Successful projects don't just happen. They're born from the blood (papercuts), sweat, and tears of skilled project managers and their teams. And without a good understanding of project management fundamentals, projects don't succeed nearly as often.
Project management fundamentals include process groups, cost management, risk management, task management, and project constraints. They help make each project work, no matter what project management framework or template you go with.
This guide covers the project management fundamentals that every project manager (PM for short) needs to know. These fundamentals will form the foundation of every project you complete and set you up for success.
7 Project Management Fundamentals
If you know your project management fundamentals, a.k.a your competencies, you'll be prepared for anything the business world throws your way. And when that happens, fasten your cape — you're "Super Manager," a hero who stops scope creep and miscommunications before breakfast. ? But we'll focus on explaining the seven project management skills highlighted below and leave the wardrobe choices up to you.
1. Process Groups
The project management life cycle consists of five process groups or phases. Each project management process group represents one phase of the project.
The initiation phase is designed to help you define the project and transform it from an idea into an attainable goal for your stakeholders to review and approve. It begins with a project initiation document (PID) or project charter that defines details like the business case, project scope, deliverables, objectives, estimated budget, constraints, goals, and expected timeline. You can use a PID template to make this process easier.
The planning phase is where you'll flesh out your project plan and infrastructure and help your team better understand the project's vision. During this phase, you'll develop project control elements like:
- Budgeting and forecasting
- SMART and CLEAR project goals
- Communication plan
- Initial project schedules
- Project management plan
- Project team organization
- Risk analyses
- Risk management and response plan
- Work breakdown structure (WBS) and Gantt chart
With most methodologies other than Agile and its subsets, the planning phase will likely take up a large amount of your project's timeline. By the end, your project team will have a clear picture of the steps they need to follow for project success.
The execution phase is where your project team will do the actual work and spend most of your budget. It's all about producing deliverables, putting your project plan into action, and reaching your goals. Your role will be managing your teams and orchestrating milestones to make your plan a success and stay on schedule. You'll also need to maintain communication and collaboration between stakeholders to keep everyone on the same page.
The monitoring phase is pretty self-explanatory — you'll keep an eye on the project progress and key performance indicators (KPIs), so you can correct issues as they arise. Some common KPIs include:
- Cost and effort tracking
- Deliverables and objectives
- Performance and progress
It doesn't matter how good at planning you are — you'll need to monitor your KPIs at the progress at every step, track it, and be vigilant about reporting.
The closure phase initiates when the project is complete. Before you start partying, you'll formally close out the project. During this time, you'll terminate contracts with external parties, review the project, perform a final budget check, and create a detailed report that covers every complete and incomplete task.
Most PMs hold a post mortem meeting to evaluate successes and failures before releasing the team. Then, it's time for a wrap party, which is a fun way to celebrate and acknowledge your team's hard work.
2. Cost Management
Cost management is essential throughout the project's lifecycle, and without it, you're unlikely to stay within budget. And if your project runs over budget, it's not 100% successful regardless of whether you bring the vision to life. Cost management involves resource planning, estimation, budgeting, and control.
3. Risk Management
Risk management is one of the most critical project management fundamentals, and you'll inevitably get blindsided without it. It's all about understanding risks so that you can ensure a proper response, and the steps usually include:
- Identify and analyze potential risks.
- Assign ownership over these risks to the appropriate team members.
- Prioritize each project risk based on severity and how likely it is to occur.
- Plan your responses to each risk and respond to them accordingly.
- Monitor your risk management strategy and adjust when needed.
While these steps might make risk management sound simple, risk always involves an unpredictable element. And project managers must be able to respond to unpredictable risks with agility and thought.
4. Task Management
All projects are made up of tasks that your team must complete to succeed. As you might imagine, this means that task management is one of the most essential pillars of project management. It involves identifying, monitoring, and orchestrating the tasks that must be completed every day. Online project management programs like Asana and ClickUp can make this easier.
5. Project Constraints
Every project comes with constraints — the three most common include cost, time, and scope. These three are often known as the project management triangle, and they're almost impossible to avoid.
- Cost: The cost constraint requires you to manage the project's budget to keep it within the predetermined financial resource limits.
- Time: Managing the time constraint means planning, monitoring, and controlling the project schedule. A Gantt chart can make this easier.
- Scope: The scope constraint requires you to define a clear project scope at the beginning of the project, create a process for any scope changes, and regularly communicate the scope to stakeholders. This helps prevent the dreaded scope creep.
Each of these three constraints is connected, so you'll have to manage each element to keep things on track. For example, you'll likely need a bigger budget and more time if the scope is increased.
6. Project Communication Management
Poor communication can cause any project to fail, which is why project communication management is so essential. First, you'll need to outline how communication will work across your teams and projects with a communication plan to use for every message. Standard steps include:
- Purpose: Define the intention of your communication, whether it's a status update, authorization request, or timeline change.
- Audience: List your stakeholders and anyone else you'll be communicating with — think sponsors, project team members, and customers.
- Message: Decide the content of the message and what components are being shared, such as budgets, schedules, and deliverables.
- Channel: Choose how you'll communicate the message, whether via email or an informal meeting.
- Timeline: Determine when you need to deliver the message.
Communication management allows you to ensure everything runs smoothly, preventing issues that could delay your project.
7. Change Management
They say that the best-laid plans often go awry, and it couldn't be more true in project management. That's where change management comes in — it's all about maintaining control when change strikes and figuring out solutions to keep the project on schedule. A change control plan will help you anticipate, react, and introduce changes as the project progresses.
How to Improve as a Project Manager
Sure, reading about project management fundamentals is great, but how do you actually improve? Unfortunately, no project manager starts off knowing their way around all of these essential skills, and a lot of it comes down to practice.
That said, there are a few things you can do to get an edge:
Education and Certification
Ongoing education is always the surest way to sharpen your project management skills. Depending on where you're at in your career journey, this might mean:
- College and training courses: If you haven't yet, enrollment in a college-level project management program can help you learn, and a degree can grant access to new opportunities. And if college isn't where it's at for you right now, instructor-led training courses can help you master the fundamentals. (Hint: Look for targeted course content, like a fundamentals course!)
- Certifications: The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers numerous project management training and certification programs. Two of the most popular include the Project Management Professional PMP certification and the Certified Associate in Project Management CAPM certification. Certification programs can help you improve in specific areas, and they can help you earn PDUs, or professional development units.
- PMBOK Guide: The PMBOK Guide is PMI's guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. Many project managers consider the current edition of the PMBOK Guide essential reading, and it can help you stay current on the fundamentals.
Master the Fundamentals of Project Management
As you apply these project management fundamentals, they'll become second nature. When that happens, you're basically a PM superhero. You might not get away with wearing a mask and cape to work (Unless you work from home!), but you'll be saving the day on a pretty regular basis.
To make saving the day easier, it's crucial to have helpful tools that allow you to be fully present with all of your tasks. Anchor AI is designed to make your meetings easier by recording a full transcript, complete with action items, keywords, speakers, and decisions made.
Sign up for Anchor AI to take your project meetings to the next level!