

Whether you work in a predictive or agile environment, consider the risk appetite of the project sponsor and what else is going on in the organization. It might not be an appropriate time to be taking chances with a project, even if the impact seems to be relatively small. That’s why project risk management should integrate into the risk management frameworks and governance approach that exist in the organization overall.


Step 1

Analyze the Risk

Once you’ve identified a new risk, the next step is to analyze it. Talk to the team about what could happen if the risk materializes (which is risk speak for saying 'the risk happens'). You need to fully understand what would cause it to happen and what could be done to prevent, mitigate or exploit the risk. Spend some time looking at all the options and use your subject matter experts to complete the analysis.

Step 2

Evaluate the Risk

Now you know what could happen if the risk occurs, you can complete your evaluation. This step lets you prioritize your risk management actions and make better decisions about what to focus on. Typically, you’ll look at how likely it is that the threat or opportunity will happen and how much of an impact will it have if it does happen. Use a risk matrix following the specific guidance from your PMO to calculate a likelihood and impact rating. Add these to your risk register.

Step 3

Decide on Risk Management Strategy

Armed with your evaluation and assessment, you can now make a risk management plan. You may decide to do nothing. Or you may decide to invest a lot of time and effort into controlling the potential problem. Your next steps will very much depend on the project, your risk assessment and the risk appetite of the executive team at the time. Here are the 5 ways to manage risk.
  • Avoidance
  • Acceptance
  • Transference
  • Mitigation or enhancement
  • Exploitation
Let's look at what each of those means for your project.
  • Avoidance. This is where action is taken to reduce the negative effect of the threat. For example, you could remove high-risk deliverables from the project scope, or increase the development and testing time to ensure the products were fit for purpose. Avoidance is a control mechanism to address potential problems by making sure they don't happen.
  • Acceptance. It might be appropriate to do nothing and accept the risk for what it is. You could choose this approach where there is nothing you could do to address the risk, or where the risk effect is so low that it isn’t worth investing time and energy in acting on it.
  • Transference. Sometimes the best thing to do is to pass the risk to another party for them to manage, with their agreement. An example of this is insurance. Your project manages a risk by asking another individual or group to take on the risk for you, and that normally involves a fee. If it isn’t possible to pass the whole risk on to another group, then you can share the risk, taking responsibility for part of it each. Joint ventures reduce the risk of capital investments and are definitely worth considering as a strategy.
  • Mitigation and enhancement. When you mitigate or enhance a risk, you are changing the amount of impact it will have on the project. In other words, you are changing the risk level, either to decrease the likelihood of it happening it to an acceptable amount, or to increase the likelihood of it happening. There are lots of things you can do to make this happen, such as replanning the project, involving different stakeholders, changing its priority, or the priority of tasks on the schedule, and so on. The exact steps you take will depend on the project, the team, and what you are trying to achieve.
  • Exploitation. Finally, you can exploit the risk, which means making a real effort to make the most of any positive uncertainty. A simple example would be doing additional marketing for your product launch in an attempt to increase the number of products sold in a particular time period. You could also add extra items into scope to provide extra benefit for the end users or stakeholders. With this strategy, you are trying to captitalize on the uncertainty by going ‘all in’ on achieving any extra benefit.

Step 4

Monitor and Review

Finally, you’ll monitor and review the actions taken. Are they working? Has the risk passed? If the threat or opportunity is no longer going to happen because of the action you have taken, you can close the risk on the register. This step ensures that you can track whether your risk management actions are having the effect you expected. If not, you can step in and change how you are managing the risk to thoroughly address it.

Risk management in business is a detailed subject, and we’ve only touched on it here. Why not pick a couple of podcasts with our risk management expert interview guests and listen to them discuss the theory and practice of risk on projects in more detail?

Risk management has to be something supported at the top level and driven down. The program manager can identify risk and attempt to mitigate and manage them. That really wasn’t something that was done formally 30 years ago and we can do it today because of technology. Does it add a little bit of time and burden to the organization? Yes, but that’s essential if you’re going to keep risks from impacting a program.
Scotty Bates
Scotty Bates

PM Podcast Episodes on Risk Management

Below you'll find a selection of our favourite podcasts about managing risk on projects. These are just a few of the many expert interviews we have in store for you sharing risk management techniques across all kinds of industries and projects. If you're looking to improve your risk skills, start here!

How to Integrate Risk Management into Agile Projects

In this episode of the Project Management Podcast, you'll learn about risk management in agile projects and the techniques every project manager should address as part of any Agile approach. Risk expert Laszlo Retfalvi shares his tips for integrating risk processes into agile ways of working.

Episode Details

Laszlo Retfalvi and Cornelius Fichtner
Laszlo Retfalvi and Cornelius Fichtner

How Risk Attitudes Affect Your Project

How do you and the stakeholders on your project react to threats? Do risks frighten you or do they invigorate you? And what risk approach will a frightened project manager take versus the approach that an invigorated one takes? This discussion is at the core of risk attitude in project management. Janice Preston, PMP, discusses the four basic risk attitudes.

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Janice Preston

How to Quantify Qualitative Risk

All risks needed to be analyzed, but it's easier to see the impact of some than others. In this interview with Ricardo Viana Vargas, you'll learn the five-level scale for probability, the mathematical "quadratic mean" process involved to calculate the numerical exposure, and how you can easily apply qualitative risk analysis on your own projects.

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Ricardo Viana Vargas
Ricardo Viana Vargas

How to Manage the Risks You Didn't Know You Were Taking

Drawing on leading thinking and current best practice, in this interview you'll learn about the full range of project challenges that need to be managed, starting from the proto-definition of risk as “uncertainty that matters”. With illustrative examples of each type of risk, and practical response strategies for managing them, you'll learn about managing overall project risk, how to identify all types of risk that might affect our projects, and ways to tackle them effectively.

Episode Details

Cornelius Fichtner and David Hillson
Cornelius Fichtner and David Hillson

See more episodes on managing project risk

Summary

Whether you are new to project risk management, or whether you can fluently use terms like ‘stochastic’ and ‘aleatoric’ in your conversations with stakeholders, there is always more to find out about the emerging professional discipline of project risk management.

We’ve had the pleasure of speaking to some of the world’s foremost experts in project risk management, and sharing their wisdom and knowledge with you in our range of free and premium expert interviews. Enjoy the episodes!

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Scrum Project Management

Scrum Project Management

Managing Projects the Agile Way

Scrum Project Management

Scrum project management might sound like a strange term, as there is no formal definition of the role of a project manager in Agile approaches. However, Scrum is often thought of as a way to deliver projects in an agile environment. Being able to effectively manage product development work using Scrum is a growing skill area for people in a variety of roles.

As organizations grow, they sometimes adopt a ‘Scrum of Scrums’ model which needs some oversight and coordination, however that is achieved in the business. There are lots of different ways to succeed in a Scrum environment, whether you have a formal project management role or not. For example, lean scrum project management is one of the possible ‘flavors’ of this agile approach that you may come across in your career.

In this Scrum project management guide, we’ll cover what you need to know about the Scrum project management framework. The selection of curated podcast episodes below provides an introduction to the world of Agile Scrum project management and the skills you need to successfully lead Agile teams regardless of your job title.

Featured Podcast: The Project Manager's Role in a Scrum, Lean, and Agile World

Listen now to this featured podcast about Scrum project management and other agile methods.

The project manager is a highly skilled knowledge worker who has received rigorous training and knowledge in the process of achieving a globally recognized certification. At the same time, in the agile world, the project manager does not have an official role. The project manager’s role is distributed between the agile team members. You might be wondering how the project management vs Scrum Master dynamic works. In this podcast episode, Dave Cornelius evaluates the project manager role in SAFe Agile and centers on PM participation in the lean and agile transformation.
Cornelius Fichtner and Dave Cornelius
Cornelius Fichtner and Dave Cornelius
Please scroll down to see the full list of our related podcasts.

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What is Scrum Methodology?

Scrum is a framework and set of processes used to manage and control projects like product development. Scrum provides the tools to address complex problems while delivering incremental business value and a high quality product.

The Agile Alliance goes on to explain that Scrum is highly empirical. In other words, it enables teams to try new things, learn from that experience and adapt what they do to constantly evolve the product for the best result.

People sometimes ask: "What does Scrum stand for?" The answer is: nothing! Scrum is not an acronym. The name comes from the game of rugby where the team works as one to win, with multiple hand-offs between players.

Evolution of Scrum

So how did Scrum come about?

In terms of the history of project management, Scrum is only a baby, although it has roots in productivity and continuous learning -- concepts that have been around for a long time. Here's a brief timeline of how this agile way of working has evolved into what we recognize today.

1986

The New New Product Development Game

The roots of what we now know as Scrum can be found in an HBR article called The New New Product Development Game back in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. They used the term 'scrum' to talk about new ways of approaching product development. The new way they were talking about was to have a single team responsible for the whole process. There are handoffs between team members, just like in a rugby game.

1990's

The Framework Evolves

In the early 1990s, teams across the USA were developing ways to work with the concept of iterative, empirical development. Ken Schwaber led the effort as his company, and another team made up of Jeff Sutherland, John Scumniotales and Jeff McKenna came together to design their own framework for use in their business.

1995

The OOPSLA Workshop

Ken and Jeff became the founders of what we recognize today as the Scrum framework. They merged their ideas based on what was working in their own teams and continued to evolve the practice. In 1995, they presented a paper at the Business Object Design and Implementation Workshop at the 10th Annual Conference on Object-Oriented Programming Systems, Languages, and Applications (OOPSLA). The workshop attendees concluded that, "advances in the software development process are required to dramatically improve productivity in a component based development environment."

2001

The Agile Manifesto

Ken and Jeff were also participants in the now-famous meeting that led to the creation of the Agile Manifesto. Ken also co-wrote a book that year, Agile Software Development with Scrum, that helped bring these ideas to a wider audience.

2002

Scrum Alliance Founded

Ken Schwaber was one of the founders of the Scrum Alliance, a non-profit member organization that offers certifications in the framework.

2009

Scrum.org Founded

Ken Schwaber went on to set up Scrum.org as an organization offering professional certifications in order to be able to offer training.

2017

The Latest Scrum Guide

Ken and Jeff are the authors of The Scrum Guide. The latest version was released in 2017 and forms the basis of the method used by development teams around the world today.

How Scrum is Used To Manage Projects

A common question is: ‘Is Scrum a project management methodology’ and the answer is: No. You can deliver projects using Scrum but it’s a framework, not a methodology.

Technically, there is no role for the project manager in a Scrum team. The work of the project manager is split between the members of the Scrum team. The responsibilities you would normally expect to be done by a project manager are, in the main, shared between the Product Owner and the Scrum Master. (By the end of this article you will understand what those roles mean and the part the individuals play on the project.)

However, as Scrum is a way to get work done using Agile principles, it is used for project management. Every sprint is a step on the journey to completing the end product. If you have a clear goal in mind, you can use sprints to get there. You’ve delivered your project by using an agile framework and iterative development instead of a predictive approach.

Benefits of Scrum in Agile Project Management

There are lots of Scrum project management benefits. Here are some of the most common that we see across the majority of teams adopting a Scrum project management process.

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved product quality
  • Faster delivery times
  • Improved team morale and stakeholder satisfaction
  • Improved collaboration and communication between the team.
Working in a more productive way, hitting deadlines faster with a motivated team and a quality product at the end of the project? Yes please! We promise these are not empty claims. Let's look at why Scrum has the power to deliver these benefits for your organization.
  • Increased productivity

    Part of the role of the Scrum Master is to ensure that the team is operating productively, following the framework and continuously improving. The Scrum Master is a team coach who facilitates the process, asking questions and helping the team evolve their own set of best practices for the project. A commitment to productivity, evidenced by working software, is one of the values documented in the Agile Manifesto. It's something you will see in many agile project management environments which are known for being efficient teams.
  • Improved product quality

    Quality is inherent in Scrum. Each sprint delivers a working feature, so the team has to focus each time on making sure they deliver something of value. That doesn't always mean a sprint results in something the customer can see or touch. For example, it could be a backend security feature or part of the product that provides the foundation for the section the customer does see. Because development is incremental, there is a strong focus on getting things right. Quality testing is an important part of software development frameworks, and Scrum is no different.
  • Faster delivery times

    You've probably realized by now that one of the things that makes Scrum different from predictive approaches to delivering projects is that there is no 'big bang' launch. Scrum teams deliver incremental improvements, sprint after sprint. The end result is that customers see more deliveries sooner. They can start getting benefit from the parts of the product that have been delivered.

    Fast delivery times are helpful for the client, but also for the team doing the work. If you work in an agency environment, for example, you can show progress through a working product, which helps the customer build confidence in your ability and your processes.

  • Improved team satisfaction

    Project teams don't always have a way to formally measure team morale and customer satisfaction, but you can be sure that project managers and Scrum Masters know how the team and client is feeling at any moment. Another benefit of using Scrum is that teams have high morale. In our experience, this is usually because they have high autonomy, are trusted by the customer, work closely with the end users and know that they are delivering something that clearly meets the requirements. In other words, they are doing useful work for people who want it. That's a huge morale boost for any team!

    We also see customers reporting a high level of satisfaction in both the process (because it is so customer-focused, inclusive and flexible) and the result. They see the incremental deliveries regularly during sprint reviews so have the opportunity to provide detailed feedback. The Product Owner shapes the direction of the project and ensures the end result is exactly what the business needs.

  • Improved collaboration

    This is a huge benefit, and often the reason why teams shift to using agile methods. Because Scrum is founded on having a self-contained, multi-functional team, collaboration is easier: it simply becomes part of the job. Scrum ceremonies like the daily standup also help with communication and collaboration, because they provide moments for the team to come together, build relationships and check in with each other.

Roles and responsibilities of each member of the Scrum team

Scrum teams are self-organizing which means they choose their own approach to managing the work. A true Scrum team is multi-disciplinary and cross-functional, which means all the work can be done by people in the team. The main roles in the Scrum team are as follows.
  • Product Owner
  • Development Team
  • Scrum Master.
Now it's time to review what each of those roles do.

Product Owner

The Product Owner is the person who represents the needs of the business for this particular product. They are responsible for understanding the whole product lifecycle and prioritizing improvements that will deliver what customers want. The main responsibilities of a Product Owner are:
  • Defines the roadmap for the solution
  • Determines what the end result will look like
  • Uses stakeholder feedback to ensure that the product features match the user requirements
  • Responsible for maintaining the product backlog

Development Team

The Development Team is normally between 3 and 9 people, excluding the Scrum Master and the Product Owner. The main roles and responsibilities of the development team are:
  • Decides how to deliver the work specified by the Product Owner
  • Ensures transparency through communicating at the daily scrum meeting
  • Makes decisions to resolve issues and solve problems

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master ‘owns’ the Scrum process and supports the team and organization in getting the best out of the framework. They know how to use Scrum to deliver the product and meet the organization’s goals. They are the expert in using scrum project management software to track progress. The responsibilities of the Scrum Master are:
  • Ensures everything works effectively
  • Removes roadblocks for the team
  • Facilitates the process including the daily standup
  • Helps the Product Owner order the work, manage the backlog and plan
  • Coaches the team on Scrum values and supports transparency and empiricism in the team

Artifacts in Scrum

Let’s address some more scrum project management basics. There are four artifacts in Scrum:
  • Product backlog
  • Sprint backlog
  • Product increment
  • Burndown chart
They all share the same purpose: to help the team understand the work through maximizing transparency. The table below shows what they all mean.
  • Product Backlog

    The product backlog contains all the features to be built or items to work on. These are called user stories, because the focus on what the user wants to get out of the product and how they will use it. The backlog is a work in progress and is constantly evolving. It helps the team identify what is the next most important item to work on. The backlog is owned by the Product Owner who selects, orders and prioritizes the work of the team based on what is in the backlog.
  • Sprint Backlog

    The sprint backlog describes what work will be done during this sprint. It also contains details of how the work will be done – it’s the plan for delivery. The sprint backlog should be highly visible during the sprint and constantly updated in real-time as work progresses.
  • Product Increment

    The product increment is a way of describing the outcome or benefit of the work; how the team will know if they’ve got to ‘Done’. In a software development environment, it would be defined as the increase or addition of new features.
  • Burndown chart

    A burndown chart shows the amount of work still to be completed on a sprint. It's a visual representation of what the team has achieved and what is outstanding. It promotes transparency across the team and gives you an at-a-glance view about whether the team is on track to complete the specified work for the sprint.

Activities in Scrum

In a Scrum project management environment, there are several events (also known as meetings or ceremonies) that help keep the team focused and making progress. These include:

  • Sprint
  • Sprint planning
  • Daily Scrum meeting
  • Sprint reviews
  • Sprint retrospectives
As a project leader you will need to be familiar with these activities. Those terms might be new to you, so let's review what they mean.
  • Sprint

    A sprint is a defined period of time during which the team works on completing specific tasks. A sprint can be any length of time that suits the cadence of your organization, but it is most common to have sprints that last between 2-4 weeks. The work completed during the sprint is determined by the sprint planning meeting.
  • Sprint planning

    The Sprint planning meeting is where the team decides what to deliver during the Sprint and how to do the work. The Product Owner sets the direction and helps the team identify the priorities.
  • Daily Scrum meeting (standup)

    The daily Scrum meeting is a short, focused meeting to improve communication. You might have heard it called a standup. People really do stand up in the meeting because it helps the team remember to keep the discussion short. It also physically makes the meeting different from other project meetings. And yes, you can have standups with a virtual team. The purpose of the daily standup is to help the team identify any roadblocks and how to get around them. The team shares information and makes quick decisions so the project can continue.
  • Sprint reviews

    The Sprint review takes place once the work of the Sprint is complete. During the meeting, the team reviews what was delivered. The outcome of the Sprint review may also be changes to the Product Backlog if required.
  • Sprint retrospectives

    The Sprint retrospective takes place at the end of the Sprint. During the meeting, the team reviews what was done during the Sprint with a view to making continuous improvements to future work based on the learning.

