What is project management?

12 min read
Tanya Abdul Jalil

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.

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7 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 project management tools make it easy to communicate, collaborate and share everything in one place. Here are just seven of them:

  1. Asana
  2. Wrike
  3. Trello
  4. Workzone
  5. monday.com
  6. Teamwork
  7. ClickUp

Before we share our seven 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 specific 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.

Asana home page
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

Trello project management tool website

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.

5. monday.com

Monday.com home page

Ideal for start-ups with a limited budget, monday has a high level of customisation. With many users wanting an attractive interface, its clean and intuitive design is a major factor in monday’s popularity. PC mag rates it 3½ out of 5 stars.  Pros Simple task integration into calendars and easy task manipulation. Customisable templates. New features are regularly being added. 

Cons Limited reporting options. Limited software integration and automation for the free and basic plans. 

6. Teamwork

Thanks to its unlimited collaboration options on the paid plans, Teamwork suits consultants, freelancers and agencies alike. PC map rates it 4½ out of 5 stars. 

Pros Intuitive and easy to use interface. Budget tracking and unlimited clients. Customisable options. 

Cons No image or PDF markup tools. Limited integration options.  More expensive than other project management tools. 

7. ClickUp

ClickUp home page

Offering a variety of key features such as reporting dashboards, collaboration and tracking tools, it’s easy to see why many businesses are using ClickUp. The software creators’ goal is to make ClickUp an all-in-one tool.  Pros  Advanced and centralised task management. Customisable templates and dashboards. Inbuilt notepad. 1000+ integrations. 

Cons Steep learning curve for beginners. Slow loading time. 

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 keeps stakeholders happy

By keeping all your documentation in one place, it’s easy to present data and milestones to your stakeholders, whether that’s your boss, a partner or a lender.

They’ll feel more comfortable with how their money is being spent because you’re able to prove you have a clear plan. And you’ll feel more confident liaising with stakeholders because you’re able to show the deliberate steps you’re taking towards a specific goal. 

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: Use lean manufacturing principles to transform any business

What is a project plan? 

Along with having a cloud-based tool to store all your documents, conversations and milestones, the project plan is one of the most important parts of project management. 

A project plan is a document that’s approved by team members and stakeholders.

It contains the details about how the project is going to be implemented, measured and controlled.  By creating a project plan, you and your team will be able to check the progress and performance of the project against the baseline goal that you set. This allows you to easily see if the project has taken a wayward path or is heading straight for your target.  Project plans also make delegation much easier, thanks to each step of the project being clearly mapped out. From resources available to outsourcing, deadlines to budgets, everything is stated in the project plan document. 

Who are the key stakeholders in a project? 

Stakeholders are the people who influence the project and who the project will impact the most, both inside your business and externally.  

How the project affects each group of stakeholders can be positive or negative.

Stakeholders are broken into four categories — internal, external, primary and secondary stakeholders.  Internal primary stakeholders: 

  • Employees involved in the project
  • Managers involved in the project
  • Internal customers
  • Product owners
  • Business owners and partners

Internal secondary stakeholders: 

  • IT employees
  • Resources employees
  • Top-level managers

External primary stakeholders: 

  • Customers
  • Suppliers and vendors
  • Contractors and subcontractors
  • Investors and sponsors

External secondary stakeholders in a project are: 

  • Government
  • Advocacy groups
  • Political groups
  • Trade unions
  • Local community

As the project moves through each stage, the priority of each stakeholder group can change.  

Woman talking with teammates online

Project managers must identify the influence and authority each group has on the project at the start of the project.

As the project progresses, a project manager engages and manages the relationships with stakeholders to drive every action towards a successful outcome.  This is where project management software shines. Using a project management tool helps you create communication channels aligned with the importance of each stakeholder group and the frequency of contact required. 

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.

Project Management Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is project management in simple terms? 

Project management entails organising and directing business resources to reach a specific goal.   

Q. What are the 4 types of project management?

When organising a project, there are four common ways to go about it. These are: 

  • The Waterfall method — a more traditional project management method, this uses a linear approach. It requires every stage being completed before the next stage is started so the project follows a chronological order. It’s ideal for projects with a lot of restrictions or where there aren’t many changes anticipated.
  • Agile approach — taking the complete opposite approach to the Waterfall method, the Agile style allows for the project management to be rewritten and pivoted as needed. Team members take steps simultaneously on any part of the project and then meet regularly to assess where the project is at. This method suits industries with a lot of uncertainty and projects where you can’t know certain details until you reach a particular stage or date.
  • Six Sigma – Taking a strict approach, Six Sigma demands tight adherence to the project plan. The aim is to reduce waste, improve procedures and minimise errors with near perfection expected. Businesses often use this technique for projects that involve finding and correcting defects, managing downtime or improving manufacturing processes.
  • Kanban technique – Perfect for creatives and visual learners, the Kanban technique uses cards to move tasks through three phases: queued, in progress and completed. In the past, businesses used sticky notes and whiteboards but now there are cloud-based tools such as Miro, ideal for geographically dispersed teams. This method suits projects with steps that need to be done at the same time.

Q: What is the main purpose of project management?

Businesses use project management for three reasons:

  • To establish how a goal is going to be achieved
  • To determine who will be involved in reaching it
  • To know how the success of the project is going to be measured

Q: What are the 5 stages of project management?

From initial idea to opening the champagne, there are five stages every project goes through.  

  1. Initiation and conception
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Monitoring and control
  5. Closure 

For software engineers, this process never ends — teams simply start at the beginning again as they continuously improve their products.

Q: What is the difference between project management and project planning?

Project management is all about how you’re going to reach a goal. Project planning is the details of what you’re going to do, who is responsible for each step and why you’re doing it. 

Q: What does the acronym "PM" stand for in project management?

PM stands for project manager. They’re the person responsible for making sure everyone is doing the tasks they’re assigned, and every task is directed towards the project goal.