Effective project management: the gift that keeps on giving

Keep projects on time, on track and on budget with the right skills and tools

project management hero people talking and working on a shared bicycle
Image Credit: Abbey Lossing

If you’ve ever worked on a project that took way longer and cost way more than it should have to complete, then you know the havoc bad project management can wreak. You’re not alone.

One study from PricewaterhouseCoopers examining 10,640 projects across 200 companies in 30 countries found that just 2.5% of those companies were successfully completing 100% of their projects. Another Harvard Business Review report analyzing 1,471 IT-related projects found that 1 in 6 of them—on average—exceeded both their budget by 200% and their schedule by 70%. Here’s how incorporating the right project management skills and tools can play a huge role in establishing efficient, high-performing companies.

What is project management?

Project management is the task of keeping any given project on target to meet its goals within optimal parameters. It involves all the organizational duties that keep the work pipeline clear of roadblocks, bottlenecks and other challenges so that the rest of the team can execute their own duties as effectively as possible.

Sometimes this also means figuring out how to optimize the workflows already in place and devising more efficient ways of completing various stages of the project. In other words, when a business seeks to minimize waste and maximize output, project management is essential for that process.

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How efficient project management keeps teams on track

Depending on the industry, project management is generally accomplished through:

  • An established set of processes, best practices and workflows
  • A suite of project management tools, such as a task manager (Trello, Asana), a database manager (Airtable), a calendar (Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook Calendar), or some combination of the three (Kyber)
  • An outstanding degree of organizational expertise

While individual organizations might follow their own unique internal processes, project management generally involves the following four major phases.

1. Initiation, planning and kickoff

A team member with effective project management skills establishes and clarifies details of the assignment with higher-ups and clients, starts building a timeline based on deadlines and allotted budget, then organizes an introductory meeting to start the process off on the right foot. The employee adjusts calendars and costs as needed following feedback from various teams.

2. Development, review and approval

While the rest of the team is brainstorming, pitching and mocking up potential avenues for executing the project, the team member acting as a project manager is soliciting and sharing feedback from necessary parties, making sure communication channels are clear and constructive. The project manager is also securing whatever explicit approvals are necessary to then move forward with the agreed-upon execution.

3. Production, execution and delivery

As teams get to work setting the project in motion, a key stakeholder will use project management skills to keep track of deliverables—the actual items being created or worked on that need to change hands in a clear, uniform fashion. If the project is digital, it might mean working with a quality assurance (QA) team to test those deliverables (or with an editorial team to copyedit them) before the official launch.

4. Financial closing, postmortem and archiving

Once the project is officially completed, an effective project manager ensures that all the appropriate invoices are paid out and determines the final cost of the project. The project manager organizes a wrap-up meeting to assess the success of the project and highlight how similar projects might be improved on in the future. Finally, the employee ensures that the project is properly documented and its deliverables stored for future reference.

Boost organizational growth by investing in project management

By investing in project management tools, skills and personnel, employers can enable teams and managers to collaborate effectively over deliverables. PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession report found that the overwhelming majority of high-performing companies—where at least 80% of projects are completed on time, on budget, and have met business intent—tend to:

  • Have ongoing project management training and a defined career path for project managers
  • Have implemented formal processes for knowledge sharing and developing project manager competency
  • Prioritize the development of technical, leadership and business skills for project managers

Offering employee learning and development programs for project management skills benefits all types of knowledge workers. According to PMI’s findings, project management skills are likely to be central to increasingly popular job roles like strategic advisor, innovator, communicator, and versatile manager. Just as decluttering your home creates a more inviting living space, investing in project management skills allow teams—and ultimately the organization at large—to operate smoothly.

What does a project manager do all day?

A project manager is your team’s air traffic controller, train conductor, referee, bodyguard and movie producer. Not only does the project manager keep things on track, but the person does so with external, concentrated expertise and analysis. 

According to PMI, the four main areas project managers must effectively juggle on behalf of their team(s) are scope, time, quality and budget. On any given day, a project manager is:

  • Checking individual team members’ task statuses and team’s deliverables against a project calendar, adjusting both the calendar and other teams’ expectations accordingly
  • Tracking how much money has been spent on the project, as well as what resources are still remaining, with project management tools such as Smartsheet and Workfront
  • Maintaining contact with and managing expectations of various external vendors and clients, ensuring that all feedback, contracts and revisions are accepted by necessary parties before moving forward
  • Liaising between departments, acting as the first line of defense against pushback from leadership as well as other parts of the company
  • Solving any problems that are keeping the team from hitting their deadlines
  • Ensuring that cross-functional teams aren’t doubling up on tasks
  • Risk assessment modeling, and anticipating solutions for possible roadblocks
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