Humans throughout history have managed all sorts of processes and tasks. In the middle of the 20th century, the art of this responsible position was fully recognized and thus the official term project management was born into the world. Every one of us has been a project manager at some point in our lives simply because we all had to organize a birthday party. As weird as it sounds organizing one requires key project management skills: to work and collaborate with people (e.g to call a bakery, which is going to make the cake); to plan carefully and to fit in a budget (e.g to not go overboard with decorations); to oversee and navigate all of the processes (to make sure the DJ arrives early, to properly set up the surprise and to not forget the cake); to meet a deadline of some sort (e.g to make sure everything is ready for the big day, not the day after), and most importantly to produce a final visible successful result (e.g a fun and memorable birthday party for all of the participants). Now, if you want to learn more about managing a killer birthday part… we mean a killer project, then this article is for you. As always, go and grab that beloved beverage of yours, and let’s plow ahead.

What is project management?

A detailed definition would sound something like this: project management, or PM for short, is a group of different processes, which all aim to achieve a specific objective in a specified amount of time, all in accord with predefined criteria and parameters. It’s a complex and multi-layered task, which safeguards a project from its planning phase to its due date and tries to make the road from beginning to completion as smooth as possible.

In today’s fast-paced technological world project managers are cherished and sought after in pretty much any type of business. They are the people responsible for the success of every project. Depending on the organization a project manager can oversee different operations and usually juggle a lot of things at once. This might sound very similar to any managerial role. The things that set apart project management are that it has a final deliverable and a finite timespan unlike regular management, which is an ongoing process.

Projects are part of every organization’s operations. Obviously, they vary in scale, complexity, and specificity but every project contains the same three building blocks: time, cost, and quality. Not every project requires formal management though. Some tasks are pretty straightforward, with minimal risk and not that large of an impact. But some tasks morph into enormous projects, which can’t go forward without a person who oversees them. These sorts of projects hide a lot of risks and often require cross-team collaboration.

Investing in effective project management and project management tools can bring a lot of benefits to an organization’s overall performance. The most obvious one is to increase the likelihood of a project bearing successful results. Other key benefits are the more efficient use of resources and the ability to better satisfy the differing needs of the project’s stakeholders. 

Core stages and methodologies

Before we talk about the tools first we have to shine some light on the core stages of project management, as well as on the different types of project management methodologies.

There are three core stages when we talk about project management:

Scoping – the gathering of all the elements needed to kick off the project; they include the reasons behind starting the project, estimating the resources needed, comparing them to the expected return on investment, and securing the budget for the project. 

Planning and delivering – mapping out how the project should be completed; gathering delivery teams and assigning tasks to them; identifying and fixing issues throughout the process that could hinder the performance of the teams involved; ensuring that deadlines are met; 

Reporting and closure – reporting is an ongoing process throughout all stages, e.g communicating with project stakeholders and managing their expectations; once the objectives are met and everything is handled appropriately, a post-mortem meeting is assigned to discuss and evaluate what went right, and what went wrong. 

With the development of technology and industries, the role of project management also has to adapt accordingly. Project management methodologies exist for that particular reason. Different companies have different projects which can have specific needs and the role of all of the methodologies is to better meet those specific needs. We’ll list and review a few of the popular ones.

Waterfall methodology – the traditional approach to project management, in which tasks are handled sequentially in a linear manner, e.g complete task A, then start to work on B, and after B is completed start to work on C, etc.

Agile methodology – the very opposite of the previous approach; this methodology offers an iterative approach that allows for revision while a process is ongoing, rather to have to wait for its completion and then revise it. Testing at frequent intervals, reassessing, and adapting are key elements in this approach. 

Scrum methodology – a different form of agile project management; the work is split into short, often weekly cycles, called “sprints”, which are managed by a scrum master (a person who leads small teams, not to be confused with the project manager), who reviews the team’s performance after every sprint and makes the necessary adjustments before starting the next one.

Kanban methodology – another form of agile project management, in which work is picked and assigned from a pre-defined backlog and “moved” along through columns that define different stages of development.

What tools are usually used in project management?

We’ll give you the universal answer – it depends. Based on the structure of the company, and by which methodology/methodologies it operates, some tools might be a better fit than others. At their core, they are pretty much the same. By giving visibility on every single process, that is part of a project – how it’s going, who is responsible for it, ETA, etc. –  they assist project managers in their daily tasks of supervising each project they are accountable for and basically make their lives easier.

In a big organization, different departments might choose to operate by different methodologies, therefore a more complex and diverse project management tool like Jira might be of better use. On the other hand, a small marketing agency that has a less complicated structure and operates in a more simple way might opt for Trello, which will probably cover all of their needs and can save them expenses with its free version.

Choosing the best tool for your business can be a feat of its own. You can use the following steps as guidelines if you want to make that process a bit easier.

Define your needs – think about your company culture, what services you provide and which project management methodology best suits your business operations. A PM tool should be cross-functional and should be scalable.

Pick and test – based on the previous step, you should pick 2-3 tools and test them with a real team on a realistic project. The more complex the test project – the better. A suitable tool should be flexible. After the test trials, evaluate the pros and cons of each tool, get feedback from the different teams and their project managers and opt for the best choice. 

Purchase and implement – price should definitely be accounted for when making the choice from the previous step. After you found the solution that fits your business best you now will need to implement it. Some of the project management tools are intuitive and user-friendly-ish but keep in mind that the more complex ones probably will require some sort of training. 

Review and iterate – after implementing the tool, you should review its impact on the organization. Did it cover all of the needs you addressed in step one? Are your teams happy to use it or do they despise it? Does anything need improvement? Acquire all of the feedback you can get and make the necessary adjustments.

Closing lines
Project management is a constantly evolving discipline that requires project managers to deal with delivery teams and hand over work on time and within budget. Along with their specific skill set and leadership qualities, project managers also require the help of the right tools to perform their job more efficiently.

Choosing the right tool for your organization can be overwhelming based on all of the available options but if you are able to carefully define your needs and test some tools based on the type of your organization and its field of operations, you will manage to narrow down the options to a few, and then purchase and implement the one you deem best.