What Is Project Management? Definition, Steps, and Skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 26, 2022 | Published August 17, 2021

Updated November 26, 2022

Published August 17, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Related: A Day in the Life of a Project Manager

In this video, we follow Gillian, a project manager for an agency in New York, as she shows you what a day in the life of a project manager is actually like, including work hours, work environment and job duties.

Project management is a way that companies can accomplish tasks effectively, whether they want to develop products, provide services, or implement other activities. It's a philosophy that gives structure and efficiency to workflow. Managers and other team leaders can use this framework to use resources successfully and deliver work on time and within budget. In this article, we explain what project management is, how to use it, and what the duties and skills of project managers are.

Why is it useful to know the answer to "What is project management?"

It's useful to know the answer to "What is project management?" because it can help you decide if a career in this area is right for you. Even if you don't become a project manager exactly, you can use project management skills in a variety of other jobs in different industries. You may even be able to use these abilities in your personal life to plan and implement projects like home renovations, parties, or holiday trips.

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  • Why Project Management Is Important (And Tips for Success)

  • Project Charts for Effective Project Management (With 8 Types)

  • What is Resource Management and Why Is It Important?

What is project management?

Project management is a process in which a company allocates resources to complete a task. These resources may be immaterial, like knowledge, skills, techniques, time, and labour, or material, like money, equipment, materials, and space. Organizing plans and efforts can help a team achieve their goals. There are different types of project management that meet the needs of different industries, including:

  • Waterfall project management: In this approach, team members complete project tasks sequentially. Only after finishing one task can a team start another.

  • Agile project management: Unlike the unidirectional waterfall style, agile project management is an iterative approach, in which different teams undertake project phases at once. Popular in the IT industry, this framework aims to adapt a business to a dynamic operating environment.

  • Lean project management: The goal of lean project management is to minimize the time and resources used to achieve project goals. Those who use this approach believe it doesn't have to cost a lot to deliver value to the customer.

Regardless of the industry, project management involves dividing a complex activity into smaller, manageable processes, each with specific deliverables. Achievement of process deliverables allows the project to proceed to the next phase.

Read more: 8 Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work

What are the phases of project management?

Every project is unique, partly depending on its goals. For instance, an IT project is distinct from a construction project because of its different objectives and constraints. While the specific components of projects vary across industries, here are some typical phases of project management:

1. Initiation

In the initiation phase, a manager and team conceptualize a project idea by determining company goals and outlining the activities, resources, and time it would take to achieve those goals. They develop a project charter, a document describing all the project tasks. Initiation also involves identifying the stakeholders who have an interest in the project's outcome.

2. Planning

In the planning phase, the team develops a project management plan, defines the scope, and structures the work. They also calculate estimates for how long each task may take and identify the financial and other resources they need. Other activities at this stage include:

  • Planning the procurement of supplies

  • Identifying potential risks

  • Managing stakeholder expectations

  • Planning for quality management

  • Planning for communications management

Preparation is one of the most important phases of a project, as it can determine the project's success. It's beneficial to spend a significant amount of time on both minor and major details in this step. Teams can also adjust planning and goals as they progress through their tasks.

3. Execution

In the execution phase, the team implements the activities they've planned while observing deadlines and cost limits. They continuously track, report, and share information to measure their progress and ensure adherence to overall goals. Communication and collaboration are critical in this phase to ensure team members have the support they need to complete their duties.

4. Monitoring and controlling

The monitoring and controlling stage involves finding out whether the project is progressing according to the plan. The stage entails conducting quality checks and validating the project scope, timeline, and resources. Depending on their capacities, their resources, and the swiftness of their progress, a team may need to adjust project objectives, shift deadlines, or reengage stakeholders to ensure success.

5. Closing

Once a team has completely achieved the project goals, the project ends. Then, leaders and team members perform an evaluation to establish the level of success of the project and observe any lessons for the future. If a team did not reach their goals, it might plan a new project to try again.

Read more:

  • 22 Essential Project Management Skills

What is a project manager?

A project manager is a professional who leads in the planning, implementation, monitoring, controlling, and closing of projects. Those in this role are accountable for compiling resources and determining the scope and timelines of activities. They ensure projects achieve the intended goals. In case of project failure, project managers document the reasons for the failure in order to inform corrective actions to guide future efforts.

Project managers oversee various team members who manage specific aspects of the project. For example, in a marketing project, one team member may handle social media ads, another might monitor the budget, and yet another may focus on website engagement. Every person working on a project depends on the input and resourcefulness of others to achieve their goals.

Read more: Essential Project Manager Technical Skills

What does a project manager do?

Irrespective of the industry, project managers' work involves pitching ideas, creating plans and budgets, monitoring projects, and reporting on progress to the relevant stakeholders. They also allocate resources to work toward their company's goal. The project manager conveys information between top executives, investors, and the team implementing the project. Those in this leadership role are key in facilitating strategic decisions. Here are the typical duties and responsibilities of a project manager:

  • Estimate resources required to achieve project objectives

  • Manage project resources effectively and efficiently

  • Develop short- and long-term plans for projects

  • Track project costs in relation to the budget

  • Manage procurement contracts and relationships with vendors and suppliers

  • Set project milestones and adhere to timelines

  • Adhere to industry best practices and techniques

  • Assign responsibilities to staff most qualified to complete them

  • Decide on the best course of action to ensure project progress

  • Maintain communication with project stakeholders

Essential traits of a project manager

To ensure project success from start to finish, project managers need the following traits:

  • Communication: Project managers need to communicate in both verbal and written forms to convey messages to the project stakeholders. They also need active listening skills to understand the concerns of their colleagues, supervisors, and clients.

  • People skills: Projects involve multiple people, so a project manager needs to find ways of coordinating and collaborating with them. People skills like friendliness and compassion can help team members work together to produce a high-quality end product.

  • Problem-solving: Sometimes, projects don't progress according to the plan because of factors such as funding delays, mistakes, or miscalculations. A project manager needs creative and critical thinking skills to approach challenges with confidence and resolve issues quickly and effectively.

  • Persuasion skills: Those in this role may need to persuade investors and executives of the need to implement a project or structure a project in a certain way. Strong persuasion skills can help a manager get the resources they need to complete important tasks.

  • Technical skills: Project managers need to have basic technical skills to execute projects. It's important they can use digital project management systems, computers, and other technology to organize team members and complete tasks quickly and accurately.

  • Conflict resolution: There may cause conflicts in a project team, which may disrupt the project's progress. Project managers need excellent conflict resolution skills to solve personal issues and maintain project momentum.

  • Business acumen: Market-oriented projects are crucial in enhancing a company's competitiveness. A project manager needs excellent business intelligence to take advantage of market dynamics for maximum return on investment.

  • Time management: Time is an integral factor in the success of projects. A project manager needs to be conscious of the time it would take to complete sub-tasks as they determine the overall project completion timeline.

  • Motivation skills: Project managers need excellent motivation skills to encourage their teams. Motivated teams are more likely to achieve project milestones on time and within the set budget.

  • Accountability: Project managers manage immense project resources and have an extensive amount of authority. They need to be accountable for the proper handling of these resources and also accountable for their actions toward their team members.

Related: Understanding Development Manager vs. Project Manager Roles


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