Project management is the art and science of planning, achieving, and delivering specific goals under time and resource constraints - leading a one-time project. Because projects vary so radically from one another, professionals in software, construction, and many other fields have developed methodologies to support great project results across multiple industries. Let's look at some valuable resources for understanding the steps of the project management life cycle.
Although there are some project management "best practices" that remain similar across many different industries, there are also project management protocols to deal with highly specific situations. Software developers, construction managers, and others have each developed some specialized project management approaches that warrant consideration. Although these may not be appropriate for all projects, they can provide valuable perspectives that any project manager can incorporate into their project leadership toolkit.
Many project managers consider planning to be the most important aspect of any project. A well-designed plan helps match results to resources, maximizing a team's achievement within the confines of a final deadline. Good planning also helps to anticipate the kinds of problems a project might encounter down the road, ensuring that there are contingencies available to meet the changing demands of a project in motion.
Execution represents the longest and most complex phase of any project. During execution, the project team puts the project plan into motion. While team members work to achieve project milestones and finish deliverables, the project manager must orchestrate communication between different stakeholders. They must also maintain focus and momentum, working with subject matter experts to overcome unexpected challenges. When most people think of "project management," the execution phase comes to mind first.
Monitoring is an absolutely critical way of ensuring that the "real world" activity of an execution phase matches up as closely as possible with the theory behind the planning phase. Although it is thought of as a separate phase, monitoring activities generally overlap the execution phase. In monitoring, the project manager evaluates the use of time, resources, and personnel to ensure that project milestones are reached effectively. They must also remediate issues as they happen.
New project managers are often tempted to neglect the closing phase, which represents the final step of any project. Closing is critical because it gives project leaders the opportunity to review the entire course of a project and derive important lessons learned from successes and failures. An efficient, well-structured closing phase will help to ensure that future projects benefit from tools and techniques used in previous encounters.
As complex as project management is, it contains dozens of major sub-disciplines within it. It is important that a project manager be able to juggle schedules, reliably estimate budgets and technical resources, motivate and inspire team members from a variety of backgrounds, and much more. Just as in the closing phase of a project, a good project manager is constantly looking for lessons learned and improving their skills in a variety of ways.