The Scrum approach to project management gives the team complete flexibility to adapt the processes to what works best for them. You might find that working as a Scrum project manager looks and feels different in different teams. With a focus on quality, it’s important that the method is adjusted to get the best results for that team, at that time, on that project.

Scrum Checklist

A Scrum checklist can be useful to help you get started with making sure you are following the basic principles of the framework. Here is a simple checklist that covers the high-level goals of Scrum so you can review whether you are meeting the needs of the organization and following the process.

  • Do you have a Product Owner?
  • Are you prioritizing what the business feels is most important?
  • Does everyone know the goal of the sprint and what 'done' looks like?
  • Does the whole team participate in regular sprint planning meetings?
  • Do you have a visible sprint backlog, updated regularly?
  • Do you have a daily Scrum meeting?
  • Is every sprint timeboxed to 4 weeks or less?
  • Does every sprint end with a working feature delivered and demonstrated to the customer?
  • Do you have retrospectives after every sprint?

If you need a more detailed Scrum checklist, we recommend Henrik Kniberg’s checklist. It is comprehensive and commonly used, but there are others you can find online as well, so look around for something that suits your team.

You can use a Scrum Checklist during the retrospective to review the work of the team and ensure you are hitting the main important aspects of the framework and focusing on the things that matter.

However, checklists should only be used as a guide. They are a way of learning from other teams and sharing good practice, but always remember to apply your own situation to any checklist and take from it what might be useful to your own environment.

How to Successfully Apply Scrum in Projects

There are three main steps to applying Scrum in a project environment. These are:
  • Step 1: Compile the backlog
  • Step 2: Hold a planning meeting
  • Step 3: Compile the sprint backlog
Think of these three Scrum process steps as a kind of ‘scrum project management life cycle’ for you to adapt and reuse time and time again for each project.

Step 1: Compile the Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is a To Do list in the form of user stories. These describe what the user wants to be able to do – not the technical solution to doing it. Collect all the user stories (requirements) and create the backlog. You don't need any special project management software to get started: sticky notes on a white board will do.

Step 2: Hold a Planning Meeting

Get the team together to review the work and estimate the duration required to deliver each user story. This allows you to look at all the work and put the To Do list in priority order. The Product Owner will also input to the meeting, so the sprint focuses on the features that the business would find most valuable.

Step 3: Compile the Sprint Backlog

Now you know the priority work, select the user stories for the first sprint. A sprint is a timeboxed development effort so only select what can be delivered in that time period. Again, the Product Owner will guide the team so that the effort is spent on delivering something that can be fully completed within the time, based on the estimates, and delivers a working end result that can be shown to the customer.
Once you have all the user stories in the Product Backlog and have prioritized the important tasks, your team can begin their first sprint! The backlog is kept under constant review, so you will have regular sessions to amend the priority order and add in new requirements as necessary.

As we've seen, Scrum is a framework. Instead of having to follow a process or series of steps because that is what the project schedule mandates, you can flex to meet the most pressing priorities. This might mean bringing forward requirements that are urgent, building quality into the delivery and making sure progress is being taken in the direction the stakeholders expect. All these things can be achieved with low levels of friction and conflict because the approach allows for flexibility.

As a team, you can quickly inspect the output to ensure it meets quality criteria, and make changes if you feel the product is falling short. You get fast feedback on product features, and customers are closely involved in the work so you know you are delivering something that they will benefit from.

Ready to Get Started with Scrum?

Get started with Scrum project management by bringing the team together and adopting Scrum approaches to doing the work. You don't need any special tools to get going because much of the change in working in an agile way is a shift in culture and mindset.

With the support of a Scrum Master, and a focus on project delivery, you can adopt this tried-and-tested way of working. Check out the podcasts and resources on this page as a starting point, or to delve into advanced agile topics.

I believe that most people who become Agile certified and study the methodologies understand that Agile is the best approach for knowledge-based work –- work that’s complex, fast-moving, and volatile. This is the kind of work that really dominates our age now: the information age. I think Agile offers superior project management approaches to do that type of work.
Jonathan Herbert

PM Podcast Episodes about Scrum Project Management

On this page you'll find a selection of our favorite podcasts that talk about Scrum, Agile methods and how to succeed as a project manager in an Agile environment. Check the archives for more resources!

The Agile Manifesto for Project Managers

In this solo episode of The PM Podcast, Cornelius Fichtner explores the Agile Manifesto for project managers and in particular: what do the 12 principles mean for our work as project managers in an Agile environment. Whether you are working in a Scrum project management environment, or looking to do further training in this area, it's important to get the foundations right, which is exactly what this episode will help with.

Episode Details

Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner

The Keys to Building a High-Performing Scrum Team

High performing teams don’t happen "auto-magically". In this interview, which is a mini Scrum project management training, Alicia McLain says that it takes a nuanced leadership style, consistency, persistence, patience, a structured approach and support to create the team culture necessary to bring the best of people in a Scrum team -- or in any other Agile environment. You'll learn the steps to building high performing teams and the important elements that contribute to building and sustaining high performing teams.

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Alicia McLain
Alicia McLain

Agile Project Portfolio Management

One of the larger challenges for corporations that use both Scrum or other Agile methods and Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is integration of what seem to be two very different philosophies. In this interview, you'll more about scrum vs project management and the fallacies that hold teams back from embracing agile methods. You'll see how you can benefit from agile project portfolio management.

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David Blumhorst
David Blumhorst

The Warning Signs That Tell You Agile Isn't Working

Are you concerned about why Agile is not working for your team? Teams need the training, skills, and empowerment to absorb and implement agile principles. With these factors in place, organizations and teams should be able to build the foundation for agile success -- and you'll be able to avoid the 5 warning signs that tell you Scrum (or whatever Agile approach you are using) isn't working in your team.

Episode Details

NK Shrivastava and Cornelius Fichtner
NK Shrivastava and Cornelius Fichtner

See more episodes on Scrum

Summary

Scrum project management is a reliable and exciting way to work. You’ll see constant deliveries and benefit from the visual approach to managing projects that Scrum teams use: whiteboards and sticky notes (physical or digital) will soon become the way you share status and manage progress!

The great thing about a Scrum project team is that all the information required to do the work is easily available. There’s transparency across the team, and because delivery is a collaborative effort, everyone knows what is going on. That makes it easy for the team to adapt to the current situation, whatever that might be.

Scrum is one of several Agile methodologies that help you work closely with the customer to make rapid improvements. You’ll know your Scrum projects are having a real business impact because you’ll see the proof in the results and in stakeholder satisfaction.

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Scope Management

Scope Management

All about Scope Management

Scope Management: The Secret to Successful Project Delivery

Ready to start working on your project? Hold on… first we need to define the project scope. The scope of the project is all the work required to achieve the deliverables. Project leaders plan scope management during project initiation so everyone is clear on what needs to be done.

Managing scope also includes managing the inevitable changes while still balancing the need to complete the work on time and on budget.

Common tools for scoping projects include the work breakdown structure, change control procedure and the scope statement. We have a range of expert interviews covering all kinds of project scoping topics, so you’ll be sure to find something here to expand your knowledge and learn some practical tips!

Scope Management: The Secret to Project Success

Listen now to this featured podcast on Scope Management.

In this featured podcast you learn about how project scope management will make or break your project.

Disruptive business models, technological progress and intense competition force your customers to continuously innovate. Clients naturally demand that you deliver high-quality projects involving complex, ever-changing scope at tight budgets and within compressed timelines. Is this challenging? Absolutely! Innovative, effective scope management is a must for project success. Listen in as we discuss the successful project scoping techniques from around the world.

Learn how ineffective requirements gathering, poor scope definition, gold plating, and uncontrolled creep inevitably lead to project failure. And to counteract this, we analyze, adapt, and apply seven proven techniques to increase the probability of project success.

Karthik Ramamurthy
Karthik Ramamurthy
Please scroll down to see the full list of our Project Scope Management podcasts.

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What is Project Scope?

A project's scope is the total of the work required to achieve the project’s objectives. Scope is often documented in a work breakdown structure (WBS) which records all the deliverables needed to say the project has completed successfully.

What is Project Scope Management?

Project scope management is the practice of ensuring you know what the project is going to deliver – and, crucially, getting agreement on that. The three process groups of scope management are:
  • Planning
  • Controlling
  • Closing
Together, these process groups combine to give you a structured way to control scope, especially when things change on the project. Let's look at each of those process groups in a bit more detail now.

Planning

During the planning stage, the team plans how to approach managing the scope. Requirements are elicited, remembering that needs are different from solutions. The project scope statement is created. This defines everything that is going to be delivered as part of the project. The team creates a work breakdown structure.

Controlling

Scope creep in project management needs to be controlled! The monitoring and controlling processes allow you to validate scope, accept deliverables, manage changes and track the work. Whenever something changes on the project, it is documented and approved/rejected.

Closing

At the end of the project, the delivered scope is audited against the original plan, called the scope baseline, to see how the project has performed.

Product Scope vs Project Scope

Product scope defines what the customer wants from the product. Project scope refers to the boundary for the project work.

Product scope could be a wide-ranging selection of improvements that could take many years to deliver and are probably part of a product roadmap.

An example of product scope would be: “A new product to sell digital services to existing and new clients via online consultations.” This scope is managed by a product manager who will guide the product's development direction as well as taking into account business strategy.

The project scope includes all the work required to deliver the new product. The scope of a project in this example would be: hiring a graphic designer to create a website for the new product, building the website, training staff on the new internal processes, providing supporting marketing materials to promote the website, setting up payment processors, creating a process and email sequence to support customers who have purchased, creating help documents for customers and so on. They are all examples of what needs to happen to deliver the new product.

In other words, your project scope statement defines what work is required to deliver the product scope.

Why is scope management essential for project managers?

Scope management is essential for project managers because it is the process that helps you control what work is to be done. It's important because staying in control of scope helps you save time later. When everyone understands what the project is doing, you avoid miscommunication and that helps prevent unnecessary change requests and conflict later on.

Even when you invest time and energy into confirming the scope, you'll still find that it changes as the project progresses, and that’s to be expected. As you learn more about what it is you are delivering, stakeholders and the project sponsor may update or change their ideas about what they want. A robust approach to managing scope helps make sure everyone's views are heard early enough for their ideas to make it into the scope document, so you can focus on the significant change requests.

The scope management process lets you adapt to those changes in a controlled way so you always have a clear view of what the project is delivering.

How to Properly Scope a Project

There are 5 steps to properly scope a project.
  • Understand the goal
  • Clarify what is included
  • Clarify what is excluded
  • Document scope
  • Prepare for changes
Now we've given you the headlines, let’s look at those steps in more detail. This straightforward process is how project scope is defined, and you can adapt it to suit the project management methodology in use in your organization.

1. Understand the goal

You must understand the project’s goals and objectives so you can scope the work to include everything required. Identify the success criteria so you know what you are aiming for.

2. Clarify what’s included

Make sure you have clear, prioritized requirements from key stakeholders. This forms your list of items that are in the project scope.

3. Clarify what’s excluded

Identify what is specifically excluded from this project. That could include deploying the solution to certain locations, some requirements, teams or system integrations that will not be done during this project.

4. Document scope

Record everything you have discovered to create the project scope statement. Get the document agreed by all relevant stakeholders.

5. Prepare for changes

Scope changes, so make sure stakeholders are aware of the process to suggest and approve/reject changes.

Scope Management Techniques

Scope management techniques are what you use as a team to make sure you’ve got a full understanding of the work involved to complete the project. They help you control what makes it into project scope and what’s rejected or postponed for another day. Here are some common scope management techniques.
  • Meetings
  • Expert judgement
  • Interviews
  • Workshops
  • Focus groups
  • Questionnaires and surveys
  • Observation.

How To Use Scope Management Techniques

  • Meetings

    Meetings can be between you and one other person or where you come together in a large group. Typically you will have an agenda of discussion items. Talk about the scope of the project, make decisions and record the points made in the meeting as that will help you define scope.
  • Expert judgement

    Expert judgement simply means relying on subject matter experts to tell you what is needed for the project. For example, if the architect tells you a feature is required, it goes into the scope.
  • Interviews

    You can use an interview format discussion to ask questions and get targeted answers, either from business colleagues or your customer population.
  • Workshops

    Workshops are useful when you need to get a group together for a facilitated discussion or working session. The things you uncover or agree in the workshop then become part of your scope.
  • Focus groups

    Bring end users or customers together in a focus group and get their feedback about what should be included in the project. If you have a demo, wireframes or a prototype, you can share it and see what the response is.
  • Questionnaires and surveys

    Written responses to structured questions can be useful, especially if you need to get a wide range of responses and have to consult a large group. Gather feedback with a well-designed survey and use that as an input to scope.
  • Observation

    Observation means watching how people do a task and using that information to inform what you build. For example, you might uncover multiple process steps that could be eliminated.

All that sounds easy enough, at least in theory! However, in practice, managing scope is a challenging exercise. Often, high-level project goals are not clearly defined. Customers and key stakeholders don’t have the time to participate in requirements elicitation or show up for scope meetings. They simply want the work to start. Many stakeholders expect to be able to influence the development of the project as the work unfolds, but sometimes it’s too late to make changes at that point, or changes are very expensive. There’s also rework to consider and the waste of the team’s time for redoing tasks that could have been done right the first time.

Customers themselves can sometimes struggle with the process too, even if they are prepared to make time for it. You ask them what is important and they say everything is important! They find it difficult to prioritize requirements. They might be very clear on design or look and feel, but find it harder to talk conclusively about functionality and what they want the thing to do.

You may also receive a challenge from subject matter experts who don’t see the need to write scope down. If they know what they have to do, what’s the point in wasting time documenting it? The act of discussion and documentation provides clarity and helps validate and uncover assumptions.

Project scope management is an important contributing factor to project success, so it’s essential we meet the challenges head on. We can have difficult conversations with stakeholders and experts, and our projects will be better because of our focus on scope.

Scope Management Documentation

Once you’ve elicited requirements and have a good idea about what you stakeholders want, it’s time to document their needs. Prepare your scope management plan and scope statement.

The scope management plan

The scope management plan is part of the project management plan. It describes how the project team will define, monitor, control and validate scope. The document is a good starting point for setting up your project for success.

Elements of a scope management plan

  • How you will prepare a project scope statement
  • What steps you will go through to create the work breakdown structure (or WBS)
  • How you will establish and finalize the scope baseline, and how that will be maintained during the project
  • What steps you will go through to gain approval for the completed project deliverables.

You may have a separate document as your scope management plan, or it could be part of another document. It could be formal or informal, detailed or high-level, and needs to be tailored to your project, organizational culture and expectations.

The scope statement

The scope statement is a definition of what the project is going to deliver and also what it is not going to deliver. It is a list of things that are included in the project scope. Once you have a scope management plan, a good next step is to work towards getting a clear and concise statement of scope.

The scope statement is great for confirming that everyone has the same expectations about what the project will deliver. It’s not a full, extensive list of scope items, and it certainly doesn’t replace the work breakdown structure (which is different from the product breakdown structure). However it is a handy document to have to define the boundaries of the project work.

Elements of a scope statement

  • Description of project scope, even at a high level. As you get further into the requirements elicitation and project lifecycle, you’ll uncover more detail about exactly what is required. At this point, you simply want to make sure there is a broad, accurate description of what is in scope.
  • Exclusions. As well as documenting what is in scope, you also want to call out what is specifically out of scope.
  • Acceptance criteria. Document what conditions or quality measures must be met before the deliverables can be finalized and approved.

The scope statement forms part of the baseline for your project scope.

The Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure, or WBS, is a hierarchical decomposition of the deliverables required to complete the project. You can show the WBS as a tree diagram or a documented list. It should include all the component parts of the project.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is where you break up the work in manageable pieces. Any project, even a kindergarten finger painting activity, must be broken into manageable sequences in order not to descend into chaos. We call those sequences work packages. Refer to the Project Scope Statement to create your WBS. By attacking the project through work packages, everyone stays organized and the workload is manageable.

Elements of a WBS

  • Name of the deliverable
  • A unique reference number for the deliverable
  • Name of person or department responsible for creating the deliverable
  • Scheduled start and end dates
  • Resources required to complete the deliverable
  • Overview of requirements and other standards that must be met
  • Expected cost for completing the deliverable
  • Any specific measures for quality assurance.

The scope baseline

The scope baseline is a record of your expected project scope once it is created. If your project changes – and in most project managers’ experience it will – then you can adapt and update your scope statement and rebaseline scope accordingly. That’s what it means to do scope control in project management: you control the scope through documentation and the change process.

However you document your project scope, your goal should always be to reduce ambiguity as much as possible and to get the fullest picture possible. Then you can be sure that what your project delivers is going to meet the needs of stakeholders. Work together with the project team and key stakeholders to cover as much ground as you can, and consult widely to ensure all possible scope elements are included (or excluded).

The primary challenge that projects have is that they don’t define their scope well. There are a lot of things associated with that besides just the work breakdown structure. If you don’t define your scope in clear and concise terms in the beginning and go through that process of working out exactly what you are going to deliver to your customer, then you’re going to be missing things. When we have schedule overruns and cost overruns it is because things come up halfway through the project.
Josh Nankivel

PM Podcast Episodes about Scope Management

Below you'll find a few of our hand-picked favorite episodes about project scope management. These podcasts will give you multiple expert views into the world of requirements, WBS and other topics that will help you get to grips with this challenging subject.

Scope Management and Project Requirements

Learn how to elicit, document, and manage requirements to control project scope creep in this expert interview. You'll also take away tips for how to manage project stakeholders to minimize the risk of an ever-growing list of user requirements. The discussion covers what the state of scope in project management is overall and how business analysis plays into this, and also how to manage if you are struggling with project scope creep.

Episode Details

Jamal Moustafaev
Jamal Moustafaev

How to Use a Work Breakdown Structure

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a powerful project management planning and controlling tool. It is the backbone to planning and managing scope on any project. In this interview you'll learn about a real example of a work breakdown structure shipbuilding style! Find out more about the WBS in practice, as part of the fascinating world of the shipyard. You'll learn how to apply and use a WBS and take away tips for your projects.

