Productivity

5 Basic Stages of Project Management That Every Team Should Follow

We all want our projects to run smoothly. And they can — as long as we know how to prepare ourselves and our team. Here are the five major stages of project management and how to align everyone at each phase

Introduction

The words "project management" stir up varying reactions in different people. For some, the phrase might evoke feelings of excitement and anticipation, while others might view it as a source of stress and anxiety. 

If you're in the latter group, don't worry — you're not alone. Many people feel daunted by the prospect of managing a project, but the good news is that it doesn't have to be as complicated or overwhelming as you might think.

In its simplest form, project management is about taking a task or goal and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable steps. It's about planning and organizing your work for efficient completion of the job.

So, if you're new to project management and don't know where to start, this guide is for you. We'll take you through the basics of project management step by step to help you feel confident in your ability to manage even the most complex of projects.

What is project management?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of project management, let's take a step back and look at what it means.

A project can be thought of as a temporary endeavor, with a clear beginning and end, that aims to achieve a specific goal. Examples of projects include planning and executing an event, launching a new website, implementing a new software system, or renovating a building.

Project management, therefore, is the act of organizing and coordinating all aspects of a project to achieve its predefined goals. It involves setting specific objectives, determining the necessary resources and steps to reach the intended outcomes, and organizing and leading a team toward completing each task.

Basic stages of project management

The specific steps and processes of project management will vary based on each project's unique nature and goals. However, the five fundamental stages below are commonly included in most project management approaches.

Stage #1: Project initiation

Project initiation is where you define your project broadly and turn an abstract idea into a concrete plan. Initiation usually begins with a business case or project charter, though depending on your circumstances you may also need to do research or feasibility testing during this stage. 

Importance of this stage

Starting a new project is always exciting, but you must ensure that the initiative will benefit the organization and align with its overall objectives. This stage helps to ensure that the project is worth undertaking and sets a solid foundation for the rest of the project. 

Project initiation also ensures that you engage stakeholders from the outset, thereby guaranteeing vital resources and gaining visibility for your initiative. This will lay the groundwork for getting support and buy-in throughout the project. 

What is the best way to proceed with this stage?

Here's how to go about this first phase of project management and set yourself up for success:

  1. Create a project charter or business case. Project charters or business cases are essential documents for pitching any initiative to stakeholders. By outlining key project details and demonstrating the benefit that your project will bring, they help you convince others that your idea is worth pursuing. A project charter is typically used for smaller initiatives that do not require significant resources. A business case, on the other hand, is more appropriate for larger projects that need substantial investment.
  2. Identify your key stakeholders and make your pitch. The next thing you need to do is figure out who needs to approve your project and secure their support. This could involve presenting your project to senior leadership, getting buy-in from cross-departmental teams, or seeking funding from external sources.
  3. Conduct research and feasibility testing, if necessary. After you’ve pitched your project and shown how it aligns with your company’s overarching goals, now is the time to run a feasibility study. A feasibility study assesses whether your project can meet its goals given your resources.

Stage #2: Project planning

Project management is all about following a roadmap and keeping your team organized. During this phase, project managers define the specific tasks, deliverables, timelines, and resources needed for success.

Importance of this stage

Projects have a way of quickly spiraling out of control without a clear plan and strategy in place. A clear, written project management plan provides a baseline for all the team members to work from and refer back to, helping everyone stay on track and meet deadlines. 

It also mitigates risks by outlining conceivable roadblocks or resource scheduling challenges early on and enabling timely course corrections. Whether you’re facing an unexpected delay or a sudden shift in project priorities, having a plan in place allows you to pivot and adapt to any changes that may arise. 

What is the best way to proceed with this stage?

