Successful project management is an essential component of any business’ prosperity, whatever its size and whichever industry it’s in. If projects aren’t managed effectively, company strategies can never be implemented properly and growth will stall.

However, organizations that don’t have a solid handle on the necessary tools and techniques can find themselves struggling to compete in the open market. With enough terms to fill a small dictionary, the project management discipline can be complex to navigate and understand.

We’ve put together this helpful guide to understanding project management. Our complete guide should help simplify many of the tools, phrases and areas of knowledge in this area. This should prevent otherwise successful projects from going off the rails. So, what are these potential pitfalls?

Potential Project Management Pitfalls
There are a myriad of reasons why projects fails including a lack of sponsorship, unrealistic goals, uncontrolled or unrealistic project scope and insufficient resources. However, by examining the PMI’s latest research, it is clear that one of the biggest pitfalls is a lack of investment in proven project management practices. According to the PMI, over 80 percent of firms who invest in the latest methodologies complete their projects on time. This stands in contrast to firms that underperform: their chances of success stand at a mere 60 percent.

Delving into the PMI’s research, we find that the top reason for the failure of projects is a dissonance between the strategies employed by the company and the goals of the project. The PMI’s figures show that companies can double the success rate of their projects by creating an Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO). The goal of these offices is to align project goals with the strategies of the company.

Now that we’ve outlined some of the most common pitfalls, it’s time to delve deeper into the world of project management terminology.

What Is Project Management?
Every company project begins with a set of goals and ‘deliverables’. For example, if the project is to develop a new smartphone, the deliverable would be the handset itself. Project management is the art of selecting the correct resources, tools and techniques that can deliver these promised outcomes on time and within budget.

How Does Project Management Differ from Change Management?
According to Angela Bunner, while change management overlaps with project management, the key difference is that a change manager’s job is usually ongoing with no specifically defined deliverables. Whereas a project manager will be given a clear deadline and a clear end result, a change manager’s role is to help a business adapt to changing internal or external factors.

What Are the Main Goals of Project Management?
The main goal of project management is to guide a project team through a series of tasks that result in a defined goal (a deliverable) being completed. This is known as a value-added goal and helps to drive improvement and growth within a business.

The secondary goal of any project management task is to acquiring the right personnel with the skills and knowledge required to make the project successful. A project manager may have to help manage the expectations of the shareholders, especially if they are unrealistic. The manager’s task is to identify the most important initiatives and to provide senior management with ongoing information about the project’s progress.

Key Project Management Personnel Roles Explained
As companies can approach project management in different ways, a thorough understanding of the roles performed by key personnel is essential.

What’s the Difference Between PMOs and EPMOs?
A PMO is a project management office that oversees the direction of projects and helps to maintain standards and practices. As PMOs do not typically lead the alignment process between company strategies, some companies form their own Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO). These types of offices take the lead in aligning the strategies of the business with the goals of its projects.

There are many areas of overlap between both types of office including resource management, overseeing best practices, analyzing project management tools and studying performance metrics.

A key difference between these types of offices is that while a PMO is within a business unit (usually the IT department) and reports to the CIO or CTO, an EPMO is outside of any business unit and reports directly to the CEO or CFO.

PMO vs EPMO; Which is Better?
As indicated by the PMI’s research, not every business creates an EPMO. However, some firms have both a PMO and an EPMO with each office having a distinct set of objectives. There can be competition between these two groups if they aren’t set up correctly. While there is significant overlap between these offices, they each have specific advantages.

Professional project managers will staff and run the most successful PMOs. These groups are best for adding value to customer business units as their methodologies align well with the existing culture in the company. On the other hand, companies that want to ensure that the right projects get approved are best served by EPMOs. Their focus on company strategy ensures that project management tools and best practices are employed and aligned with the culture and goals of the business.

Which Skills Should a Successful Project Manager Have?
Although project managers are commonly expected to be the leading experts on their teams, research shows that so-called ‘soft skills’ are key determining factors in their success. Successful project managers should show exemplary problem-solving skills, adaptability, leadership skills and communication skills. Research published by the PMI shows that project managers spend over 90 percent of their time talking to other team members. This claim was recently backed up by research by the Wrike Team. To a certain extent, communication skills are at least of equal importance to technical know-how. 

What Attributes Should Project Managers Have?
Patience and flexibility are among the top attributes of successful project managers. Arguably the primary attribute of top managers is their persuasive ability. While they need to respect the wishes of stakeholders and high level management, project managers also need the ability to manage expectations. Unrealistic goals or expectations are one of the main causes of project failure. A top manager will be able to act as a strategic business partner and help to reduce demands that exceed what is actually possible.

Which Certifications Should Project Managers Hold?
Although there is a strong correlation between successful projects and highly skilled project managers, this isn’t always reflected in the certifications held by these managers. According to research conducted by the Wrike Team, fewer than 60 percent of project managers at corporate giants such as IBM hold any form of project management certification.

However, many project managers do hold specific certifications and many other will be working towards obtaining one. Common project management certifications include becoming a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified Project Management Practitioner (CPMP).