Episode Details

Fernando Remolina, PMP
Fernando Remolina González

How to Manage Scope When You Don't Have Any Time

In this expert interview you'll learn why you should manage requirements, whether you need a requirements management plan, how business analysis supports requirements management and more. Elizabeth Larson dispels common misconceptions and provides tips for managing requirements when you don’t have the time. You'll take away three time saving techniques for requirements elicitation and management.

Episode Details

Elizabeth Larson and Cornelius Fichtner
Elizabeth Larson and Cornelius Fichtner

How to Manage Assumptions

Putting together your project scope includes making assumptions. In this episode you'll learn how to understand and acknowledge those project assumptions. Beth Spriggs will help you recognize when you may be assuming a project or task is easier or faster than it actually is, priorities are aligned and haven't changed, or assuming who owns, or is responsible for, what. You'll take away 5 ideas on how to develop and expand your project assumptions list.

Episode Details

Beth Spriggs and Cornelius Fichtner
Beth Spriggs and Cornelius Fichtner

See more episodes on Scope Management

Summary

If you want your project to succeed, you need to invest time in project scope management. The resources on this page will help you take the first steps in building your skills in this area, and if you are already confident with the basic, take a look at some of the episodes discussing advanced topics or search the website for those on interpersonal skills. So much of managing the scope of a project is talking to stakeholders, negotiating, and really listening to what they want. Then you can manage those expectations to what is achievable within the time and budget and deliver successfully.

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Project Manager

Project Manager

All about the Project Manager (That's You!)

How to Excel at Managing Projects

Being a project manager is a fantastic job. It’s a career that will give you so many opportunities in so many different areas. But you have to deliver projects to build a reputation as someone who is successful in the role.

To do that, you need to understand the project manager skills, responsibilities and duties so you can apply them to your own work.

You’re here because you want to learn more about the role of a project manager and what it means to develop those skills to lead successful projects. The resources on this page will let you explore those ideas, guided by a range of expert interviewees who themselves have acted as senior project managers for many successful projects. What will you learn from them?

Let us help you learn more about the project manager function in an organization so you can build your career in the field. We’ll give you a description of what it means to be a project manager. You’ll take away practical tips and thought-provoking ideas for how to make your projects successful.

Featured Podcast: How to Influence Without Authority as a Project Manager

Listen now to this featured podcast on project management skills

In this interview you'll hear about the influence cycle and the associated skills project managers can use to get things done in situations where you have to influence without authority. You'll learn about the 5 stages of the influence cycle: Prepare, Ask, Trust, Follow up, and Give back. There are loads of helpful tips in this episode!
Kristine Hayes Munson and Cornelius Fichtner
Kristine Hayes Munson and Cornelius Fichtner
Please scroll down to see the full list of our podcasts on the role of the project manager.

Jump to full podcast list

What is a Project Manager?

Project managers are people who lead projects. They have responsibility for planning, scheduling, budgeting and monitoring the work until it is completed. They work with a team to achieve the expected results and use a range of tools and techniques to ensure a successful delivery.

You don't have to have the job title of 'project manager' to be doing project management in your role. Today, project management skills are in high demand. Research on the future of project management by KPMG shows that 35% of organizations have completed more than 50 projects in the past year. That's a lot of change happening in a lot of places!

All of those initiatives would have been led by a PM.

Your Project Management Career

There has never been a better time to become a project manager. Project management skills have been in demand since the Pharaohs commissioned the pyramids and the demand shows no sign of slowing down.

Here is why we think the outlook for project managers is more positive than ever before.

88 million roles

The PMI Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027 report states that employers will need nearly 88 million individuals in project management related roles.

7.9% of all employment

A study on the contribution of project management by APM showed that 7.9% of all UK employment is in project-related roles. We can expect this to be similar in other countries with equivalent economies.

A third of national GDP

The project management impact on the economy is one third of national GDP according to research by IPMA. That's only expected to grow!

As you can see, the demand is there. That's because more and more industries are becoming 'projectized' which means they structure their work and deliverables via projects.

Organizations are keen to improve project management maturity across their departments, building a stable and repeatable framework for delivering change. In this fast-paced, complex world, being able to adapt to market conditions and respond to disruption is key to staying in business.

That means project management is definitely a viable career choice. Whether you want to work in catering or construction, or any other industry, the people making changes and keeping pace with the evolving economy are project managers. Sometimes they might be behind the scenes, but they are definitely there... and you could be to.

Where Are Project Managers Needed?

Projects managers are needed across all industries and verticals including:
  • Engineering
  • Leisure and sport
  • Hospitality and travel
  • Retail
  • Marketing and sales
  • IT
  • Oil and gas
  • Manufacturing
  • Finance and insurance
  • On mega projects and small projects

As you can see, project managers work across all industries and professions. The importance of project management skills remains the same, regardless of the discipline. While it might be difficult for a digital project manager to suddenly pick up managing a large oil and gas project, the core project management process groups and skills remain the same.

You can change industry, but many people choose one industry to make their project management career in so they can develop deep subject matter knowledge in that field.

Different Types of Project Managers

As we've seen, project managers work across all industries and all sizes of companies, both commercial organizations and non-profits. Our podcast episodes include experts from a range of different organizations to show you the full extent of how project management is used.

Are you ready to take your next step in this exciting career? Here are some of the different types of project manager role you’ll see in job adverts.

  • Construction project manager
  • Agile project manager
  • IT project manager
  • Engineering project manager
  • Construction Project Manager

    Construction project managers work on build projects. Managing a build site is a complex project, often with many suppliers and trades who need to be coordinated to ensure the construction completes on time and to the expected budget.
  • Agile Project Manager

    Agile project managers work across a range of Agile disciplines. The role can be varied, depending on what the team needs. For example, the role of project manager in SAFe Agile would be different to someone taking on the project management responsibilities in a small team using Scrum. Becoming a project manager in an Agile team is a good choice if you want to work in a fast-paced environment delivering incremental value to users and customers.
  • IT Project Manager

    The IT industry is huge, and there are lots of options for project managers wanting to make this area their career. For example, you could work in software design or development, infrastructure, IT architecture or digital. IT project managers need to be able to see the big picture, handle complex technical environments, and work with a range of skilled IT colleagues and teams from around the business. The project management salary in IT can be very good, especially at the top level when delivering complex business systems.
  • Engineering Project Manager

    Project management in an engineering environment involves leading a team to develop and manufacture a product. The team takes the product from concept to completion, and the project manager plays a critical role in ensuring the work is coordinated, planned, managed and delivered on time and on budget, meeting all quality criteria and the client’s specifications. Project management skills in the engineering disciplines would include a detailed knowledge of relevant safety standards, laws and regulations as well as a good working knowledge of the manufacturing process and the ability to work with various suppliers and subject matter experts.
Now you know about the different fields, industries and verticals where you can find work as a project manager, let's look at what a project manager does all day by focusing on the job description and responsibilities.

The Project Manager Job Description

As we saw in the project manager definition above, a project manager is someone who delivers change.

The job description for a project manager varies from company to company, role to role. You’ll see project manager jobs advertised at a relatively low salary, responsible for largely administrative projects, and other roles that require deep project management skills and industry knowledge, that command a much higher salary.

However, the core responsibilities for a project manager remain the same across roles and industries. A project manager is responsible for:

  • Directing, coordinating, managing, and implementing the work
  • Defining the tasks required to deliver the work
  • Scheduling and planning the work
  • Putting together the project team and allocating resources to activities
  • Tracking, controlling and reporting on progress, issues and other things management needs to be aware of
  • Engaging stakeholders as required to gain support for the work.

You’ll see these responsibilities on job descriptions. The level to which the role has responsibility for these tasks depends on the seniority of job in the organization and the type of project the role will be leading.

Below, you'll see those core responsibilities outlined in more detail by two career stages. Find out what a project manager does at the beginning of their career and also at the point where they have more professional experience.

Task

Directing, coordinating, managing, and implementing the work

Junior PM

At the beginning of your career, you work under the direction of an experienced project leader. You are responsible for managing a small part of a project, such as an individual workstream. You coordinate the work involved in completing that activity.

Experienced PM

With more experience comes more responsibility, so at this level you are leading the whole project. You set the direction for the team, ensure roadblocks are removed, deal with issues and create an environment where people have the resources they need to complete their tasks.
Defining the tasks required to deliver the work
You work with one or more subject matter experts and help them decompose their work into specific tasks.
You facilitate workshops and perhaps work alongside a business analyst to ensure requirements are elicited, the WBS is created and the scope management plan is defined.
Scheduling and planning the work
You create a project plan for your part of the project (or your small project). You put the tasks in order and set delivery dates for each one.
You manage a complex schedule in a project management software tool. You monitor task dependencies and control the critical path so the work stays on track to deliver in a timely fashion.
Putting together the project team and allocating resources to activities
There might only be one or two people working on a small project or workstream. Your role is to ensure they know what they have to do and what tasks they are responsible for.
Your team could be hundreds of people, and they all need clear roles and responsibilities to avoid duplication of effort and miscommunication. You create a team structure and ensure individuals understand their contribution.
Tracking, controlling and reporting on progress, issues
You keep track of how the work you are responsible for is going. You report progress to the project manager at least weekly, using a standard report. You attend meetings as required to provide an update and if anything looks like it isn't going to plan, you make sure the leadership team know about it.
You use best practice techniques to track and control the work, making changes to the schedule as required. You attend the Project Board meetings to provide reports and updates, escalating issues that are outside of your area of control.
Engaging stakeholders as required
You identify and talk to key stakeholders regularly so they know what's going on.
You have a detailed stakeholder engagement plan that is regularly updated. You manage communications across the team. You liaise with executive stakeholders and the project sponsor to manage expectations.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

We are privileged to work with experts all around the world creating our podcast series, and they all have experience to answer the question: "What does a project manager do?" Here is a list of the common duties of a project manager, drawn from the combined experience of over 100 podcast guests.
  • Create a project management plan to structure the work
  • Define the project scope
  • Create a schedule to manage the timeline
  • Create all project documentation and keep it up to date
  • Direct the project from initiation to closure
  • Monitor progress for the duration of the project life cycle (which might involve maintaining time sheets)
  • Schedule and chair project meetings and workshops
  • Manage stakeholder expectations at all levels
  • Put together a team and allocate resources to the appropriate work
  • Forecast project performance and make the necessary changes to stay on track
  • Use a coaching leadership style to support, encourage and develop the team
  • Plan and deliver project communications
  • Track and manage actions
  • Uncover and prioritize how to manage risks, including capitalizing on opportunities (“positive risk”)
  • Deal with issues as they come up
  • Plan for quality and ensure those plans are carried through
  • Ensure the customer feels included and their satisfaction is kept in mind at all times
  • Use project management software to track, measure and report on progress and performance
  • Maintain an audit trail and archive of project information for the future
  • Be “the face” of the project and lead the change

As you can see, when you look at what exactly does a project manager do, the list is long!

In summary, project managers are people who know how to organize the work and other people in order to achieve a goal. They spend time looking at the big picture but also diving into the detail – and they know when to do each of those. The role of the project manager is quite special. You motivate a team, manage and control the work and provide leadership. But you rarely have people working directly for you on a project.

In today’s economy, project managers work in environments where there is much uncertainty and complexity, and when you are trying to get things done, that can be difficult! That’s why the project manager’s role is one that navigates office politics with ease. You’ll spend a lot of time engaging stakeholders and communicating, building trust throughout the team at all levels. In fact, some people say that communication is 80 per cent of the project manager’s role.

Whether you work in healthcare or heavy engineering, policy or procurement, catering or construction (or any other industry), there will be project managers in your field. You can work as a project manager in an employed capacity, or as a contractor. You can work via an agency or run your own independent consultancy. It’s a very flexible career and those who invest in their development find there are almost endless opportunities to make the job your own.

Reasons for Choosing a Career in Project Management

Project management is a diverse and exciting business area. You can put your skills to use in any industry, from architecture to zoology. There are lots of opportunities to specialize, either in a methodology, framework or project management approach, or in a particular type of project, such as oil and gas or hospitality.

Here are some of the top reasons we hear from students about why they want to choose a career in project management.

  • You want a job with a lot of variety
  • You want a job that is well paid
  • You want a job with professional recognition
  • You want a job with a clear career path
  • You want a job that will let you work anywhere in the world
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why a PM career is a good career choice. Those aren't empty statements, though: let's review the benefits in a little more detail.
  • Project management is a varied job

    Each project is unique which makes it the perfect career choice for people who want a job filled with variety. One day you might be working with the Sales and Marketing team, the next with the team running your product distribution warehouse. As you move between projects, you will build up a network of contacts across the organization. You get to see multiple facets of a business, interact with people in many roles and make a real impact in the company and the community.
  • Project managers are well paid

    Salaries for PMs are good, and if you hold a professional certification, they are even better. Compensation improves as you move up the career ladder and become responsible for larger projects. At a department role or as Head of PMO you can command the same salary as any other senior executive or director. It's a role that comes with influence and you can become a trusted advisor to senior leaders. Your earnings reflect that.
  • The profession is recognized

    Project management is a well-respected career path with internationally-recognized certifications. There is a large and active community of practice providing professional development. There are also plenty of opportunities for continuing your learning throughout your career, including earning approved PDUs.
  • Career progression is possible

    There is a clear career path for project managers, and we'll see more about that later in this article. You can start with an entry-level role straight out of education, or even take an apprenticeship or internship. As you gain experience and certifications, you manage larger and larger projects. You can move on to department management or program management and beyond, depending on where you want your career to take you.
  • Project management is a global profession

    You can work anywhere in the world when you are a project manager, because it truly is a global profession. The easiest way to travel with your career is to work for a company that has offices overseas and then get transferred to another part of the business located somewhere you want to work. Even if your current organization doesn't have overseas operations, perhaps your work will let you travel to visit clients or suppliers. PMs are needed all around the world so there are opportunities internationally if you want to take them.

Project Management Salaries

PMI regularly carries out a career survey that answers the question, “How much do project managers make?” The average project manager salary depends on where you are based in the world, how much experience you have, what certifications you hold and other factors like your industry.

The PMI Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey—Eleventh Edition (2020) shows that an experienced, certified project manager in the United States can earn around $124,000 per year including a bonus.

Popular Project Management Career Paths

Your project management career is as unique as you are. You can become a project manager straight out of college, after graduating with a relevant degree. You can move into project management later in your career, after becoming a subject matter expert in your field and taking on more and more project work.

Here are some common project management career paths.

  • Project Coordinator to Project Manager
  • Project Manager to Program Manager
  • Program Manager to Portfolio Director
Let's look at those different career journeys so you can decide if this is the right path for you.
  • Project Coordinator to Project Manager
    Many people begin their project management career in a coordinator role. This is a largely administrative support function, working alongside an experienced project manager. It is a good way to find out more about what is involved in project management. As you gain more confidence and learn more skills, you can take on portions of the project to lead independently.
  • Project Manager to Program Manager
    Many project managers go on to a program management role. The program manager job description shares many of the same skills as a project manager needs, but it operates at a more strategic level and with more team management responsibilities.

    You are juggling the requirements of multiple projects within a program. Typically, you are operating with a greater degree of uncertainty. Your role as a program manager is to ensure the program (and all the component projects) completes successfully and delivers business value, so you would be working on an initiative for a long period of time.

    In this role you would also carry out project manager coaching and mentoring to support the project teams working within the program.
  • Program Manager to Portfolio Director
    At the most senior level in an organization, the Portfolio Director oversees all the projects and change within the business. This role manages several teams including the Project Management Office and Project Management teams.

The Importance of a Project Manager

By now you can probably see why a project manager is important in an organization. Let's review the advantages: these are things you can use in an interview situation to explain why you are interested in the role and to show you understand what the role has to offer the organization.

A project manager:

  • provides direction for the project
  • ensures resources are used efficiently
  • communicates with the whole team
  • keeps the work on track
  • removes roadblocks and resolves issues.
Let's take a moment to explain those five reasons in a bit more detail.
  • Provides direction

    Project managers provide the direction for the team. The motivate and lead, ensuring the team keeps the end goal in sight at all times. The clear vision helps the team maintain momentum and make decisions.
  • Ensures efficient use of resources

    Companies want to know that their resources are being utilized efficiently. It's best to have people working at capacity so no one is overloaded or under-allocated. Resource management and capacity planning helps make this happen, and the PM is expert at both.
  • Communicates with the team

    The communications plan is an essential part of the effort, but simply having a plan isn't enough. The team also has to do the communications. The PM takes the lead on this, ensuring that the right stakeholders receive relevant information at appropriate times.
  • Keeps the work on track

    Monitoring and controlling are two important parts of the work, and are essential PM processes. It's important to manage the big picture but also to stay on top of the smaller details, like whether a particular task is on track to complete on time. As part of this, the project leadership team may use earned value management, critical path method or other techniques for monitoring progress.
  • Removes roadblocks

    The PM may nominally be 'in charge' of the project but the role really exists to serve the team and make sure they have what they need to do the work. After all, the bulk of the task delivery is done by people who are not the PM. Issues are resolved by listening out for them, understanding problems, and having the network and influence to be able to do something about them. When roadblocks are removed, the team's work is frictionless and can be completed successfully.

Project manager skills are important for business because they help deliver change in the most effective and efficient way. It’s crucial that organizations can quickly respond to change in today’s project economy.

A project manager is the person who champions the change and leads the team to deliver the results the business wants to see. They add value to the organization by ensuring work is planned and structured efficiently. When someone takes the project manager role on the team, the team members can focus on doing their work in a supportive environment. They can spend their time on what they do best. They are using their technical and subject matter expertise to deliver great results while the PM coordinates and provides the framework for the work.

Essential Project Manager Skills and Characteristics

Effective project managers need a wide range of technical and professional skills. Here are some core characteristics of successful project managers, in no particular order.
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Planning
  • Scheduling
  • Risk management
  • Resilience
  • Teamwork
  • Ability to be calm under pressure
  • Assertiveness
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Conflict management.

