project manager (2024 Guide)

What Is Project Management?

BrainStation’s Project Management career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in project management. Read on for a detailed overview of the project management field, the project lifecycle, and the different types of project management.

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Project management is the application of processes, methods, skills, knowledge, and experience to achieve specific project objectives as defined at the outset of the project. Project management has final deliverables with a finite schedule and budget.

Why Do We Use Project Management?

We use project management because projects are often complex and involve many stakeholders and having a Project Manager to lead the initiative and keep everyone on the same page has been found to be crucial to overall project success. In fact, PMI found that organizations using any type of project management methodology are better at staying on budget and sticking to a schedule while meeting scope, quality standards, and expected benefits.

Really, you can’t overstate how important good project planning is. Too often, organizations overestimate how quickly they can achieve deliverables, underestimate the costs, or both. In other words, they set themselves up to fail.

With a good Project Manager on your side, you will have a realistic view of goals, budgets, and timelines.

Project management just makes good business sense. In 2018, according to PMI, 9.9 percent of every dollar invested was wasted due to poor project performance. That means that for every $1 billion invested, $99 million went to waste. Project management reduces project costs by improving efficiency, mitigating risks, and optimizing resources. Even factoring in the salary of a Project Manager, organizations stand to gain much more than they lose.

When Do We Use Project Management?

We use project management any time we are setting out to plan, monitor, and execute any type of business plan that has a start, a finish, and produces a deliverable.

Implementing project management across an organization helps create a strategic value chain that gives companies an edge on their competitors, particularly in highly competitive sectors and markets. For companies, being able to deliver projects on time and within budget often determines whether they will get the next job or whether its new product hits the market.

Ninety percent of global senior executives ranked project management methods as either critical or somewhat important to their ability to deliver successful projects and remain competitive, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit survey.

A survey by consulting giant McKinsey & Co. found that nearly 60 percent of senior executives said building a strong project management discipline is a Top 3 priority for their companies as they look to the future.

Project management is especially crucial when resources, money or time are scarce. More than half of the executives in the Economist Intelligence Unit report said following project management practices became more important since the recession began.

What Is a Project?

A project is anything that has a start, a finish, and produces a deliverable. Project management, therefore, is the method by which a project is planned, monitored, controlled, and ultimately reported on.

How to Manage a Project

Successfully managing a project requires careful planning, closely monitoring the work as it’s being done, utilizing project management tools, and managing time wisely.

First, it’s important to develop a project plan. Define goals and objectives. Clearly define the tasks needed to complete the project, and clearly outline each team member’s responsibilities and deadlines. In this stage, try to anticipate potential roadblocks to completing your project on time and consider how you’ll overcome them. Create a realistic timeline by breaking down tasks into stages and creating deadlines for each. And always seek feedback on your plan – getting buy-in before embarking on a project is key.

Once the project is underway, your job is to communicate constantly with team members, monitor their work and progress to ensure you’re on track to meet the deadline for each stage. You’re likely going to have to be quick on your feet during this stage and pivot any time an issue arises. Use software like Basecamp, Trello, and Asana to assign tasks, write to-do lists, share files, schedule important dates, and have discussions with your team.

That’s important because to meet deadlines and manage your time you’ll need to learn to delegate. If you spend too much time doing simple tasks that could be performed by others on your team, you’ll get lost in the weeds and will lose sight over what’s really important: the big picture. Good Project Managers know how to get the most out of their teams and they trust that their colleagues can get the job done.

What Are the Five Stages of Project Management?

1. Initiation

Initiation is the starting point of your project. This is when you develop the idea and assemble the Project Charter, a document that sets out clearly and concisely what the project is going to deliver and how you are going to get there.

At the end of this phase, you would typically hold a project kickoff meeting where your team and stakeholders and anyone else who should be involved get together to define the goals, processes, schedule, and chain of communication.

2. Planning

The next phase is crucial, as you start to put together a roadmap for how you’re going to make this project work. The best way to do this is to break the project down into smaller chunks. Create a task list and work with each piece and come up with a realistic estimate for how long each will take to complete.

Make a risk management plan so you know how to monitor and quickly respond to any issues, along with a communication plan so you know which people need to be kept informed and how much information they need.

What you derive from this process is your project plan, often visualized on a Gantt chart, which shows the order of tasks and the ways in which they interconnect. This plan will be with you as you steer the project through to its completion.