What Are the Most Common Project Management Processes?
Now that we’ve looked at the types of personnel involved in running company projects and the types of skills, attributes and certifications that they might hold, it’s time to look at the processes they are actually engaged in.

The Five Common Project Management Phases Explained
Every successful project passes through five distinct projects, sometimes referred to as the project’s ‘life-cycle’. These phases are the initiating phase, the planning phase, the executing phase, the monitoring and controlling phase and the closing phase. Below we’ll give a brief overview of these five phases.

The Initiating Phase
This phase involves developing a charter for the project that will guide its strategy and methodologies. The project manager should identify the stakeholders, listen to their expectations and help manage their requirements.

The Planning Phase
During this phase, the manager must develop the project’s plan by defining the scope of the work and producing the work breakdown structure (WBS). The plan should outline how time, costs and quality will be managed including the duration of each activity, the budgets involved and how quality will be managed. Other essential components of this phase include human resource considerations, communications, risk management, procurement management and stakeholder management.

The Executing Phase
This phase entails putting into plan all aspects of the project. The team can begin buying resources, hiring personnel, meeting with stakeholders and reporting the activity to management.

The Monitoring and Controlling Phase
Many aspects of any given project will run over budget or experience delays. The purpose of this phase is to control project costs and manage its scope and direction while controlling the quality of the deliverables. During this phase, a project manager’s role is to control stakeholder engagements and manage their expectations. 

The Closing Phase
This final phase is self-explanatory as it entails closing all phases of the project and handing over the deliverables. However, good project managers also engage in reflection periods to discover what went well and what needs to be improved for future projects.

The Six Common Project Management Steps Explained
Before rushing into the initiating phase of any project, an experienced project manager will go through seven steps that make the likelihood of a positive outcome far higher. Firstly, the manger should align the project’s goals with the company’s strategic goals. Any divergence or conflicts between the goals of the project and those of the company should be flagged to management. As EPMOs report directly to the CEO or CFO, this is one clear advantage of setting up this type of office.

The second step is to bridge the gap between the strategy and how it will be executed. This could involve pointing out unrealistic expectations or goals and offering alternatives of solutions. This leads onto the third step of gaining executive sponsorship.

The fourth step entails hiring the right personnel with the skills and experience to complete the project on time and within budget. The sixth and seventh steps are to tackle business disruptions and adopt the best practices respectively.   

How to Manage Stakeholder Expectations
One of the most common reasons for the failure of projects is that stakeholders either don’t know what they are looking for, or they have unrealistic expectations. The role of a good project manager is to identify stakeholder expectations and manage them in order to prevent misunderstandings or conflicts.

One of the best approaches is to focus on stakeholders’ real intended needs and goals. An experienced project manager knows when to rein in unrealistic goals. As stakeholders could include any group or person with a vested interest in the project, a real possibility is that parts of their collective wish list may contradict each other. Pointing out these conflicts and contradictions is an essential part of ensuring that the project remains successful. The project’s timeline and the proposed tasks should always be realistic.

What Is the Project’s Scope?
The scope guides the work of the entire project and any changes should be submitted via a scope change request.

Project Budgets Explained
Project managers should carefully monitor the budget throughout the life cycle of the project and report any overruns to the management or stakeholders.  

Project Deliverables Explained
The ‘deliverable’ is the end result of any project.

What Are the Milestones and Tasks of the Project?
Milestones are a collection of smaller tasks and help to ensure that the project is running on schedule.

The Four Most Common Methodologies Explained
There are multiple methodologies that project managers can adopt and choosing the right one depends on the type of business, the goals of the project and the personnel on the team. Here is a brief review of the top three most common methodologies.

Agile Project Management
Agile is a flexible and incremental approach with no set end. This method is best for projects that expect to receive new goals while the project is running. For instance, an IT project might expect new requests for certain features to be added after the project has begun.

Scrum a slight variant of the Agile method and its name refers to the use of daily ‘standup’ meetings, similar to a scrum in the sport of Rugby. The work is divided into sections called ‘sprints’ and meetings are held before and after each ‘sprint’ has been completed.

Waterfall Project Management
The third most common approach is Waterfall, also known as the traditional approach. A key feature of this methodology is that the process cannot be reversed. It runs through five phases from requirements, to design, implementation, verification and finally maintenance. This approach is cheaper and faster than Agile or Scrum approaches but can prove most costly if new request are received after the project has begun. Therefore, Waterfall is best suited to very strict projects will little need for discussion.

What Are Some Common Project Management Software and Tools?
According to, ‘Wrike’ is the most popular project management software tools available with ‘Asana’ coming in second place and ‘Clarizen’ third. These software solutions help with task prioritization, creating a timeline and managing workload. As cloud-based software solutions can be accessed by any member of the team, they are great for co-located projects. They make it easy to project managers to track progress in real time and create schedules. There are many other similar programs available and almost all of them offer free trials meaning that project management teams can experiment with different software to find the one that suits their working style.