Leadership

PM is fundamentally a leadership role, despite having 'management' in the job title. You are responsible for leading the team and supporting them in achieving the Project Sponsor's vision. You have to be able to take decisions, demonstrate credibility and influence others: all factors of leaders. Look at the leaders in your organization and try to work out what makes them effective. What strategies could you borrow to have the same result?

Communication

It has been said that project management is 80% communication, and we agree. There are lots of meetings and discussions, all with the goal of ensuring the team and key stakeholders understand and agree with what is happening. You’ll spend time briefing executives and making recommendations. Part of your role is to make sure all voices are heard, even if some carry more weight than others. Only by listening will you fully understand the project's objectives and how you can achieve them.

Planning

Planning is the act of working out how to do and what to do. This is where you'll work with the team to set the rules of engagement for the project. You'll review the processes that will help you stick to the plan, and put in place the frameworks and tools that will underpin how you approach the rest of the work.

Scheduling

Creating a schedule is an important part of managing the work. You will meet with experts to estimate how long each task will take. Document task dependencies so you know what order the activity needs to be schedule in. Then build out a Gantt chart or other project schedule to show everyone a visual representation of the timeline for the project. The schedule becomes your ultimate guide for what needs to be done when.

Risk Management

All projects face risk, so the skill is in knowing what to do about them. Risk identification is where this process starts, and then you'll work with subject matter experts to consider the different ways you could plan to address the risk. Typically, PMs seek to reduce the impact of the risk through mitigation activities, but you could also manage it in other ways such as transferring the risk to a third party or even trying to capitalize on it if it may lead to a greater opportunity.

Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a setback... and there are plenty of those in a project environment! The best PMs manage well under pressure and can cope with the highs and lows of project delivery. Resilience is also about helping your team build the structures and culture to ensure the project remains resilient in troubled times. Put some slack in the schedule, for example, to help cope with any last minute crises.

Teamwork

The PM can't do the project alone -- that's where the team comes in. You should understand concepts like Tuckman's stages of team development to help steer the team through the challenges of coming together to work for the first time, through to becoming a cohesive, trusting unit with a common goal. Another part of the role is supporting the team by removing roadblocks and seeking out the resources they need to get the work done.

Calm & Assertive

Your approach to work should be both calm and assertive. Change initiatives can be challenging and fraught situations at times, with high levels of conflict because of the nature of the work. As a team leader, your role is also to set the tone for the culture of the team. Be calm under pressure and assertive around decision making and accountability. The team will need you to step up in these ways when times are tough.

Critical Thinking

Projects exist to deliver new things for the organization, whether that is a process, a service or a product. Doing new things often involves solving problems because issues crop up along the way. That's normal when you haven't done a project like this before; you're constantly learning. However, it also means that PMs and their teams need to be smart about problem solving. Learn some critical thinking techniques to apply to solving problems, and you will be well on the way to helping your team deal with whatever challenges they come across.

Conflict Management

There is often tension when people come together to agree what needs to change. They may have different expectations of what they want, or different views about how it should be done. You need to be a skilled facilitator and able to resolve conflict between team members and stakeholders. The objective is not to 'win' but rather to create clarity so the team knows what is expected and can get on with the work.

Project managers have access to a range of tools and techniques that help them plan, track and manage the work. Part of the skill of being a project manager is knowing what tool to use when, and how to adapt it to fit your environment. Projects all have unique characteristics, and what worked on your last project might not be appropriate this time round. That’s why tailoring is core project management skill, so you always apply the right techniques to the project you are currently working on.

How to Become a Project Manager

By now you might be asking yourself, “How do I become a project manager?” There are 4 steps to consider.

  • Confirm that this is the right path for you
  • Learn the skills and techniques
  • Gain experience
  • Take a project management certification.
That was super-quick overview on how do you become a project manager! It's a topic that warrants a bit more explanation, so let's review those 4 steps again in the guide below so you can create your own career plan to get the job of your dreams.

Step 1

First, confirm that this is the right job for you. Listen to our podcasts about the realities of the role and review the skills required. Does PM sound like a career you would enjoy? Think about your own personal strengths and development opportunities and compare that to what is expected of you in a project delivery role.

Step 2

Next, learn the skills and techniques. You can learn on the job through volunteering with your local PMI Chapter. Listen to some of our skills-based podcast episodes and then try to apply the same techniques to the role you have now, whether that is planning your work for a student project or coordinating a team effort at the office. Tell your boss that you are interested in developing project management skills so they can support you. Start to build the relevant skills for project managers so that when a job becomes available you can apply for it with confidence.

Step 3

Next, gain experience in the workplace. Apply project management techniques to the role you are currently doing. Ask around in your current company to see if there are project management vacancies. Offer to take on projects when your department needs someone to manage them. If you are not currently working, look on social media for project managers like LinkedIn groups or Facebook communities and start to build connections. Your local PMI Chapter may also have job boards or networking events that you can take part in.

Step 4

The next step is to take a project management certification. Many of our students feel validated in their career choice once they have successfully earned their credentials. Having letters after your name shows the world that you know what you are talking about and that you have the skills to lead any initiative. Many employers fund project management certification courses and exams, so check with your manager to see if that is an option for you.

If you were wondering how to be a project manager, hopefully that has helped you think through the different stages of starting your career.

Our curated collection of podcasts on this page – and the other resources you’ll find in our archives – are also a great starting point for you, whether you are investigating if being a PM is the career for you, or if you want to build your skills to succeed at work. Which one will you listen to first?

Complexity is not increasing on all projects but generally speaking, the larger project is, the more complex it is. This is particularly true if your project involves a lot of technology, if it involves a lot of software and especially if it involves software and hardware integrated together. These are areas ripe with complexity.
Jordan Kyriakidis, CEO of QRA Corp

PM Podcast Episodes on the Project Manager's Role

Below are just a few, hand-picked episodes of The PM Podcast that talk about the role of the project manager and the skills you need to succeed.

How to Manage Conflict as a Project Manager

This interview is full of solid advice and best practices you can apply to the conflicts you will inevitably encounter on your projects. Learn about the definition and characteristics of conflict in a project management context and how to analyze a conflict. We also spend time looking at conflict resolution in project management and how you can help your team through the challenge. Get your notebook ready because you'll want to remember the tips from this episode!

Episode Details

Karin Brünnemann, PMP
Karin Brünnemann, PMP

How to Manage a Virtual Team

In this interview, you'll learn about how to succeed in a virtual team environment. You might struggle with time zone issues, language barriers, limited visibility, poor infrastructure, and so on. Sometimes we choose remote teams intentionally for their benefits. But often, this kind of organizational structure is handed to managers and team members without choice. Let's dive into how to deal with all those issues and strengthen your approach to managing virtual teams.

Episode Details

Cornelius Fichtner and Jesse Fewell
Cornelius Fichtner and Jesse Fewell

The Interpersonal Skills You Need for Project Success

In this collection of short interviews, you'll hear experts from around the world talk about the interpersonal skills in project management that they believe have helped them most in their career success. Spoiler alert: there's a theme, and it's to do with relationships!

Episode Details

Congress presenters reveal their most important interpersonal skill

How to Manage Your Work/Life Balance

If you have difficulty in juggling the demands of your job and your non-work life, you’re not alone. In this podcast interview, you'll take away meaningful information to help with your project manager work life balance, but also ideas to help you to achieve the integration that is most important to you.

Episode Details

Cornelius Fichtner and Neal Whitten
Cornelius Fichtner and Neal Whitten

See more episodes on Project Manager skills

The Demand for Project Managers is Growing

The role of the project manager is a fulfilling career option, and there are many opportunities for you to take your career journey in the direction that most appeals. Through the range of expert interviews in our podcast archives, you can listen to the experience of professionals from around the world, in a whole host of different industries.

Many commentators say that demand for people with PM skills is growing. We agree there has never been a better time to build on your skills and advance your career. We’re here to support you in the journey!

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Leadership Coaching

Leadership Coaching

Introduction to Leadership Coaching

The Leader as a Coach

As a project leader, you’re guiding and directing a team towards the end goal for a project. You’re also trying to help them build their skills. What can help you do just that?

That’s right: leadership coaching.

If you’re reading this page, it’s probably because you are interested in what leadership coaching can do for you and your team. We have a range of expert interviews you can listen to through our free podcasts on the topics of leadership and coaching.

Let us help you learn more about this topic. You’ll take away tips and techniques to improve how you lead, and help you coach your own team to project and personal success.

Featured Podcast: Project Coaching Makes You a Better Project Leader

Listen now to this featured podcast on leadership coaching.

In this featured podcast you learn about the various project coaching techniques available to you in a project role. We'll see how coaching can make you a better project leader.

It is the people working on our projects who get things done, so we want to unlock their potential. When we coach, we really help people to help themselves in overcoming an issue or in reaching a certain goal.

The tips you'll pick up will help you get better at motivation and coaching skills, leadership and working with your colleagues -- all essential skills for project managers today.

Susanne Madsen
Susanne Madsen
Please scroll down to see the full list of our Agile Methodology podcasts.

Jump to full podcast list

What is a Coach?

A coach is someone who helps an individual achieve their goals. The coach supports their colleague to come up with solutions to roadblocks that feel authentic for them. They provide guidance, support and motivation but they do not offer solutions of their own.

As Susanne Madsen says, "A coach is someone who does the opposite of command and control. They really listen and they help someone to find the answer for themselves. Coaching is a way of unleashing someone else's potential."

Coaching is a powerful way of developing your colleagues and project team members. And you can use a coaching leadership style to encourage your team to find solutions for themselves.

What is Leadership Coaching?

Leadership coaching can be defined as a process for helping leaders to achieve their goals in a tailored and structured way, with support from a coach.

Leadership coaching is a powerful way to uncover a path to success. It's personalized to the individual. The coach works alongside the leader as their champion and ally. The relationship is supportive.

The main characteristic of coaching leadership is that the coach doesn't provide the answers. There are no conversations that start, "Well, what I would do is..." Instead, the coach helps the leader reflect on different options for moving forward so the leader can identify the best route forward for themselves.

Leadership Coaching in Project Management

Leadership coaching in project management is a way to motivate and lead the team. A project coach will ask questions and listen, facilitating the process of searching for answers instead of telling people what to do. There hasn't been much research into using a coaching leadership style specifically in project management, but there are case studies about coaching in the project environment that show how effective it is.

Coaching is one of the six leadership styles. If you Google leadership styles, you’ll normally see it at the bottom of the list, as an overlooked leadership style, almost like an afterthought. But for us as project leaders, it should be at the top of the list! After all, it is the people working on our projects who get things done so we want to unlock their potential. Leadership coaching may just be the answer.

Coaching is non-directive. As a project manager, it might feel strange to work in a non-directive way, as you are used to providing direction to the team. It might also feel strange to receive coaching, as the interactions you have with the project sponsor and other senior leaders in the organization are often around decision making. In other words, you are receiving direction from them.

When Do You Use Leadership Coaching?

You can use a coaching leadership style as part of your daily interactions with the team. Here are some examples of when it is appropriate to do so.

  • When someone asks for direction on how to complete a task
  • When facilitating issue resolution or problem solving conversations
  • When you can sense the team as a whole, or an individual in the team, is worried or stressed
  • When you think someone is lacking in confidence with their project responsibilities.

For instance, if someone asks, “How do you want me to do this?” you could simply tell them what to do. However, if you take the position of a coaching leader, you would ask a question instead. Turn it around and say “What would you like to achieve?” or “What might happen if you do that?”

Leadership coaching can also be part of a structured development plan for project delivery professionals. As you grow in your career, you might have the option of working with a certified, professional coach as an opportunity made available to you by your management team.

There's a strong relationship between coaching and leadership. Leadership is something difficult to learn in a classroom setting. Working with a coach gives you the opportunity to build your leadership skills in a way that is tailored to your personal style and the organization's culture. Coaching and development go hand-in-hand. As a project leader you will coach and develop your team, and you'll also potentially be receiving coaching and development to excel in your role too.

Leadership Coaching Objectives

The main objectives of using a coaching leadership style are:

  • To develop and improve the performance of the team by helping people help themselves
  • To develop skills across the team
  • To empower individuals to take their own decisions and work independently
  • To make individuals feel supported
  • To provide feedback.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Let's consider how those objectives apply to your project environment.

  • Develop and improve the team's performance

    As a project manager, you are responsible for getting the project delivered, so you care deeply about the team's performance. An underperforming team means the project takes longer and may not deliver the required results. When you act as a project coach, you can pinpoint areas where the team needs more support and help them achieve their (and the project's) goals.
  • Develop skills across the team

    A common risk on projects is not having enough people to complete the work in a timely way. If you can develop skills across the team, people can take on more responsibility and share tasks between each other. Use your coaching abilities to support individuals in learning new skills and testing them out.
  • Empower individuals to act independently

    What's a more motivating workplace: one where you are told what to do every day, or one where your manager encourages you to make your own decisions? When you coach a colleague, you can help them consider options and come to their own conclusions about the best way forward. Empowering others to act independently also frees up your time to do something else!
  • Make individuals feel supported

    One of the benefits of coaching is that individuals feel supported. One study shows that 80% of people who receive coaching report an increase in self-confidence. Confident project team members are more likely to work independently, take the initiative and be motivated at work: all important factors for project success!
  • Provide feedback

    Coaching is also a way to provide feedback, and can be very useful for project leaders. In a project management role, you are likely to be a matrix team structure, without formal authority over members of the project team. Taking a more facilitative, conversational approach gives you the option to provide feedback constructively. A coaching leadership style will help individuals work out what to do with that feedback so they can improve performance (should they choose to).

A coach is someone who does not work in a command and control manner. Their role is to listen and help an individual find the answers from within themselves. They ask the right questions to help you move forward in whichever direction is most appropriate for them.

Coaching Leadership Styles

These are the 5 coaching styles most relevant to project leadership:
  • Democratic coaching
  • Autocratic coaching
  • Laissez-Faire coaching
  • Developmental coaching
  • Transactional coaching

A coaching leadership style is where you support and develop your team in a hands-on way. The leader takes an active interest in the team, helping them identify areas for personal and professional growth and then supporting them in achieving those developmental goals. There are different ways to go about this, so let's review those 5 different coaching styles in more detail.

  • Democratic coaching

    In democratic coaching, the person being coached has input to the whole process. They put forward their goals and objectives. Their views on how the coaching process should work are also taken into account. For example, they might set the frequency of the coaching meetings in conjunction with the coach. This is a practical and collaborative way to develop an individual's skills.
  • Autocratic coaching

    Autocratic coaching is often found in sports teams. It's where the coach decides on the goals and objectives for the person being coached. The coach also decides how those goals are going to be met. This is not a collaborative or facilitative way of approaching coaching, and would not be our preferred choice in most project situations. However, if a team member was very junior or new to the organization, this kind of directive leadership has a place.
  • Laissez-Faire coaching

    Laissez-faire can be translated as 'leave them to it' and it's a very hands-off coaching style as the name suggests. This approach works well where individuals being coached have motivation and drive, and need only minimal intervention from the coach. Leaders using this style believe that the person being coached has the ability to come up with the answers themselves.
  • Developmental coaching

    This type of coaching is specifically relevant when you are working with someone to improve their skills. You identify learning goals together and then the coach provides the support framework for the individual to reach those goals. This type of coaching can be part of a long-term plan to develop individuals into high-performing leaders for the future.
  • Transactional coaching

    Transactional coaching focuses on tasks and can be time-boxed, which makes it perfect for the deliverable-driven environment of projects. You work with someone to identify areas where they want to improve. Then come up with an action plan to help them achieve those goals.

Coach-style leadership is effective in a project management context because project leaders often don’t have full hierarchical authority over the individuals working in the team. You can use coaching styles of leadership without being someone’s line manager.

Here are some coaching leadership style examples:

  • The coaching leader works with the team to carry out a retrospective on the project, identifying how the team worked together and the strengths and weaknesses in the way the project was delivered. The leader talks to the team together, and then individually, to help each person identify something they’d like to develop further and a plan for doing so.
  • An employee receives feedback from their peers about what it is like to work with them. As a project manager using a coaching leadership style, you sit with the individual, asking probing questions and supporting them in coming up with a personal action plan for improving their skills in certain areas.
  • A project team member completes a task but the work is poor quality. Instead of telling them how to do it better, you listen to why they approached it that way, what they think of the outcome and ask questions to uncover why the work was not up to scratch. Then together you discuss alternative ways to approach the task, settling on an action plan to improve performance.

How Does Leadership Coaching Work?

You're probably asking: How can I make project coaching work for my team? Below are 5 steps to get started coaching an employee.
  • Identify the individual to be coached
  • Agree terms of engagement
  • Meet to discuss goals
  • Plan how to reach those goals
  • Check in and monitor progress
It's easy to list out 5 steps for coaching others, but what does that look like in practice? Here's a detailed guide to how to use a coaching leadership style.

Step 1

Identify the individual to be coached. They may come to you to ask for support or you may notice a performance issue that would benefit from coaching. Either way, you'll need their agreement before you can start your coaching partnership.

Step 2

Discuss and agree the 'terms of engagement'. How are you going to approach this coaching relationship? How often will you meet? How formal is it going to be? Talk about the practicalities of working together so you both know what to expect.

Step 3

Meet to discuss the individual's goals. What exactly are you helping this colleague achieve through your coaching discussions? It's OK if the goals change over time. You might start out helping them improve performance in one area only to find that once you start discussions, the issue actually lies somewhere else. As long as you both have a clear idea of the direction you're going, that's fine.

Step 4

Next you need an action plan to meet those goals. How are those goals going to be met? What steps need to be completed to fulfil the objectives? Remember, most styles of coaching let the person being coached take the lead. Unless they specifically ask you to come up with the answers, don't volunteer what you would do. Even if they do ask you for the answers, think about how you can get them to create their own roadmap for success instead of relying on you!