3. Execution

Now the actual work begins – a plan isn’t worth much unless you properly execute it.

During the execution phase, Project Managers and team members need to manage their tasks – task lists and kanban boards are two popular ways to achieve that. Time and cost management are also going to be key areas to focus on during the execution phase. And quality management is about making sure that even if you’re hitting deadlines and budgets, you’re not sacrificing quality of your deliverables along the way.

Other areas to be aware of during this phase are change management – essentially ensuring that you’re controlling any changes in scope as you execute your project – while procurement management means you’re guiding relationships with any outside vendors or suppliers whose resources you need for the project.

4. Performance/Monitoring

Monitoring goes hand-in-hand with the execution phase. You should be constantly monitoring how your project is developing from every angle and – to the best of your ability – maintaining control over your schedule and budget. To put it more simply: you’re checking the actual performance of your project against your planned performance. Project controls include project strategy, methodology, quality, and resources, among many others.

And reporting affects your project in two ways: Project Managers can track progress, and stakeholders get data that keeps them in the loop. There are reports on everything from task progress to variance and cost, portfolio status, workload and allocation, expenses, and timesheets. All the reports can be customized to get just the data you want.

5. Project close

Once you’re ready to hand off all deliverables to the proper party, you’re in the closing stage. Once you have sign-off from your stakeholders and that documentation has been reviewed, you should have a process in place to release your resources – any contract workers or resources you’ve rented, for instance.

The next step is to create your post-mortem. That’s when you look back on the finished project and start reviewing its good and bad elements.

And don’t forget to celebrate with your team!

What Are the Core Components of Project Management?


Integration management is a collection of processes required to ensure the proper coordination of a variety of elements of the project. Integration management involves making trade-offs among competing objectives and alternatives to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations.


Every single equipment rental, employee salary or wage, tool purchase or any other expense must be defined – is it part of the project or not? Defining the boundaries of a project is one of the most crucial responsibilities of a Project Manager because scope definition issues are the top cause of project distress, so a scope statement is critical.

Scope statements should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.


Projects don’t go on forever, so your schedule is another important piece. Determining deadlines usually involves external stakeholders, so communicating your project milestones and deadlines is important.

Microsoft Project is a popular tool to develop a graphical schedule, and there are also many industry-specific project management software products such as Primavera P6, used in construction.


Given that these projects are temporary, a well-defined budget is crucial. Further, it’s a Project Manager’s job to actively manage that budget – a good Project Manager never lets costs get out of hand.


What are the quality standards for your project? You should have an itemized list. Every industry has standard quality success criteria that can be specified easily. These organizations are fantastic sources for ensuring project quality.

Also, there are several aspects to quality management. You must determine quality standards, create a strategy to meet or exceed those standards (quality assurance), and ultimately measure quality (quality control).


If you need outside products or services, you’ll need a procurement plan as part of your project plan. This will indicate how you will procure whatever outside resources you need and how the quality of those resources will be monitored.

Typically, you develop a document outlining the work the contractor must perform (this document could be called a Statement of Work, Terms of Reference, Request for Proposal, or many other different variations depending on the industry and the work being performed).

You might not get the same level of quality and attention to detail when dealing with outside vendors, so staying on top of this is a major part of a Project Manager’s job.

Human resources

There’s very little that’s more important than your team. Whether you’re assembling a team from a larger organization or going outside to hire new workers, putting together a great team is often one of the most time-consuming parts of a Project Manager’s job. Not only that, but they must be trained and their productivity needs to be managed – another task that falls to a PM.

The human resources portion of your plan should cover resource requirements (which people you need and what their job descriptions are), project team acquisition (how you’ll hire that team), training and development (how you’ll get them ready), and management (how you will ensure they are working effectively and efficiently).

Risk management

A great Project Manager is never surprised by something going wrong – they’re ready for it and know exactly how to respond.

A risk register is a list of the biggest and potentially most impactful risks to the successful completion of the project. Obviously you can’t identify every last risk, but you can measure how important a risk is by considering both its probability and impact.

Then it’s not just about flagging risks – but also how you might respond to them. A response plan details how you’d respond to a potential risk and who would be involved in that response.

Stakeholder management

Communicating effectively and strategically with stakeholders is something Project Managers absolutely have to master. You must know when to contact a stakeholder over a potential issue and when not to. You also need to be completely aware of their expectations and it’s your job to make sure those expectations align with the deliverables you’re going to be able to give to them.