To create a clear project management plan, try these steps:

  1. Define project objectives and deliverables. Merely stating that the goal of your project is to “increase sales” or “improve customer satisfaction” isn’t specific enough. Break down your goals into tangible, measurable targets and deliverables. This will provide a rationale for your project, make it easier to track progress, and help keep everyone focused on the results. S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals are a helpful framework to use when defining project objectives.
  2. Set your budget. No matter what type of project you're working on, costs will always factor in. Start by estimating the project budget, including resource costs, materials and equipment, and any external services that may be required. This will help you track progress and make economical decisions during the implementation phase. Having a budget beforehand also helps with resource management, making sure that you don't go over the initial financial scope of the project.
  3. Prepare a timeline and schedule. Break down the project into individual tasks and assign them to team members along with due dates. Plot these out on a schedule or Gantt chart to track progress and identify any potential conflicts or bottlenecks in the workflow. But leave some room for flexibility, as unforeseen circumstances may require adjustments to the timeline. For projects with more uncertain timelines, consider creating a project roadmap that clarifies the order of operations of various tasks without establishing exact dates.
  4. Identify risks and mitigation strategies. No project is without its potential pitfalls. As a project manager, you must anticipate these risks and devise ways to mitigate them. This may involve finding alternative solutions if a crucial resource falls through, or adjusting the project timeline to accommodate unexpected delays.
  5. Develop a communication plan. Every project involves communication and collaboration with stakeholders, team members, or external parties. Determine the most effective channels for communication, how often updates should be shared, and who should be included in project meetings and check-ins.

Stage #3: Project execution & implementation

So, you've got your shiny new plan all laid out — now it's time to get to work. In the execution phase, the rubber hits the road, and team members begin carrying out their assigned tasks and deliverables.

Importance of this stage

During project execution, the project team converts all the planning and strategizing into tangible results. Without effective execution and implementation, all the work put into the previous phase would be for naught. 

What is the best way to proceed with this stage?

The execution stage of a project can be just as challenging as the planning and development stages. Even teams that have done all the hard work in setting up a successful project can find themselves struggling during this phase. So, let's look at some strategies for successful project execution and implementation:

  1. Work more efficiently by delegating tasks. As the project manager, you may be tempted to micromanage every aspect of the project. However, this will only lead to dwindling efficiency and a feeling of overload. Delegate specific tasks to team members based on their skill sets or experience, and trust in their abilities to complete the task successfully.
  2. Empower your team to make decisions. Your team members are the ones on the ground, carrying out day-to-day project tasks. Encourage them to make decisions that align with the overall project goals, without the need for constant approval from higher-ups. This can boost morale and increase productivity.

Stage #4: Project monitoring

The third and fourth phases of project management are not sequential, but rather happen concurrently. Monitoring involves keeping track of progress, evaluating if the project is meeting its goals and objectives, and making any necessary adjustments.

Importance of this stage

Proper monitoring allows the project manager to identify and address any issues or deviations from the planned course of action before they become major obstacles. Without monitoring, the project team may not realize they are heading off course until it is too late. 

Moreover, by tracking the effort and cost throughout the process, the manager can also ensure that the project stays within its budget.

What is the best way to proceed with this stage?

The monitoring phase generally involves the following steps:

  1. Monitoring project parameters. Most project managers use key performance indicators (KPIs) as a means of monitoring progress and success. These specific, quantifiable metrics allow for objective analysis of the project's performance. Some common KPIs you may want to track include effort and cost tracking, schedule adherence, and task completion rate.
  2. Keeping track of stakeholder involvement. Throughout the project, keep track of stakeholder satisfaction and involvement. Are they happy with the progress and results? Have their needs and expectations been met? Are they actively participating in project meetings and decision-making? Stakeholder satisfaction is where the success of the project ultimately lies. 
  3. Making necessary adjustments. The monitoring phase allows the project manager to catch and address any issues before they become major problems. This could involve making changes to the project plan, budget, resources, or team structure. By constantly monitoring and adapting to any challenges that arise, the project has a higher chance of success.

Stage #5: Project closing

The final phase of project management involves wrapping up loose ends and formally closing the project. At this stage, a post-mortem evaluation is often conducted to review the success of the project and gather insights for future endeavors. 

Importance of this stage

Closing the project properly ensures that all deliverables have been completed and accepted by the stakeholders. It also allows for reflection on the project's success and areas for improvement, providing valuable insights for future projects.