Step 5

Finally, plan to check in and monitor progress regularly. Provide support as required. Go back to the terms of engagement you agreed in Step 2 and schedule catch ups so you have them in the diary. Let them tell you about the progress they have made towards their goals. Be their cheerleader and keep the motivation up until they achieve what they set out to do.

If you put time and effort into how to do leadership coaching, you’ll find the results are positive. Leadership coaching supports organizational performance by empowering individuals and teams to act in a professional and independent way.

One of the principles of leadership is that leading is about people. As a project leader, you can choose when to use coaching leadership style to get the best benefit. During a project, there will be times when you have to use a directive leadership style. At other times, taking a facilitative approach will be more effective.

Leadership coaching works because it helps an individual get clear on their priorities, uncover bias, establish how to get things done and build self-awareness.

The Importance of Leadership Coaching

Leadership coaching is important because it helps project team members stay motivated and develop their skills proactively. A facilitative leadership style helps individuals identify their own areas for performance improvement and encourages the team to work on their own initiative.

Project managers love to be problem solvers because it makes us feel wanted and also keeps the project moving forward. However, solving the problem for someone else doesn’t help them think for themselves or learn from the experience.

Essentials of Leadership Coaching

We've covered a lot in this article, so let's review the essential characteristics of a good coach.
  • They are independent
  • They are great listeners
  • They understand coaching principles
  • They understand the skills required to coach someone.

Independence

Leadership coaches are independent. They try to create a situation where an individual can find the answers for themselves. It’s useful to think of leadership coaching as a technique that can be used to facilitate learning and reflection through questions. Coaches don’t provide answers and they don’t give advice about what to do or how to do it. Instead, the empower the individual to find the answers that are right for them.

Listening

Successful leadership coaches use listening effectively. What you hear is more important than your own internal dialogue, so practising listening is a good starting point for developing your own coaching skills.

Coaching Principles

Understanding coaching principles is really important. They underpin every conversation a leader has with people who are being coached. Coaching principles include self-awareness and taking responsibility for your own decisions, being accountable, asking questions, creating a safe space for conversation and letting the person being coached set the agenda.

Coaching Skills for Leaders

As a leader, you'll be in situations where you want to simply give the answer based on what you know to be the best way to tackle the problem. But stop yourself! We learn best when we come up with the answers ourselves, so a core coaching skill for leaders is to ask clarifying questions and help others come to their own conclusions. Then you can help them create a plan and challenge the things they think will hold them back from achieving that plan.

Whether you are looking to improve your skills so you can provide leadership coaching to your team, or whether you want to secure the services of a coach so you can improve your own leadership, the podcasts in our archives will help you take the first steps in learning more about this topic. Which one will you listen to first?

The discipline of leadership is complex. It's wide but it's also a lot of fun. It's also of a very high importance to a project manager because as a project manager, your technical skills take you far but they don’t take you far enough. When the project starts getting more and more complex, the leadership skills become more and more important.
Niraj Kumar, PMP

PM Podcast Episodes About Leadership Coaching

Below you'll find a few selected PM Podcast episodes that talk about the topic of leadership coaching.

Project Management Coaching: A How To Guide

In this podcast, you'll learn 10 opportunities you have to find moments to coach, mentor and support your project management colleagues and community. Project management coach Jeff Furman, PMP, shares his experience working with leaders in a variety of industries. Whether you are experienced in project management coaching and mentoring or just starting out, you'll find some great tips in this episode.

Episode Details

Jeff Furman, PMP
Jeff Furman, PMP

Supportive Leadership

As a leader, you should of course be supportive of your team, and coaching is one way to do that. But have you heard of supportive leadership as a concept? Joseph Flahiff is an expert on the topic. In this interview you’ll learn how to incorporate supportive leadership into your own project leadership almost right away. And of course we will also touch upon the main difference between supportive leadership and servant leadership. You’ll be just as surprised as I was.

Episode Details

Joseph Flahiff, PMP, PMI-ACP
Joseph Flahiff, PMP, PMI-ACP

How to Develop Your Leadership Skills

In this podcast interview, Andy Kaufmann discusses how project management differs from project leadership, if a project leader needs subject matter expertise, why he recommends that we develop capability in our teams and of course he gives us his tips on how to grow your leadership skills. Leadership coaching is a great way to improve your skills in this area.

Episode Details

Andy Kaufmann and Cornelius Fichtner
Andy Kaufmann and Cornelius Fichtner

Coaching, Mentoring, Training & Motivational Techniques

Every project that you have ever and will ever manage depends on people’s skills. In this episode with coaching expert Susanne Madsen, you'll learn tips and tricks for helping your team succeed. With motivation and coaching skills leadership, you can make a huge difference to how supported your team members feel when working on your project. And we know that better motivation tends to lead to higher engagement and therefore better outcomes. Learn more in this podcast!

Episode Details

Susanne Madsen
Susanne Madsen

See more episodes on coaching

Summary

Coaches take the time to look at the goals. They uncover the problem that needs to be solved, or the objective that needs to be achieved. When you can help someone understand what they are moving towards, it’s easier for them to see the next steps. Then the individual being coached can create an action plan to help them close the gap and achieve their goals.

We have some great interviews with expert coaches in a range of different fields, so dive in and you’ll soon learn more about the topic!

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Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

How to Develop Emotional Awareness at Work

An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence

You’ve probably heard of the term emotional intelligence before. It’s a way of thinking about how we impact the people around us. As project managers and leaders, it’s very important to be conscious of the impact we are having so we make the right impression at the right time.

Emotional intelligence is also known as EI or emotional quotient (EQ). Think of it as your emotional IQ. These skills can also help with negotiating and conflict resolution: as you can see, developing your EQ can have a positive impact on being able to lead your project team!

In the podcast episodes below, you’ll learn about the interpersonal skills required to help your team deliver their best work, create a positive environment and a supportive project culture. You can influence the way your team feels and behaves, simply by tuning into your emotional awareness and making the right choices for the situation. Let our expert podcast guests show you how.

Emotional Intelligence Tools for Smoother Projects

Listen now to this featured Podcast on Emotional Intelligence.

In this interview with expert Kim Wasson we discuss practical applications of emotional intelligence tools for everything from communications to meetings to celebrations to managing remote teams. You'll learn to recognize both emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence signals and use them to tailor communications and daily operations.
Kim Wasson with Cornelius Fichtner
Kim Wasson with Cornelius Fichtner
Please scroll down to see the full list of our Emotional Intelligence podcasts.

Jump to full podcast list

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is your ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and use them to respond appropriately to others, while recognizing and acknowledging their feelings too. EI helps you adjust the way you respond to get the best outcome in a situation.

If you already have a project management certification, or are studying to earn one, then you’ve probably come across the term ‘interpersonal skills.’ Leadership, team building, motivation, negotiation or trust building are some of the terms you’ll find under that umbrella. But there is another dimension to those soft skills that you need as a project leader.

And that is emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the term given to the way we can monitor our own emotions and the emotions of others. From there, we use the clues and information we pick up to guide our actions so that they can be as effective as possible. In other words, EI is being able to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and others.

What are the 5 Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence?

According to Daniel Goleman, who popularized the concept, the 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence are:
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills.
But what do those terms really mean, and how do you apply them to your work in a project setting? Let's investigate further.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness simply means that you are conscious of your own emotions as they happen, and how they might affect your actions and those of others. Tap into how you feel at work and acknowledge that. It's OK to be frustrate if your project sponsor overrules a decision you made, or someone fails to complete a task on time, despite telling you yesterday that everything was on track.

Self-regulation

Do you make decisions in haste, or are you quick to say things you then regret later? Criticizing others is something that psychologist Nick Wignall says emotionally intelligent people don't do. Self-regulation is the skill of keeping yourself in control and thinking before you speak and act. Project environments can be fast-paced, highly charged and constantly changing, so having a leader who is calm and considered makes a positive difference to the team.

Motivation

Project managers tend to be motivated people, because they need the tenacity and drive to deliver a project successfully. Motivation is one of the components of EQ. It helps you consistently achieve your goals and push yourself to ensure a quality result in what you want to achieve.

Empathy

Leaders with high EI are empathetic. They see things from others' perspectives, which is essential in a project setting because it ensures the end result meets stakeholders' expectations. Empathy also extends to the way you interact with your team and colleagues. Think about how you can develop their skills in ways that help them meet their own personal career goals.

Social skills

Finally, project professionals should demonstrate social skills that enable them to work with leaders across the business and people at all levels. Social skills include behaviors we typically think of as interpersonal skills, like conflict resolution, communication and facilitating change. These skills help set you apart as a project leader because they ensure the team can operate effectively.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Project Leaders

Emotional ability is important for project leaders because:
  • It helps you work effectively with others
  • It helps you engage your team
  • It makes you better at your job.
Yes, EI really does have the power to make that much of an impact to you and your project team! There are huge benefits to demonstrating emotionally intelligent leadership, as explained below.

  • It helps you work effectively with others

    Strong emotional quotient makes it easier for you to 'get along' with others. You won't necessarily realize you're doing it, and neither will they, but you will draw on your ability to recognize and respond to feelings at work to get the best out of any interaction. On project teams where the individuals have not worked together before, this awareness can help people feel understood, respected and trusted.
  • It helps you engage your team

    As well as facilitating getting the work done, EI is important for engagement. You can communicate better, inspire others to achieve the project's vision, encourage and lead. When people want to work on a project and are engaged with their tasks, they are empowered to be more consistent and motivated.
  • It makes you better at your job

    EI is twice as important as technical skills or IQ, according to Harvard Business Review. In the top managers, it accounts for nearly 90% of the difference between average performers and those who excel in their jobs. Paying attention to your social awareness skills really will give your career a boost!

As a project manager, you can see why emotional intelligence in leadership is important. Whether you are leading multi-million dollar projects or small initiatives for your department, you’ll be working with others, building interest in the project, asking people to do tasks and then following up with them. Using your interpersonal skills can make those activities more effective and less stressful for everyone.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Project Management

EQ means picking up on the clues people give out. Is someone on the team desperate to get more involved in the project and learn from you? Is someone struggling with something at work (or even outside of work)? The more alert you are to the challenges facing your team, the more you can tailor your leadership style to fit their needs.

Ultimately, emotional intelligence and leadership is all about creating a positive working environment where you, as the project lead, can remove roadblocks and help the people on the team deliver the project successfully.

Aspects of emotional and social awareness include strong connected leadership, the ability to handle problems gracefully and being able to create and support effective teams using principles from the world of social and emotional intelligence translated into project management tools and techniques.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

You can improve your emotional intelligence. Here are 5 steps you can take to build your skills.

  • Be reflective
  • Take a self-assessment
  • Be accountable for your actions
  • Manage stress
  • Consider others

Be reflective

Reflect honestly about how you react to situations at work. Put some time aside to consider recent scenarios where you have been proud of how you responded to a situation on your project, and where you have not been proud of how you handled yourself. Think about why those situations happened and what you could have done to create a different outcome.

Take a self-assessment

Ask for feedback. You can also do a self-evaluation to review your strengths and weaknesses as a project leader. What areas could you work on? Many HR departments offer leadership assessments or 360-degree feedback activities. Talk to your manager to see if you could access what is available.

Be accountable for your actions

Leaders recognize and acknowledge when they could have done something better, and they own their mistakes. We all know that mistakes happen, so when they do, take action and apologize. You can't undo the past, but you can take responsibility for your behavior.

Manage stress

Think about how you react to stressful situations at work. Do you see the same reactions in others when they are under pressure? How can you mitigate or manage those reactions in yourself and others? Think about why others may react differently to you.

Consider others

Considering others is fundamental to demonstrating your EI at work. Think about how your actions will affect others on the team before you act on a decision. How would you feel if you suddenly heard about that decision? Are there ways you can help the team better respond to the decision? Put yourself in their position and try to see things from the other person's point of view.

Developing emotional intelligence simply means paying attention and building self-awareness. Take the time to be conscious of the way your actions affect others. If someone is having a bad day, you asking them for a project status update in the next 30 minutes could make it even more unpleasant for them. Instead, if you plan out when you need status updates and provide adequate notice, they can manage your requests without feeling over-burdened.

You already have a level of EQ, but how much do you listen to it and try to improve your skills in this area? The podcasts on this page are a curated collection of interviews with experts in the field. They have some amazing insights and practical tips to share with you. Why not add these episodes to your podcast queue now?

The most challenging problems we deal with are in the interactions between people. We need to focus on the underlying mechanisms that drive behavior, thoughts, feelings and emotions. It's critical, especially in the leadership aspect of project management, that we leverage this knowledge.
Samad Aidane

PM Podcast Episodes on Emotional Intelligence

Below you'll find a curated selection of podcasts on emotional intelligence in a project environment. This is just a small selection of the podcasts we have available on interpersonal skills and leadership topics.

Interpersonal Skills in Project Management

In this interview we look at why you should care about interpersonal skills, behavior styles and motivators, the emotional wake, organizational culture and politics. You'll also takeaway some tips about the all important topics of conflict management and coaching.

Episode Details

Kristy Tan Neckowicz and Dev Ramcharan with Cornelius Fichtner
Kristy Tan Neckowicz and Dev Ramcharan with Cornelius Fichtner

Mindfulness for Project Managers

Mindfulness as a business practice and leadership tool has seen a significant increase in press coverage lately. It originally started out as a means for improving yourself and your interactions with others but you will find that many leadership articles in the large business journals will make reference to it. In this interview with Margaret Meloni we look at mindfulness in project management. You'll learn what it is, the benefits, but most importantly we go through a number of familiar project management situations to see how mindfulness will help us improve and become better leaders.

Episode Details

Margarent Meloni, MBA, PMP
Margarent Meloni, MBA, PMP

Situational Awareness for Project Managers

Every project manager needs to master situational awareness. That is because no two projects are perfectly alike. What worked last time may have to be tweaked next time. Even worse, what may have worked just yesterday may have to be tweaked today! In this interview we look at situational awareness in project management and how that links to EQ.

Episode Details

Wanda Curlee and Cornelius Fichtner
Wanda Curlee and Cornelius Fichtner

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

At its core project management is all about effectively leading your team. Therefore emotional intelligence for project managers and project leaders can be just as important (if not more) than knowing how to interpret the latest earned value data.

Episode Details

Kim Wasson and Cornelius Fichtner
Kim Wasson and Cornelius Fichtner

See more episodes on Emotional Intelligence

Summary

Emotional intelligence can’t be ignored in project management. As so much of the work you do is with teams, it’s so important to know how to get the best out of your working relationships with others.

The good news is that it’s easy to start improving your EI skills. The more you are aware of what you are doing and how other people are reacting to your management style, the more you can start to shift your own behavior and that of others. We can all work on building emotionally intelligent workplaces that treat people as people instead of simply ‘project resources’.

We have plenty of relevant podcast episodes on this topic, so pick a few and start listening to improve your skills!

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Earned Value Management

Earned Value Management (EVM)

All about Earned Value Analysis in Project Management

Why Earned Value Management is the Key to Control and How to Do It

Have you been asked to use Earned Value Management (EVM) on your projects or do you want to learn more about it? You're in the right place!

In this article we'll first cover an earned value management definition so you're clear on what it is, and then discuss EVM principles, metrics, best practices and earned value management systems.

EVM has its foundations in being able to monitor, track and control scope, schedule and budget on the project, and has been used by NASA and on projects like the delivery of Olympic parks. In our EVM resources you’ll find a range of topics relating to how to keep your project on track. New to EVM? Start with the featured podcast and you’ll pick up the basics in no time!

An Introduction to Earned Value Management

Listen now to this featured podcast for earned value management.

In this featured podcast you'll get a refresher on the basics with an introduction to earned value management on projects. By the end of this episode with host Cornelius Fichtner, you'll know how earned value came to be, how it works and you'll have a good understanding of its benefits and shortcomings.

If you've never used or even heard of earned value before, this is the place to start!

Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Please scroll down to see the full list of our podcasts on topics related to EVM.

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What is Earned Value Management?

Earned Value Management is a systematic approach to integrating and measuring cost, schedule and scope achievements at a project or task level. It’s a way of objectively understanding what is happening on the project so you can make data-driven decisions.
EVM is a method of measuring actual work performed on a project, in a more robust way than simply taking a look at the project schedule and budget. EVM helps us measure in terms of progress achieved. You can use that information to more accurately forecast completion dates and the total cost.

EVM in Project Management

EVM is an area of project management where many processes and knowledge areas link together. You need to understand scope management, cost management, schedule and time management, and the change control procedures that help manage scope creep. And you need to be able to interpret the data, so having a head for figures can help.

Of course, even if you aren’t mathematically-minded, you can still use EVM. There are processes and templates to help. Once you know the fundamentals, you can apply the principles to any project and interpret the results.

Earned Value Management: A Definition of Terms

Earned Value Analysis (EVA)

Earned Value Analysis is the specific data analysis technique used for monitoring and controlling the work. Use specific formulas to calculate EVM metrics. Consider this the mathematical part!

Earned Value Management System (EVMS)

Your ‘Earned Value Management System’ is the set of processes and procedures used to deliver EVM metrics. It also refers to the tools and templates used to carry out the data analysis and present the results. These tools can be useful to help you calculate the Earned Value indicators regularly and display the resulting graphs. In other words, EVMS is a term that refers to the way you do Earned Value management on your project.

Essential Elements of EVM

The essential elements of EVM are:
  • Scope management
  • Cost management
  • Schedule and time management
  • Change control procedures

Earned value in project management is an area where many processes and PM Knowledge Areas link together. You need to understand how to manage project scope, budgeting, scheduling and how to implement the procedures that help manage scope creep. And you need to be able to interpret the data, so having a head for figures can help.

Here's how those elements come into play when working out the metrics.

