What is project management?

Includes tools & career tips

It’s hard to resist the allure of shiny object syndrome in business — the constant call to create something new. An idea for a new product or app pops up and your team is revving to get started. You’re excited and you’re wondering how to make it happen. To answer that, let’s first address the question ‘What is project management?’

Project managers use knowledge, skills and tools to shepherd projects from creation to successful completion.

 

Project management has been going on for as long as there have been projects. But now it’s a profession that many businesses rely on, from construction and IT to healthcare and engineering.

4 project management tools anyone can use

If you’ve ever tried to keep track of a team working together, you’ll know it’s a nightmare to follow up on the trail of emails, attachments and document versions. The newest cloud-based project management tools make it easy to communicate, collaborate and share everything in one place. Here are just four of them:

  1. Asana.
  2. Wrike.
  3. Trello.
  4. Workzone.

Before we share our four tools, let’s do a quick dive into what project management involves. Interested in project management as a career? Scroll to the bottom of the post for details on how to prepare.

What is project management?

The coordination and organisation of a temporary job, project management turns ideas into successful outcomes.

While various businesses might take different steps to reach their goals, the process usually involves:

  • Initiation
  • Execution
  • Planning
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closure

It’s vital to plan the timeframe and set budget limits before starting any project.

Let’s say you want to gain 100 new customers at a cost of $5,000 by the end of the financial year.

Nailing down the goal at the start means you have a clear target to focus on.

What is Project Management Large Notepad
Project management tools corral all those sticky notes, photos and files in one place.

The new cloud-based tools can help you take your goal and turn it into steps. With easy to use features, most allow you to:

  • Set/change permission levels
  • Assign roles and tasks
  • Track different versions of documents

Best of all, they keep all those important conversations, requirements and assets in one place … and your projects ticking along.

1. Asana

Particularly popular with software engineers, Asana is great for larger jobs with dynamic roles and teams. Free until you reach 16 members.

What is Project Management Asana
Asana gets 4½ out of 5 stars from PCMag.com.

Pros
Good free version.
Fast, flexible design with lots of features.
New timeline makes it easier to manage dependencies.

Cons
Not the best for graphics-intensive work.
Can’t switch between Task and Kanban views after creation.

2. Wrike

Wrike offers the ability to manage and report on every stage of the project, including advanced cost management tools that keep the budget on track. Free for the first five users or start a free trial of the business plan. Wrike gets 4 stars from PCMag.com.

Pros
Quick to set up.
Easy to figure out.
Can be used to manage projects or ongoing work.

Cons
The most valuable features are limited to business-level accounts.
Timer is hard to find (see the Wrike Resource add-on).

3. Trello

What is Project Management Trello

Trello has a free plan and suits startups with teams of four or fewer. Perfect for freelancers, outsourcing and creating Kanban boards to keep track of multiple projects at the same time. Trello gets 3½ out of 5 stars from PCMag.com.

Pros
Simple, lightweight, very visual Kanban app.
Good mobile apps.
Integrates with many other apps and applets.

Cons
No Gantt charts.
No time-tracking, progress reports or billing features.

4. Workzone

This project management tool is good for healthcare, education, marketing and any organization that has many projects that must be shared with both technical and non-technical users. Tools and features include:

  • Advanced privacy
  • Reporting
  • Task allocation features

Workzone doesn’t offer a free version; you must request a quote to get their pricing. At the time of this writing, PCMag.com had not yet reviewed this tool.

Pros
Good for marketing, agency and operations teams of 5+ users.
Approval workflows, collaboration tools and task-tracking features are super useful.
24/7 live support.

Cons
Not easy for beginners to figure out on their own.
Search and reporting features could be improved.

Why is project management important?

What is Project Management Person Holding Compass
Put your business on track to succeed by formalizing your work process.

Like trying to navigate without a map, taking action without a plan leaves you destined for many wrong turns. And while it might seem quicker to dive in and get started, without a plan the expectations of what will be achieved may be unrealistic.

It focuses your efforts

Starting a marketing campaign to get 100 new customers without any strategy or timeframe can mean wasting money on ineffective marketing, and bringing in a new audience that aren’t even going to buy your product.

It saves you money

Likewise, if you act without a budget, your team will spend whatever amount they need to achieve the outcome. Once it’s all tallied up, the final expenditure could outweigh any income brought in.

By working through each of the project management steps, you minimise the risk to your business. To aid this, a brief is drawn up before you begin. The brief is a document that outlines what you wish to achieve.

Ensuring the brief clearly lines up with the goal is critical to success.

Knowing how you want to reach your goal is just as important as knowing what your goal is.

 

Reviewing your progress is easier when you plan it right from the beginning. Then it’s possible to learn from any mistakes because you can clearly see where things went wrong and how to adjust them before beginning future projects.

Related: Strategic planning — how to boil it down to one page

Curious about becoming a project manager?

Project managers are among the top five most in-demand jobs across the globe. They’re hired by small businesses and large tech companies alike.

It’s their job to keep all actions driving towards the goal instead of distracting from it.

Being trained leaders with strong organizational skills, they know which processes and systems will benefit a business most.

If you’d like to become a project manager, there are two options:

  1. Learning through experience while working in the field. Many skills learnt in other industries are often transferable.
  2. Gaining a qualification (for example, a Diploma of Project Management). This will give you the skills and knowledge to launch a successful career.

Working in a team and supervising others are critical aspects of the job. The role suits people who are flexible and love variety, because no two projects will be the same.

Set your next project up for success

Avoiding risk and reaching your business goals are much easier with proper management. Having a project manager with the skills and experience to set up and manage your job from the start makes both of these possible.

Those just starting out or whose ventures are too small to justify hiring a project manager can use one of the tools in this article to keep everyone rowing in the same direction.

Over to you.