It doesn’t matter how successful you think a project is if your stakeholders aren’t happy with it.

What Is Project Life Cycle?

A project life cycle is the full four-step sequence of phases that a project cycles through, beginning with initiation all the way to closure. The details of that cycle are based on the needs of the organization involved in the project and the type of project that it is. Although all projects do have a definite start and end, the exact deliverables, goals, and activities can be drastically different. But the lifecycle provides the basic foundation of the actions that have to be performed in the project, regardless of the specific work involved.

The four phases of a standard life cycle are: the initiation phase (start of the project); the planning phase; the execution phase; and the termination phase (closure).

The project life cycle provides a framework for managing any type of project. Leaders in project management have conducted research to determine the best process by which to run projects; the standard project life cycle is what they found.

Project life cycles can range from predictive (plan-driven) approaches to adaptive (change-driven) approaches. In a predictive life cycle, specifics are laid out clearly at the beginning of the project and any changes to scope are addressed carefully. An adaptive life cycle, meanwhile, sees deliverables developed over multiple iterations, the specifics are defined at the start of the project, and any alterations to scope are carefully addressed. In an adaptive life cycle, the product is developed over multiple iterations, and detailed scope is defined only as the iteration begins.

Why Do We Use Project Management?

We use project management to ensure projects are completed with the appropriate budget, schedule, and quality level.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), organizations that don’t properly value project management report an average of 50 percent more of their projects failing outright. Because projects are usually complicated and involve a great number of stakeholders, having a Project Manager to steer the initiative, monitor progress, and keep a team of people focused on the right goals and tasks is crucial.

A good Project Manager understands the big picture and sets realistic and achievable goals, budgets, and timelines. Without careful management, a project can quickly get off track before it has even begun.

Projects fail because of a lack of clear goals. Project Managers help organizations hone in on their priorities and keep them focused on those objectives over the course of a project’s life.

Also, without a Project Manager to oversee the project plans and task breakdowns, many teams overlook potential risk factors as they crop up. That’s another reason these projects fail.

Further, not only does a Project Manager keep a careful eye on cost, a Project Manager flat-out saves organizations money by improving efficiency and optimizing resources.

What Are the Different Types of Project Management?

The three types of Project Management are Waterfall project management, Agile project management, and Lean project management.

1. Waterfall project management

This traditional approach divides your workload into a series of related tasks that you must complete in a strict sequence. Similarly, one phase won’t start before you complete the previous one. It’s an approach based on extensive planning, where you have a very clear idea at the outset about timelines and budgets. That requires investing more time in the early stages of the project, and the benefit of that clarity is that it helps to avoid risks and miscommunication. The downside? It hasn’t been adapted yet to meet the needs of modern software development. It’s more useful for companies making physical products.

2. Agile project management

Agile is a series of principles and principles best suited for projects that face various changes during their progress. It’s a mindset based on short delivery cycles (called sprints) and on work cultures that have the ability and capacity to be quick on their feet (hence the name Agile). If for whatever reason an organization or team is not in a position to pivot quickly during a project, the Agile process probably wouldn’t be the optimal process.

3. Lean project management

Lean supports creating high-quality products with fewer people and resources in less time. To eliminate waste, Lean focuses on customer value, bottleneck removal, and repeated process improvement. If you have a small team hoping to deliver outstanding results in a short period of time without a huge budget, this method can help. Lean also helps companies adapt quickly to constant shifts in consumer desires and behaviors.

What Is Agile Project Management?

Agile is a project management philosophy and practice that describes a process where a project faces a number of changes over the course of its life cycle and the team working on that project responds in a nimble, adaptive way.

Using short delivery cycles (called sprints), the Agile process is ideal for work cultures that are, yes, agile. As risks and opportunities materialize over the course of a project, Agile prepares teams to be ready to quickly change direction if necessary.

Agile focuses on team communication as regular feedback can reshape the course of a project. Stakeholders review each stage and recommend changes accordingly. This system allows the entire team to share responsibility for a project by owning specific individual or collaborative tasks. With all this flexibility, there is no clearly drawn predefined path and this does mean the Project Manager surrenders a bit of control. Though objectives are named from the beginning, deliverables and outcomes can shift.

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