  • Scope management

    The building blocks of EVM are found in your approach to scope management: your scope items. You'll get these from the work breakdown structure for the project. It's essential that you have a detailed and accurate scope because delivering that is how you track progress and ultimately 'value'.
  • Cost management

    The next important element is cost management. For each scope item, you need to have a predicted budget. This is the charge or cost of each deliverable. You'll need a detailed budget that breaks down to component level so you can accurately track project spending against the anticipated levels.
  • Schedule and time management

    Next, you'll need a detailed project schedule that includes all the scope items. Take a baseline of the project schedule and make sure that all the dependencies are included between the tasks. You'll use this as the timeline against which to track project progress.
  • Change control procedures

    Realistically, every project changes something as it goes along. Your role as the project manager is to make sure those changes are adequately assessed and incorporated into the schedule and budget. You'll need change control procedures in place to do that. These are normally documented within your project management plan. With a clear process for dealing with changes, you can adapt and update any of your metrics and plans to ensure you are always tracking against the latest situation.

EVM is truly an area where the maxim ‘garbage in, garbage out’ holds true. You can only report and track real-time project performance measures where you have accurate underlying data. If your team members do not keep their task statuses up-to-date, or input their time spent on an activity, then you will have difficulty drawing conclusions from your EVM reports.

How to Calculate Earned Value

The approach for Earned Value calculation uses several indicators. Below you’ll find a description of the main formulas and how they are calculated.

Planned Value (PV)

Planned Value (PV) is a simple starting point. It relates to the cost of the planned work. You may also see it referred to as Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS). Planned Value is measured in financial terms. The total PV for the entire project is called Budget at Completion (BAC). So you can see that the PV for a task is simply the budget for that task. You can calculate this by taking the cost for the Work Package or portion of the project you are looking at. If you need to calculate PV of a task that is part-way through, multiply the amount of progress by the budget. PV = task budget x percent complete.

For example, if a task is supposed to be 60% complete and has a budget of $10,000 then PV = $10,000 x 60% = $6,000.


Earned Value (EV)

‘Earned Value’ measures project progress. It’s a way of describing how much the work done so far is ‘worth’. Again, it's expressed in monetary terms so the result will always be a currency figure. You will also hear EV referred to as Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP), and that description (we think) makes it easier to understand what you are actually calculating.

EV is calculated by taking the percent complete of a Work Package and multiplying it by the budget for that activity. EV = % complete * BAC. Let's use the same example task as when we calculated PV to show the working.

The task is actually 40% complete and has a budget of $10,000. EV = $10,000 x 40% = $4,000.


Actual Cost (AC)

The actual cost is – as you would expect – a measure of how much of the budget has been spent during a certain time period.

There is no calculation for this: simply look at the budget spreadsheet and take the amount that has been spent.


Cost Variance (CV)

The Cost Variance tells you how much over or under budget you are at any given time.

The formula is CV = EV-AC .

Taking our sample task, if we know the EV is $4,000, we can work out the CV using the actual cost. Let's say the actual cost of the work so far is $2,000. CV = $4,000 - $2,000 = $2,000.

In this example, the result is positive, showing we are under the planned cost. In real life, you probably wouldn't see such a substantive cost variance but perhaps on this change initiative the team found a clever way to deliver the task cheaply!


That is EVM in summary! The indicators calculated let project managers compare actual progress to planned progress in monetary terms.

Don't worry if right now the formulas feel difficult. You'll soon get the hang of it, and it helps to have people to talk to about how to use EV in practice. Our forums offer lots of support and there's probably a student who has asked the same question you have, like this discussion on the difference between EV and AC.

Of course, even if you aren’t mathematically-minded, you can still use EVM. There are processes and templates to help. Once you know the fundamentals, you can apply the principles to any project and interpret the results.

Benefits of EVM

There are lots of advantages to using EVM on your programs. Here are the top benefits:

  • Predict project performance
  • Avoid scope creep
  • Forecast expenditure accurately
  • Communicate progress objectively

These are the kinds of benefit you might read in a proposal to bring Earned Value to the PMO, but what do they actually mean to you as a leader? Let's explain the advantages that this way of tracking progress can bring for you and the team.

  • Predict project performance

    One of the biggest advantages to using EVM to monitor project performance is that it can quickly alert you to trends. You can easily see if progress is slowing down so you can take corrective action in a timely manner. This is a huge benefit for a busy project or program manager because you've got objective, up-to-date data that is showing you the truth about performance and progress including how likely it is that you'll hit your ultimate milestones and budget.
  • Avoid scope creep

    Your value management system can help you avoid scope creep and reduce risk because it surfaces information to help you see what is going on in the project. What would happen if you approved that change and added extra requirements into scope? Metrics and EV reporting can help you model and predict whether or not you can still achieve your goals.
  • Forecast expenditure accurately

    You'll see another benefit in forecasting and budget planning as well. This can be really useful to your capital investment and Finance teams because it helps them understand when the money will be leaving the business. They can better manage operational cash flow with that data, and your supplier invoices will be paid on time.
  • Communicate progress objectively

    A further benefit of Earned Value Management is that you can use the data to communicate progress in an objective way. This helps with ensuring people take accountability for their work and can focus the minds of executive stakeholders when it comes to decision making!

Limitations of EVM

The main limitations of EVM are:

  • It will tell you the variance but not what to do about it
  • Reporting is only as good as the underlying data
  • Stakeholders find the reporting complicated to understand
  • The process has limited use for Agile projects
  • There's no measure for quality
Let's explore those limitations so you can decide if taking this kind of objective performance tracking approach is going to suit the work you do.

It will tell you the variance but not what to do about it

The output from your calculations will tell you there is a variance in the actual plan compared to what you had forecast. That's useful data, but it isn't the whole picture.

Let's face it: EVM is just math. The metrics still need to be interpreted, understood and acted on. You'll need to use your professional judgement for that.

Reporting is only as good as the underlying data

Your EVM analysis and information is only as good as the data you feed into the Earned Value Management formulas. There are many variables, and therefore plenty of places where the data analysis could go a little bit wrong. Your data has to be up-to-date and realistic to be any use. That might be difficult in teams where people are not used to reporting in real-time or measuring progress in this way.

In particular, timesheet data needs to be accurate and captured quickly so it can be fed into the system and used to calculate real progress. If your team doesn't track time today, moving to a system where they do have to measure the time spent on tasks could be a challenge -- let alone the additional overhead of introducing EVM principles.

Stakeholders find the reporting difficult to understand

OK, not all stakeholders will find the reports from EVM difficult to understand but some of them definitely will if they haven't used this kind of progress tracking before.

If you are going to use Earned Value Management techniques for tracking progress, it’s important to get buy in from stakeholders and team members. Often, people haven’t had exposure to this powerful way of measuring project performance. And you want them to support you implementing this new technique. Talk to them about the benefits of project control and how useful the data will be, and make the changes slowly and with support.

The process has limited use for Agile projects

In order to get the most out of the earned value tracking approach, you need a full work breakdown structure and full-costed budget as a baseline. Without those elements, your reporting isn't going to be much use.

You'll have those if you work in a predictive project environment that mainly follows the Waterfall approach to delivery. However, if you work on Agile projects, or even in a hybrid environment, you may not have enough concrete detail at the start of the project to feed into your EVMS.

That's not necessarily a problem. There are other tools you can use to track progress on Agile, iterative and hybrid projects. But don't try to use EVM and then wonder why the results aren't that good: it really does need you to have a clear plan that you intend to follow.

There's no measure for quality

The 'value' in earned value is to do with time and cost. The reporting focuses heavily on whether or not your work is on time and progressing to schedule, and hitting the expected financial targets.

In other words, the technique does not care much about quality. As long as you are on track and not overspending, your reports will look good. The results you are delivering could be low quality and failing to meet customer expectations, but EVM won't give you any indication of that.

You do have other ways to investigate and track project quality, as you will have documented in a quality management plan. You would also expect that if the deliverables are not fit for purpose, you'll see a lot of change requests coming through as stakeholders get to see parts of the project that are being delivered. However, it's worth bearing in mind that progress is not the same as quality and you will need other, proactive ways to satisfy yourself that what you are doing is delivering an output that meets stakeholder needs.

How to Measure Earned Value Management for Project Performance

Here’s a quick overview of the different steps involved in setting up a basic EVM framework for your project.

Step 1

Define the project scope (objectives and deliverables).
First, define the scope of the project and list all the deliverables. The easiest way to do this is to use the work breakdown structure to document all the things that the project will deliver.

Step 2

Determine who will perform the work.
Next, make sure you've got a resource available to do each piece of work. This is important because different resources are changed at different amounts and you will need to know the overall cost for the activity. That includes the resource cost for the person doing the task. Knowing who is responsible for the work also helps you with the next step.

Step 3

Plan and schedule the work.
Work with the assigned resource to plan and schedule the work. Establish what dependencies there are around each task and make sure these are taken into consideration when you put the project timeline together. Build a schedule using your project management software as you'll need to capture a baseline as something to compare back to.

Step 4

Estimate the required resources and formally authorize budgets.
Now you know how long each task will take and you have a project schedule, you can formally complete the estimates for project cost. Take the resource costs, along with any other equipment or costs required to deliver the work, and prepare your overall budget. Take this to your project sponsor for authorization. The formal budget is what you will use to compare actual spend against forecasted spend.

Step 5

Determine the metrics you will use to convert Planned Value into Earned Value.
What measures are you going to use to mark a task as complete (and thus having earned its value)? Typically, milestones are used for bigger chunks of work, but you'll need a way of measuring 'done' on each task. Percent complete is one way of doing this.

Step 6

Create a performance measurement baseline and agree the points of management control. These are known as Control Account Plans.
A control account plan (CAP) is simply a way of documenting how several tasks together will be managed under a single budget. You might not need to set up CAPs on your project if the tasks can be managed independently of each other. However, they can be a useful tool for a team leader as they provide a way of consolidating and tracking the work of a team on various tasks.

Step 7

Record all the project’s direct costs.
Use your budget management system and timesheet data to record all the project's direct costs. This is expenditure specifically related to the project. You probably do this anyway because you'll need that information to track the project budget.

Step 8

Monitor the Earned Value performance to determine where cost and schedule no longer align to the baseline plan. These are schedule variances and cost variances.
This is the step where the magic happens! You've got detailed scope and costs that are tracked at a level that allows them to be linked to work. Use this information to create your EVM metrics and create the reports. The reports will let you see where the schedule and cost metrics are no longer tracking along the predicted course. Calculate, report and track schedule and cost variances, acting on the information they give you.

Step 9

Use the Earned Value data to forecast the anticipated project costs based on actual performance and communicate this if it is different to your approved budget.

Another hugely useful part of EVM comes into play here: you can use the data to forecast project performance. Based on the current performance, you can extrapolate the data and work out what your cost at completion is likely to be. Your project sponsor will find that information valuable because it helps inform decisions about whether the project is still viable and what the total expected budget is likely to be.

The same goes for timelines. Share the anticipated delivery dates with the customer so they are aware of any potential delays.


Step 10

Actively manage project scope and incorporate any approved changes into the baseline so you can track against the new expectations.
Finally, take action using what you know. You've got access to rich, detailed information on project performance but EVM reports won't tell you what to do with that information. You will have to work with the team and your sponsor to establish the best course of action to either accept delays and overspend or curb what is happening on the project so it remains possible to deliver on time and within budget.

EVM Best Practices

EVM is a complicated topic, and whole books have been written about it. Here are some best practices and next steps for you to act on if you want to get started.
  • Use a Work Breakdown Structure to organize the project scope.
  • Create a logical schedule, with a hierarchical breakdown and adequate milestones.
  • Be ‘hands-on’ with managing the budget, making sure costs are allocated to time-boxed sections of the project.
  • Think about how you are going to measure progress so you can calculate the indicators effectively and consistently.
Jump into EVM! If you are going to do it, embrace it and use the data for calculating variances, forecasting cost at completion and making changes to the schedule to ensure you stay on track. We would also suggest that you dive deeper into the materials, starting with our curated selection of podcasts, to help you broaden your knowledge of the subject.
It’s time for singular ownership and accountability for organizational strategic planning and execution. It’s time for dedicated focus on organizational resource planning, allocation and utilization. It’s time for focused attention regarding return on investment, earned value on execution, appropriate risk management and post-execution benefit capture. And finally, it’s time for single-sourced, unambiguous communication regarding strategic balance, allocation of resources and prioritization of the directives that constitute the portfolio of investments that the organization makes on its own behalf.
Paul R. Williams, PMP

PM Podcast Episodes for Earned Value Management.

In this section you'll find a curated selection of podcast episodes that cover a range of topics related to EVM in projects. Whether you are just starting out or have experience in this area, you are sure to find something relevant to you.

Simple Earned Value Management for Your Project

In this episode with management expert Quentin Fleming, you'll hear more about the history of earned value in project management. You'll take away 10 clear steps for implementing EVM as a technique on your project. This simple approach will help you get started quickly.

Episode Details

Quentin Fleming
Quentin Fleming

Understanding Project Metrics

In this episode, you'll hear about project metrics. You will learn what makes a 'good' metric, how metrics should be developed, and that we also need specific project metrics and project portfolio metrics.

Episode Details

Denise McRoberts and Cornelius Fichtner
Denise McRoberts and Cornelius Fichtner

Planning and Controlling Mega Projects

Earned Value is often used in mega project management to provide monitoring and control, as well as early warning signals for projects that go off track. Mega projects are characterized by high value (often defined as greater than $1 billion), comparably high benefits, years-long timelines, and correspondingly high risk. In this interview Frank Parth looks at the classical project management approaches that focus on delivering the final product within cost and schedule constraints once the project enters the execution phase. You'll take away an understanding of the challenges of projects at this scale.

Episode Details

Frank Parth
Frank Parth

See more episodes on Project Schedule Management

Summary

Earned Value Management is often considered an advanced project management technique as it is not required on all projects. Many businesses choose to track project performance in other ways. Many executive stakeholders have never seen EVM reports before and are not sure how to interpret and use them.

However, EVM is a powerful tool for providing data to help decision making. It tracks performance like no other metric. Once you’ve made the move to earned value, you won’t look back!

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Project Management Software

Project Management Software

How to Choose PM Software

Project Management Software

The right project management software can help you surface useful data for decision-making on your project. It streamlines reporting, makes it easy for project team members to see what they need to do, and facilitates collaboration. In short, the right software tools help you deliver your project faster, more easily, and with everyone pulling in the same direction.

There are hundreds of software applications for project managers and teams. How do you know what the right tools are for your organization? In this collection of podcasts, we cover all kinds of questions about project management software, including how to decide on the best tools for your PMO.

Project Management Software: Featured Podcast


No matter what industry you are in, having the right PMO tools at your disposal can make a significant difference. In a PMO environment, tools provide administrative support and decision support information. But what are the right tools and how do we identify them?

In this premium episode of The Project Management Podcast, we uncover the best ways to determine what the right tools are for your organization.
Hussain Bandukwala, PMO Coach
Hussain Bandukwala, PMO Coach
Please scroll down to see the full list of our Project Management software podcasts.

Subscribe to listen to this podcast

What is Project Management Software?

Project management software is the tool used by a team to help plan, manage and track progress towards the project's goals.
There are dozens of popular project management software tools, each offering their own take on how to manage your work. Teams choose to use apps for workload management because software helps you control and manage what you are working on, reducing the overwhelm for the team and providing a structured way to approach the project.

Types of Project Management Software

Project management software serves many different purposes in an organization. For example, apps are used for project reporting, scheduling, estimating, discussion and tracking time.

Project management tools fall into several categories, depending on their functionality. Here are the main categories.

  • Collaboration software
  • Workflow software
  • Task management software
  • Enterprise project management tools
  • Portfolio management software

As you can see, there is quite a lot of choice, ranging from simple solutions for To Do list apps through to fully-featured enterprise-grade PM solutions to manage large complex programs across multiple sites and teams. You might find that your perfect product is a hybrid choice that fits across a couple of these categories, or you might decide a simple solution is the best.

Below we explain more about those categories to help you narrow your search.

Collaboration software

Collaboration tools allow the team to work together. They incorporate ‘chat’ or discussion features, document sharing and commenting, whiteboards and conferencing. Examples of tools used for collaboration are Slack, Google Suite and Microsoft Teams. These solutions are great for virtual teams or teams where several members work remotely from everyone else. However, they don't typically include features for managing tasks, so you'll have to integrate your To Do list app as well.

Workflow software

Workflow software is designed to handle ongoing tasks and repetitive processes, but it has a place in project and program management too. Workflows are useful for managing handoffs between individuals, or passing tasks to a colleague for review and approval. Many teams manage projects and ‘business as usual’ work and need one system to do it all. Examples of tools for managing workflow are Jira, Asana and Kanban board apps.

Task management software

Most robust project management tools have an element of task management in them, as well as the other features, but you can also get standalone apps for managing To Do lists. These task management apps, like Trello and Asana, are good if you don’t need to see a Gantt chart or do capacity planning for resources. To Do apps are best for teams with low levels of complexity in their work where you simply need to keep track of everyone's tasks in a transparent way.

Enterprise project management tools

While you can manage projects with any of the above types of tool, it’s far easier and more common to use a fully-featured project or program management platform, especially in a medium or large organization where managing projects according to a structured approach is part of the culture of doing the work.

There are lots of these available on the market including Microsoft Project, Wrike, Workfront, LiquidPlanner, Teamwork Projects and a range of agile project management software solutions for teams needing features like burndown charts. They manage the full project life cycle with all the features you need to monitor and control your project.

Portfolio management software

Project portfolio management tools are designed to show you the big picture across a number of programs and projects within the business. These are great PMO tools because they consolidate data from individual projects to give an overview of what is happening with all change projects across the enterprise. You find this type of solution in large organizations running multiple projects with a degree of project management maturity and an executive team who want to see portfolio-level reporting.

Common Features in Project Management Software

Project, program and portfolio management systems have many features and tools in common. It’s helpful to understand what the tools do so you can make the right choice when choosing one for your workplace.

Here are some of the features you should look for in a PM app.