What is the best way to proceed with this stage?

Some steps to consider during the project closing phase are: 

  1. Conducting a formal review and obtaining sign-off from stakeholders. A review meeting is typically held with key stakeholders to evaluate the project's success and gather feedback. 
  2. Performing a final project budget review and reconciling any discrepancies. This is where you'll compare the project expenditures to the budget and address any overages or unexpected expenses.
  3. Gathering and documenting project lessons learned. Many project managers create a formal document outlining the project's successes, challenges, and any lessons learned for future reference. This can also serve as a helpful reference for similar projects in the future.
  4. Archiving project documents and materials. Store and file all project documents and materials for future reference or in case they are needed for legal reasons.
  5. Celebrating the project's success with the team. Acknowledging the hard work and effort put in by team members can improve morale and encourage a positive team dynamic for future projects. 

By following these steps, the project can be properly closed and the team can move on to new endeavors. 

Getting started with project management

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Now that you know the basic stages of project management, you might have a better understanding of how to approach your project. But if you want to be truly successful, these guidelines will help you go the distance.

Start with a clear end in mind

Much like marathon runners, project leaders should have a clear vision of the finish line before they begin. This means setting specific, measurable goals and creating an action plan to achieve them. 

By setting the direction for the project early on, team members will have a clear understanding of what success looks like and how to work towards it. That way, everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals, leading to smoother project execution.

Make use of the latest tech

As the workforce becomes increasingly competitive, those with the most efficient workflows will have the advantage. Incorporating the latest tools and techniques, from project management software to cloud storage, can help your team get tasks done more quickly and accurately.

Moreover, by adopting cutting-edge technologies, project leaders can future-proof their skills and processes, and ensure that their team’s productivity is optimized to the fullest. Start by evaluating project management software tools and choosing the one that best fits the needs of your team.

And when it comes to documenting your work — lean on automation!

For example, Scribe is a process documenting tool that captures your workflow to create a step-by-step guide.

No one loves building process documentation. It's long, tedious, cluttered... and boring.

Scribe does the impossible, making SOPs fast, easy and dare we say... fun?

Simply turn on the extension and go through your process. In seconds, Scribe generates a guide, complete with text and screenshots. Use Scribe Pages to combine several guides with videos, images and more. Show your team how things are done, without losing another second.

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Here's a Scribe in action.

Bring together a team of people with complementary skills

To have an effective and successful project, you must have the right mix of people with the required skill sets and personalities. Without the right team in place, tasks will not be completed efficiently and friction among team members will be rampant. 

Look for team members who are adaptable and able to pivot when necessary, as well as those who complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When team members have different perspectives and approaches, they can offer innovative solutions and avoid groupthink. 

Create a culture that encourages ethical choices

When project leaders make ethically sound choices, they create a climate of trust and respect, which leads to better communication and collaboration. You may be tempted to cut corners or prioritize profits over ethical considerations, but in the long run, these actions can harm the project and damage relationships with team members and stakeholders. 

So while ethical leadership may not always be the easiest or most popular path, it lays the foundation for a positive and productive team dynamic, ultimately resulting in successful project execution. 

Motivate your team members

Remember, project management involves more than logistics and technical aspects – it also involves managing and motivating people. And as a project manager, you may find that sometimes Waterfall diagrams, Gantt charts, or even work breakdown structures aren't enough to help team members progress toward the finish line. 

In these cases, finding ways to motivate and inspire them is important. This could include offering rewards for completed tasks, providing opportunities for growth and development, or even just taking the time to recognize and appreciate their contributions. By keeping team morale high, project leaders can ensure that productivity remains steady and goals are met. 

Mastering the basics of project management

No matter what your current profession is, mastering project management skills can greatly enhance your career prospects and performance. Throughout the project management process, you will learn how to effectively plan, delegate tasks, manage resources, and track progress toward a specific goal. 

These skills are invaluable in any industry and can be applied to a variety of work situations. So learning and perfecting these practices can not only benefit your current job but also open up new opportunities for growth and advancement.