  • Scheduling and task management
  • Resource allocation
  • Time tracking
  • Reporting
  • Teamwork
Most tools will offer these features, but how they implement them and how you use them will differ. Below we explain how many teams use these features and why you would want them in the product you select for your own team. However, remember that your team is unique so if you need something else (or don't need one of the features here) that's fine. What's important is that your working practices suit your environment and organizational culture.

Scheduling and task management

It’s crucial for project teams to be able to plan dates for deliverables so that the overall duration of the project can be calculated. Scheduling features let you visualize the project timeline, whether that’s on a Kanban board, roadmap or a Gantt chart. At the task level, you can link tasks with dependencies so you can see how the work flows together. Some tools include automations that let you alert team members when tasks are due to start or complete – so no excuses for not getting the work done!

Resource allocation

People need to know what work they are responsible for. Each task on the schedule needs an owner. Each team member should be able to see what their upcoming work is, and resource dashboards let them do that. Advanced resource management features can help you with capacity planning, resource forecasting and ensuring that no one is overloaded.

Time tracking

Time tracking features allow you to calculate how much effort has been spent on a particular task. Team members can use timesheets, or manually add time spent so you can compare that to the estimate. Time tracking data is really useful for future projects because it provides detailed information about how long the work takes. This informs the estimating process for next time.

Reporting

All this data is no good unless you can easily get it out again. Many enterprise project management tools come with built-in dashboards and reports to help you review project progress. Data can be consolidated at the program or portfolio level for cross-project reporting. This gives executives and the PMO an overall view of what is happening with project delivery.

Teamwork

Look for collaboration features that help the team work together. For example, document sharing, message boards and wikis. Anything that helps the team consolidate and share knowledge and work efficiently will be good here.

The way you want to use tools for managing projects will determine what kind of systems are most appropriate for your PMO. The way you manage work will also be a factor in deciding what kinds of tools are best for you.

For instance, if you work in an international team, you may want a product that can cope with different currencies and help with collaboration across time zones. If you work in a team using Agile approaches, you’ll need a tool that supports the way you work. Some teams will need a lot of enterprise-grade and advanced features to meet the requirements of clients; others will need a simple tool for tracking tasks and dates.

What Makes Good Project Management Software?

Good project management software is:
  • Easy to use, even if you are on the road
  • Intuitive, with a low learning curve so the team can get started quickly
  • Fast and responsive
  • Secure, with different permission levels so everyone sees what they need
  • Easy to support, with good customer service from the provider
  • Suitable for your environment, whether that’s an online project management tool or an on-premise solution
  • The right price, whether you are looking for a free project management tool or something with robust support and a per user fee.

You’ll be using your project management tool every day, making small changes to the schedule, updating actual performance and collaborating with the team. Look for features you’ll use daily!

  • Easy to use

    More and more work is done on mobile devices and tablets these days, especially with project teams who need to work from home or who are visiting client sites. Some PM jobs have a high amount of travel, and the tools you choose should reflect how your teams work. Select a product that feels like a natural extension of how they work already so it fits easily into the suite of software they use every day.
  • Intuitive

    Another consideration is that you may be using expert input from people who are not familiar with using PM tools. The software you choose should be user friendly for everyone on the team, not just the core members who are using the product every day. Choose a solution with an interface that feels familiar or that integrates seamlessly with tools they already use so they don't have too much to learn. If the tool is difficult to learn, they won't use it!
  • Fast and responsive

    How frustrating is it to sit there while a web page loads? It's annoying, and project teams often work in high-speed, pressurized environments where waiting for reports is something they simply aren't prepared to do. Check the speed of the products you have shortlisted. They need to work well even when the wifi isn't great because no one wants to spend time updating their Gantt chart only for it fail to save before the site times out.
  • Secure user permissions

    The app you choose should have different levels of security permissions, even if you are only a small team. Someone needs to have the admin role which has permission to add new users. Everyone else need access to review and edit their own tasks and see the overall work schedule for the team. You may also need additional roles, so that suppliers or other third parties can access the project plans. Finally, consider what system access managers will need. You could build them custom dashboards for reporting purposes, so they can instantly see information relevant to them.
  • Good support

    User support comes at lots of different levels. The simplest is a collection of help files and videos online as a user guide. The most advanced is telephone or on-site support from a dedicated customer service professional from the vendor. If you are installing an enterprise-wide tool and investing a lot of money in your new software, then you may get support offered because the vendor will want your teams to get started quickly and begin to see the value in the product. Think about your team, what you are asking them to use the app for, and how much support they are likely to need.
  • Suitable for your organization

    Some industries, like government and healthcare, have been slow to adopt cloud-based solutions because of security concerns and regulation. Other industries have embraced Software-as-a-Service models for speed and cost-effectiveness. Talk to your IT team about the kind of software that is appropriate for your organization. You'll also want to look at what it needs to integrate with as building interfaces with other apps is extremely useful but also time-consuming.
  • Price

    Finally, you need to consider the price. Free project management tools exist, but you'll only have access to limited features and may not be able to use the tool commercially. Check the licence model for the products you are interested in. Many tools are cheaper the more users you have, so there is an incentive to rollout the app to everyone in the business.

Project management software also needs to be implemented in the team with the appropriate change management techniques. You will probably have to train colleagues on how to use it efficiently, and over time the PMO may become the owner of software inductions for new starters.

Choosing a Project Management Software Platform

There is no right or wrong answer to what project management software is the best fit for your team, and you’ll find your needs change over time. When you come to select a product, it’s a good idea to think forward about how you want to develop the offerings of the PMO and what functionality would be needed to support that.

Here's a simple process for selecting the right app for your team.

  • Step 1: List your requirements
  • Step 2: Review the market
  • Step 3: Make a shortlist
  • Step 4: Demo the tools
  • Step 5: Make a decision
The more people involved in selecting the product, the more complicated the decision-making process becomes. However, it is best to get a wide range of views because you'll end up selecting a tool that better fits your needs. One method that we commonly see is all team members providing their input about what they would like the tool to do and then a smaller committee reviewing products and making the decision. Here is the process to follow.

Step 1

List your requirements

Make a list of the must-have features for your project app. The sections above will give you a good starting point for the top considerations, depending on how your team works. Get input from the users as well, so you create a comprehensive requirements list.

Step 2

Review the market

Next, take a look at the market and find out what is available. Look for recommendations on comparison sites, or reviews from people in a similar industry to you. Talk to your partners or vendors and see what they use to get ideas about what might be a suitable fit for your organization.

Step 3

Make a shortlist

Once you've done some general market research, it's time to narrow down your search to a shortlist of products. Take your requirements and compare them to what the products can do. Most software websites have a list of features so you should be able to easily review whether or not the tool can meet your needs -- on paper, at least.

Step 4

Demo the tools

Now you want to put those features to the test by testing out the products on your shortlist. Sign up for demo accounts or free trials and start to test the apps. Ask your colleagues to do the same. If there are only a couple you want to try, you can contact the supplier and ask them to arrange a demonstration for you. Testing out the tools gives you a sense of what they can do and whether your team would enjoy using them.

Step 5

Make a decision

Finally it's time to make a decision. Consider what you've seen in the product demos and think about what app would be the best fit for the way your team wants to work, now and in the future. You can always start small, and purchase licences for one team, before scaling the solution and offering access to everyone in the business.

As the saying goes, “a fool with a tool is still a fool.” So much of whether you get value from your project management software depends on whether you know how to use it to meet your needs. Start with what you want it to do and then find a tool that fits your requirements.

Best Project Management Software

So what is the best project management software? The best project management tool is the one that’s a perfect fit for your organization. Spend some time looking at reviews and project management software comparison grids so you have a good understanding of what is out there.

Here's a summary of some of the most popular tools to get your started.

Asana

Asana is a simple-to-use popular tool that helps you organize work visually. It uses Kanban boards and to do lists to keep the team on track. Pros include being able to create a single view of the project that everyone can see. You can sign up for a free Asana trial to check it out.

Pros

  • Create a shared visual overview of the project
  • Share feedback and files
  • Have timeline view to visualize dates
  • Built-in automation helps with workflow and handovers between team members

Cons

  • There's a lot going on and some people report that the user interface can get busy
  • The timeline is not truly a Gantt chart so it might not give you all the features you need
  • Not all features are available on the mobile app
  • There is no functionality for project cost management if you want to track the budget

Jira

Jira is a work management tool that started life as a software bug tracker but has evolved into something much more. From the Atlassian family of products, it is a mature and robust solution. It is popular with software development teams and those using Agile methods like Scrum because of the way it handles workflow and team collaboration.

Pros

  • Has a solid pedigree and is well-respected in the Agile community
  • Comes with project templates to speed up creating a new project
  • Has customizable workflows
  • Built-in features for managing the product backlog

Cons

  • There's a learning curve to getting the best out of the software
  • Some people report that the user interface is complicated with too many options and views, making it difficult to navigate
  • The tool can get messy if the team does not stick to good housekeeping practices
  • There are no built-in collaboration features to enable the team to work together outside of workflows

Trello

Trello is an online Kanban tool from Atlassian. It has a clean interface and is easy to use. That makes it popular with small teams doing simple projects where task management is more important than other enterprise-grade features like capacity planning or critical path scheduling. If you're wondering whether to use Jira vs Trello, think about the nature of the work and whether it is predominantly managing a simple task list (Trello) of whether you need workflow and other PM features (Jira).

Pros

  • Simple to use and easy to get started
  • Lots of online help and tutorials available
  • Integrates with Jira, making it a popular option for agile teams
  • Mobile-friendly app for working on the go

Cons

  • It's not designed to handle big projects, sub-tasks and dependencies
  • There is no Gantt chart or calendar view
  • Users report that the search feature is not as good as it could be
  • Task descriptions are limited in length so you have to keep your notes short

Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project has been around a long time and is still a fully-featured, enterprise-ready scheduling tool for project management today. Best known for its Gantt chart feature, Microsoft Project also offers a range of other features for detailed planning. Your company may already have Microsoft products, making it easy to integrate this one into the IT estate. In fact, if your business runs on Microsoft your IT department might already have some licences you can access; it's always worth asking!

Pros

  • Allows extremely detailed planning with multiple level sub-tasks
  • Accurately manages dependencies and critical path tasks
  • Has advanced resource management features including capacity planning and reports for forecasting utilization
  • Budget management and cost planning features

Cons

  • You'll need a training course to learn how to get the best out of it
  • Limited features for agile teams
  • Planning at the detailed level means it can be hard to see the big picture
  • Progress tracking can be difficult unless you allow the team to make updates to the schedule themselves

Wrike

Wrike is another tool that has been around a long time and has evolved over time to serve its customers. Wrike is a work management tool that suits remote teams and those looking to manage both iterative and predictive projects within the same PMO.

Pros

  • Has both Gantt chart and board view so your team can choose the best way to track their work
  • Powerful collaboration features mean you won't need to use other tools for working together
  • Suitable for managing project work as well as repetitive operations activities; in fact, anything that can be managed on a task list
  • Comes with project templates and integrations so you can get started quickly

Cons

  • Might seem like overkill for teams that only need a to do list app
  • Users report that it isn't so good at handling large file attachments, so watch your storage limits
  • The user interface can be difficult to navigate if you don't use the tool frequently or have lots of data inside it

Smartsheet

Smartsheet is built for enterprise project teams and has plenty of mature features for scheduling and work management. Smartsheet, as the name suggests, is built around worksheets like a spreadsheet package. In a Smartsheet vs Airtable debate, you'll have more out-of-the-box project management features in Smartsheet but Airtable is more similar to an 'ordinary' spreadsheet so is easier to get started with.

Pros

  • Has resource management and project scheduling to enable you to plan work
  • Offers portfolio management features for strategic planning
  • Has board and Gantt chart view so you can see your plans how you prefer
  • Manages project budgets and rolls up financial information for a portfolio overview

Cons

  • There's a learning curve to getting the best out of the product as it has many features (some of which you might not need)
  • Some features feel like a table in a database so the look and feel isn't as slick as some other tools
  • Some users report that exporting data, especially into Microsoft Excel, can be difficult

monday.com

monday.com bills itself as a Work OS: the future of how tasks will be managed. It's easy to get started and the interface looks modern. It's customizable and is another tool that has been in the space for some time, growing in popularity. In a Trello vs monday.com comparison, Trello has limited features but is easier to use out-of-the box.

Pros

  • Very customizable so you can create project boards that suit your needs
  • Has Kanban board view and timeline view
  • Enables sharing boards with contractors and vendors to make sure the whole team sees the same information
  • Includes out-of-the-box automations for workflows like moving tasks to another board when they are completed

Cons

  • While it looks simple, it's not always easy to find your current tasks when they are split across multiple boards
  • There are a lot of email alert notifications, so edit your settings so you only get relevant notices
  • There are limited resource management features for capacity planning and resource forecasting
  • There's no true Gantt chart feature
Metrics have to align to your organizational goals and strategies. They have to fit so that they really impact the processes or activities that are important to that organization. Metrics lead to fact-based decisions. You need to be able to assess and understand that metric and then impact change.
Denise McRoberts (with Cornelius Fichtner)

PM Podcast Episodes about Project Management Software

These are a few selected episodes of The Project Management Podcast, aimed at showing you the kind of things we discuss when we talk about project management software tools.

Social Media Project Management Tools

Social media has to be a fully integrated and planned part of your project’s communications management strategy. In this episode you'll learn how to use and when to use social media project management tools for your work. We discuss mapping social media tools to project communication tools, determining which tools to use on your projects, which tools can we use in which project phase or process group and more.

Episode Details

Bill Dow, PMP, ITIL, CSM
Bill Dow, PMP, ITIL, CSM

How to Run an Effective Conference Call

How many conference calls have you been on this week? In this interview we discuss a number of soft and hard tools that will improve the overall quality of teleconferencing on your projects. In most cases, these are easy to implement and come at little to no cost.

Episode Details

Gene Dutz
Gene Dutz

Project Portfolio Management Tools

We define what portfolio management is, we look at ease of implementation of modern project portfolio management tools and their benefits. You'll also learn what size company benefits most from these tools, best practices for implementation and more.

Episode Details

David Davis
David Davis

See more episodes on Project Management Software

Summary

Project management software helps you manage the work more efficiently, effectively and with greater transparency. You can see what is happening on your project, and more easily identify where you need to change direction or manage the project’s performance in order to reach your goals.

The right tools, implemented in the right way, can improve productivity, collaboration and project success rates. Spend some time thinking about what tools you could choose to support your organization. If you already have tools in place, think about how you could use your project management software more effectively to make it easier for everyone on the team.

We have plenty of relevant podcast episodes on this topic, so pick a few and get listening!

Continue reading

Agile Project Management

Agile Project Management

All about Agile Methodology and Agile Project Management

Introduction to Agile Project Management

Agile project management is on the rise. Agile methodologies are applicable to all sectors. More and more businesses are adopting agile techniques as the default way they manage projects and deliver change.

It’s easy to see why. One of the characteristics of agile projects is that there is constant collaboration with stakeholders and a focus on iteration. Being an agile project manager means delivering on an iterative basis, demonstrating value at every point to ensure the end result is exactly what the customer wanted.

Predictive methodologies will always have their place, and whether you are new or experienced at agile project delivery, we have resources to help.

Agile Methodology Featured Podcast: The Agile Practice Guide

Listen now to this featured Podcast on Agile Methodology.

In this featured podcast, learn how project management has evolved to reflect the new norms of working practices with the publication of the Agile Practice Guide, developed in collaboration with the Agile Alliance. The way we work is changing. Gone is the industrial, routine work. Here to stay is knowledge-oriented work that requires collaboration to manage change, complexity, and uncertainty.
Jesse Fewell, Mike Griffiths and Cornelius Fichtner
Jesse Fewell, Mike Griffiths and Cornelius Fichtner
Scroll down to see the full list of our Agile Methodology podcasts.

Jump to full podcast list

What is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is an iterative way of delivering a project by breaking it down into smaller chunks of work. Each chunk delivers something of value to the customer. The team works in a highly collaborative partnership with the customer to achieve fast, frequent deliveries.

Agile project management follows a cycle of planning, delivery and review. It provides a framework to respond to change, making it a fantastic way to approach projects in a complex and uncertain environment.

So why is it called 'agile'? The team at The Agile Alliance explain it like this:

The authors of the Agile Manifesto chose “Agile” as the label for this whole idea because that word represented the adaptiveness and response to change which was so important to their approach.
Agile Manifesto? What's that? The Agile Manifesto was put together in 2001 by a group of 17 software developers. It is a declaration of the values and principles that help teams deliver exceptional work in a fluid project delivery environment.

Core Values and Principles of Agile

There are a number of 'flavors' of Agile and we'll look at those in detail a little later. They all share common values and principles -- those set out in The Agile Manifesto.

Four Core Values from The Agile Manifesto

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development sets out these four values:
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Just to be clear: the authors of the Manifesto were not saying that the items on the right were unnecessary in project management. Instead, they were making the point that they valued the items on the left more.

What does it mean to work to those values? Let's review how you can put them into practice in your workplace.

  • Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

    Agile ways of working value people and the relationships people have with each other over software and formulaic ways of getting things done. People can respond to change and drive the process in a more aligned way than any tool could. Communication and empowerment within the team is important for issue resolution and ownership.
  • Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

    Agile values documentation, but it values working software more. This approach ensures the team focuses on delivering something for the customer, instead of getting tied up producing paperwork. It is important to record what has happened and produce documentation, but many teams take a 'just enough' approach. Historically, some project management methodologies have been criticized for being overly bureaucratic, which is something all Agile approach strive not to be.
  • Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

    Working in partnership with the customer is crucial. In a predictive project environment, contracts often include a long period of negotiation where exact requirements are documented for delivery. Iterative projects don't require that because you can add to the requirements list as the project progresses. This flexibility means the customer gets exactly what they want because they are involved every step of the way.
  • Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

    Agile methods value being responsive to change and ensuring the work aligns to current business priorities. You will still have and use an agile project plan but deviating from that is necessary and welcome if it gets you closer to what the customer values. The iterative nature of product development means the impact of changes is typically less than in a waterfall project. If you make a change late in the life cycle of a project taking a predictive approach, it can cost a lot and involve a lot of rework. That doesn't happen with Agile as the project scope is iterated as necessary during the development.

12 Agile Principles

The Agile Manifesto also lays out 12 principles. They describe the ideal culture of an Agile team, and how the work produced by the team aligns to the business needs. The principles are:
  • Satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery.
  • Harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  • Deliver a working product frequently.
  • Work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals who have the environment, support and trust they need to get the job done.
  • Work face-to-face wherever possible.
  • Consider a working product as the primary measure of progress.
  • Promote sustainable work so the team can work at a consistent pace.
  • Pay continuous attention to technical excellence and good design.
  • Simplify wherever possible.
  • Create self-organizing teams.
  • Reflect on how to become more effective, then adjust accordingly.

Agile versus Waterfall Methodology

In the past, agile methodologies were commonly seen as reserved for software projects, with other projects using waterfall or predictive methodologies. A waterfall way of working requires a full project brief upfront so everyone knows what the end product looks like, and a sequential set of steps to work through.

Today, practitioners from almost every industry and vertical have adopted agile and iterative principles and agile is no longer seen as exclusive to software development. It’s possible to think in an adaptive and flexible way, respond to change quickly and meet the needs of your customer (even if those needs change regularly) on almost any type of project. In fact, the agile vs traditional project management debate is fading as project teams from all industries acknowledge that finding an approach that works for them, their project, the team and the client is more important than rigidly sticking to one way of working.

Let's look at a quick comparison between Agile vs Waterfall project management.

Agile

  • Build the product iteratively
  • Respond to changes in priority by shifting the order that requirements are looked at and built
  • Team works collaboratively with a lot of input from the customer to ensure the end result is fit for purpose

Waterfall

  • Elicit and document all project requirements in advance
  • Design and build the project requirements in the planned order
  • Easy to see the big picture timescales and predict final cost for the effort
There are some similarities between agile ways of working and waterfall ways of working. Here are 5 things that the two approaches have in common.
  • Teams create a plan for what is to be done
  • Teams have to estimate the work required
  • Teams report on progress
  • The product is tested
  • Teams review lessons learned.
As you can see, some common principles hold true between both approaches to delivering work. At the end of the day, all teams making changes and delivering new products, services and processes want to make sure their end result is what the customer asked for. Here is some more detail on how those similarities play out between the different approaches.
  • Teams create a plan for what is to be done

    In both methods, teams create a project plan for the work they are going to do. In Agile, the team has a backlog of requirements. Each iteration is planned in turn, drawing priority requirements from the backlog. In Waterfall projects, the team defines the requirements at the beginning with the customer and then delivers them during the project execution phase.
  • Teams have to estimate the work required

    You can't plan the workload for the team if you don't know how long each individual task will take. Both approaches require subject matter experts to estimate task duration so the work can be accurately planned and scheduled.
  • Teams report on progress

    Executive managers still want to know what's going on, regardless of what methodology you are using to deliver their project! There are different ways to report progress, from the burndown charts used in Scrum to a monthly project report. Today, many PMOs support both iterative and predictive teams and require reporting from each.
  • The product is tested

    Agile is not a shortcut to pushing out a product that hasn't been robustly tested. In fact, because testing in baked into the schedule for each iteration, you could argue that there is more time for testing than in a Waterfall project. In our experience, if a Waterfall project is running late, testing is the part of the schedule that gets squeezed. Either way, testing is important to both approaches because we all want the customer to get a quality product.
  • Teams review lessons learned

    Agile teams discuss lessons learned and opportunities for improvement in the retrospective meeting. This is normally held at the end of every iteration and is an opportunity to discuss what worked and what didn't go so well. Traditionally, Waterfall methodologies have only required project managers to hold a lessons learned meeting at the end of the project. It benefits every type of team to reflect on their achievements and also consider what could be improved for next time.

Benefits of Agile Project Management

Now you know the background to Agile and some of the fundamentals, let's look at why you should consider using these approaches to managing your projects. Here are the benefits of using iterative project management methods.

  • Helps manage scope uncertainty
  • Encourages continuous improvement
  • Increases project control
  • Boosts efficiency across the team
  • Delivers a high quality product

Yes, Agile methods really do offer these benefits! Let us prove it to you by explaining how your team could benefit from making the shift to a more iterative way of working.

  • Helps manage scope uncertainty

    The flexible and iterative nature of agile ways of working make agile methodologies perfect for environments where the requirements are not fully known at the beginning of the work – or they are known but are likely to change. As the team defines what features are worked on next, they can build the solution based on the customer’s priorities and what will deliver the most value at any given point. Each iteration brings the vision closer, but still leaves the project open to change and evolution as required.
  • Encourages continuous improvement

    Another feature of the agile methodologies used by teams is that they include a reflective element. Whatever formal Agile approach you take, the team is encouraged to carry out retrospectives to consider what worked, what didn’t and how they could adapt their working practices to be more effective going forward. There’s a culture of continuous improvement which supports both the product being delivered and the way the team works to deliver it.
  • Increases project control

    Project managers coming from a more traditional context will appreciate this! If you ever thought Agile was a 'dive in and just get started' way of doing work, then think again. Short time-boxed work periods and detailed planning to select just the right requirements for each iteration means you have a lot of control over what is done and how it is carried out.
  • Boosts efficiency across the team

    Agile teams are characterized by their highly collaborative ways of working. They are also known for tracking and managing work visually because transparency is valued. As a result, the team naturally becomes more efficient. The daily standup meeting encourages team members to talk to each other about what they have been doing and where they are stuck. Together, the team is a powerful unit with a common goal, everyone pulling in the same direction to complete the iteration and showcase their work to the client.
  • Delivers a high quality product

    Waterfall teams work with the customer at the beginning but typically do not engage much with them during the development phase. The exact opposite is true in an Agile team. The Product Owner is the role responsible for representing the views of the business and ensuring the end result is what the customer wants. They are involved throughout the project and they take a hands-on role in the team during iteration planning and review. This close working relationship with the customer means the product is not only high quality but also a perfect fit for the business' needs.

Agile Project Management Frameworks

There are a number of common agile frameworks. They all share common characteristics that include delivery on an iterative basis and a strong collaborative approach across the whole team. Whatever agile project management training you do, you'll find the methods share much in common although they do have unique differences that allow you to adapt to the needs of the project and organization.

Agile project management tools and techniques allow you to work collaboratively as a team. Teams are often self-organizing, meaning the team works together to determine priorities. The backlog is the list of work still to do, and backlog grooming helps the team identify what should be worked on next.

So what are these frameworks? Common frameworks and approaches for implementing agile management include:

  • Scrum
  • Crystal
  • Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD).

Scrum

Agile project management with Scrum is one of the most common Agile frameworks. Scrum project management aims to deliver products and change by releasing incremental improvements and functionality on a regular basis, often during a two- to four-week agile sprint.

The Scrum framework started out as a way of building software systems. The application of Scrum is frequently seen in development teams because it lends itself to incremental delivery over short, iterative cycles, following clear agile methodology steps. However, this way of working is growing in popularity for other industries as well due to the benefits and streamlined approach to project delivery.

More and more project managers are adding Scrum Master to their list of certifications. If you're involved in this type of project, Scrum project management certification would be something to look at for your career.

Crystal

Crystal is a lightweight approach to development and again has roots in the software industry. The Crystal family of methods focuses on how teams can optimize and adapt their processes to deliver something of value to the customer.

The big differentiator for Crystal is that it’s a collection of agile practices grouped in several methodologies. You select the most appropriate approach based on the size of the team and criticality and priority of your project. The larger the team, the bigger the expected product at the end, and the higher the criticality of the project, the more you need to follow the appropriate agile methodology steps and apply structure to the work.

Crystal is an approach developed by Alistair Cockburn. The method for leading the smallest project is outlined in his book, Crystal Clear.

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

The DSDM Framework has been around for longer than we’ve been using the term ‘Agile’ to describe iterative, solution-led delivery methods, and it’s a proven framework for project management. It has a strong focus on collaboration and business alignment for projects. In common with other agile workflows, it promotes frequent, iterative development and empowering the team for success.

The unique feature of DSDM is takes a different approach to governance and project control and wraps 'being agile' into a project life cycle that looks more familiar to those managers coming from a Waterfall background.

Feature-Driven Development (FDD)

Where Scrum focuses on delivery, FDD focuses on features, as you might expect from the name! Where Scrum has user stories, FDD has features. The focus on value for the customer is the same.

FDD is structured and scalable. A feature list is created and then planning, design, build and test is completed for each feature. Each feature contributes to the overall model or final product that the customer is expecting.

FDD is a lightweight method mainly considered for software development projects. Jeff De Luca is considered to be the architect behind the FDD approach back in 1999, although others have contributed to its evolution over time.

What is a User Story in Agile?

A user story in Agile is a simple description of a requirement, from the perspective of the end user. It describes who they are, what they want and why they need the feature.

The Importance of User Stories

User stories are important because they put people first. They help the team focus on why they are building something and who they are serving, instead of the technical or feature components.

User stories talk about the outcome or goal: the "why" behind a feature. This approach means the customer's experience is always a top consideration for the development team.

How to Write User Stories

User stories follow a simple framework. You only need to know three things:
  • The person, persona or role
  • What they want
  • Why they want it.
The user story format is as follows:
As [person/role], I want [goal] so that [reason].
Here are some user story examples.
  • As a student, I want to learn online so that I can study Agile around my work.
  • As a customer, I want to order online so I don't have to go to the shop.
  • As a manager, I want to see my employees' personnel records ordered alphabetically so I don't have to search for them.
User story mapping is the brainchild of Jeff Paton who literally wrote the book about user stories. Now, we can't imagine a world where agile projects don't use them. User stories are a simple but powerful tool to ensure the customer receives a product they can use effectively and that meets their needs.

Agile Metrics

Regardless of what agile workflow you are using, you will need to track your progress. Agile metrics allow teams to manage performance and track performance. Here are some common metrics used for just that.
  • Velocity
  • Lead time
  • Cycle time
  • Stories committed vs completed
  • Value delivered
If you are new to iterative ways of working and agile practices, those terms may be unfamiliar. Let's review what they mean so you can use the terminology with confidence.
  • Velocity

    Velocity measures the average amount of work done by the team during an iteration. You'll see it measured in hours. Think of velocity as a measure of efficiency. The more work a team can get through, the more they can deliver in each iteration. Velocity tends to improve over time as the team gets used to the cadence of the project and working together.
  • Lead time

    Lead time is the duration between the customer making a request and it being completed. This is a helpful metric as it gives you an idea of how quickly the team is turning around requirements and how long the customer is going to have to wait before they see something. It also gives you a precise measure of how long it took to deliver each feature.
  • Cycle time

    Cycle time measures how long it takes for a feature to move from 'started' to 'done'. Obviously some stories are going to take longer to work on than others depending on their complexity. Cycle time is a useful measure because it helps you predict how long you need to complete work and informs your estimating.
  • Stories committed vs completed

    This is a useful measure of how realistic the team is when it comes to estimating! Track how many user stories the team thought they would be able to deliver in an iteration and then compare that to what was actually delivered when the iteration completes. As a Scrum Master or agile project manager, you can use that information to guide the team's planning at the next iteration. Make sure that any incomplete stories are carried over (if they are still appropriate) and help the team understand what is a realistic workload for the next iteration.
  • Value delivered

    Value is an abstract term, as what is valuable to one customer might be irrelevant to another project stakeholder. However, it is an important feature of Agile to focus on delivering high value to the client. We do that through prioritizing requirements and giving each feature a value. Ideally, the team should plan to work on the most valuable features first so the customer has a usable, useful product as early as possible. Track value by adding up the 'value points' assigned to each feature and ensuring that you are consistently adding value at each iteration.

How to Choose the Best Agile Project Management Software

With all these user stories to organize and metrics to calculate, you can see that having agile project management software is going to help you manage the work. Here is what to look for in a tool.
  • Remote team support
  • Backlog planning and management
  • Progress tracking
  • Collaboration features
  • Workflows for review and approval
Let's look at what these features have to offer your agile team so you can properly assess any software tools against your requirements.
  • Remote team support

    Historically, agile teams have sat together and worked in the same location, but that is becoming less of a requirement and more of a nice to have today. Your agile project management tool needs to be able to support remote and distributed teams. For example, you all need to be able to log in and see your work for the day with the right level of security permission for each role.
  • Backlog planning and management

    The backlog can be considered the source of all the work, so you need somewhere to store product requirements and user stories. Make sure your software has an easy-to-use repository where you can track the priority of backlog task and easily move them into the current sprint.
  • Progress tracking

    Team velocity depends on knowing how much you have done, so progress reporting is a must have feature. Look for software that offers a range of reports out of the box, like burndown charts.
  • Collaboration features

    A core principle of agile methods is being able to work together collaboratively. Your software should facilitate that. Consider a tool that has discussion forums, commenting on tasks, document sharing, audit trails and the ability to work on the same task at the same time.
  • Workflows for review and approval

    Some agile tools will have a workflow feature, where you can assign tasks to someone, and they can accept the task and work on it. Then they can assign the task to someone else for review or approval. Automated workflows help the team stay on top of tasks and also reduce the amount of email requests as people try to move their tasks on to the next step. Automation can save a lot of time. You can also look for features that notify and alert team members when something changes or tasks are assigned to them.

Agile Project Management Best Practices

There are many agile project management tools and techniques. Below, we summarize the most important best practices that should be incorporated into your agile workflow.
  • Develop iteratively
  • Collect continuous feedback
  • Hold daily standups
  • Focus on value
  • Choose the right methodology
How can you adopt these best practices in your agile workflow? Here are some quick tips on what to look for.
  • Iterative development

    Working iteratively means building your product in stages. Each stage adds more functionality and features. Each iteration covers a small, manageable deliverable that adds value so ultimately the whole product is delivered. Check that your team is working in short time-boxed sprints, and that there is something tangible and complete delivered at the end of each one.
  • Continuous feedback

    Agile retrospectives give the team the chance to reflect and improve their practice. During the review, the team considers the agile methodology steps, the actions taken and what could be done differently. Then they prioritize making changes to work efficiently and effectively. Check that your team has a way to capture feedback and that all voices are heard.
  • Daily standups

    Another way of gathering feedback is the daily standup meeting. The team gets together for a short time each day to talk about what they are doing and what issues they are facing. This makes sure everyone has the latest information about the project and can work together to overcome problems. Put the daily standup meetings in your team's calendar now and make them non-negotiable.
  • Focus on value

    The team agrees what features will add the most value, working collaboratively with the Product Owner and other customer representatives. The focus on value helps prioritize requirements so the most important features get the attention they deserve. Keep asking yourself: Is this going to add value to the customer and get us closer to the Product Owner's goals?
  • Methodology

    The Agile project management methodology helps the team stay on track. You'll choose the right approach for your project, and it's important to understand how the method works so you can adopt it in the most appropriate way. Critically review the choices you have made about how to deploy Agile in your work environment. What else could you do to make your agile methodology steps even more useful and relevant?
Agile leadership requires a change of mindset, and in our featured agile podcasts, you’ll hear a range of expert voices, many of them sharing tips about how to adapt and develop the agile mindset in your organization to effectively lead your projects.
I think most people are at least now vaguely familiar with the Agile manifesto. It talks about valuing things like individuals’ interactions, collaboration with the customer, delivering working software. But what does it mean when we overlay that with the Large Enterprise aspect? When we’re talking about scaling Agile we see a really diverse set of system users interacting with the data. More complexity comes out when we try to scale Agile beyond just one team working by themselves or even a couple of teams working by themselves.
Joy Beatty

PM Podcast Episodes on Agile Methodology

Below you'll find a short selection of our favorite PM Podcast episodes that talk about agile project management and agile methodologies. Listen to experts share their agile project management examples and real-life stories to inspire you.

How to Integrate Risk Management into Agile Projects

A major challenge for many project managers is knowing how to effectively plan, identify, and manage risks when using agile approaches. In this interview with Laszlo Retfalvi, you'll learn how to develop the proper project risk management statements required to support agile approaches. We also look at how to apply proven techniques for risk management in agile projects. This discussion addresses how to integrate tried-and-tested risk management techniques with agile approaches to increase the probability of project and organizational success.

Episode Details

Laszlo Retfalvi and Cornelius Fichtner
Laszlo Retfalvi and Cornelius Fichtner

More Projects Are Using Agile Than Ever

Are you using an adaptive life cycle to manage your projects? Like the Agile methodology Scrum, XP, Kanban or DSDM? You are most certainly not alone - even if you only adopted agile ways of working recently. There are more and more projects using agile and that's a good thing. In this interview with Joseph Flahiff you'll learn why he believes that Agile is now the new normal.

Episode Details

Joseph Flahiff
Joseph Flahiff

How to Write Excellent User Stories

Betsy Stockdale explains the life cycle of agile requirements and how to use visual models to identify epics and user stories. Learn how to write testable acceptance criteria in this interview. You'll improve your general understanding of Agile approaches as well as take away specific tips on how to write great user stories.

Episode Details

Betsy Stockdale and Cornelius Fichtner
Betsy Stockdale and Cornelius Fichtner

How to Pass the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Exam

Are you considering whether currently studying or thinking about studying for your PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Exam? This is the perfect interview for you! We meet past student Yazmine Darcy who talks about her overall experience, general thoughts on the process and her recommendations for your studies. There are so many tips in this interview to help with your PMI-ACP exam prep and if you're still debating PMI-ACP vs PMP this will help.

Episode Details

Yazmine Darcy
Yazmine Darcy

See more episodes on Agile Methodology

Summary

Agile methodologies help you get closer to customer requirements and truly understand the impact of the changes you are making. Working in an agile way often leads to faster, better outcomes, more team engagement, higher customer satisfaction and the knowledge that you are making a real difference.

There are lots of Agile tools, techniques and practices to choose from. Our expert interview guests will break down the topics and help you adapt agile methodologies to suit your own organization.

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