Not every company or team has a formal project management process. Whether you work at a large organization or a fast-growing startup, formal project management may not be something your team has prioritized yet. But now, you’re finding it increasingly difficult to stay organized and collaborate with teammates. You might be wondering if you need project management—except, that’s just a thing for teams with dedicated project managers, right?
Well, maybe not. At Asana, we think project management skills help teams complete projects more efficiently. Finding a way to plan, manage, and execute work is relevant for every team and company. And while you may not need every piece of a traditional project management system, your team could still benefit from some of the fundamental parts of project management.
Project management helps teams organize, track, and execute work within a project. Think of a project as a collection of tasks to accomplish a specific goal. Project management can help your team plan, manage, and execute your work in order to meet your project’s requirements on time. With a project management tool, your team can organize all of the details of your work in one place, share feedback and progress, and, ultimately, collaborate more effectively.Read: How to choose project management software for your team
Instead of shuffling between spreadsheets, email, and other tools to juggle all of your work, a project management tool helps your team:
Coordinate cross-functional work
Centralize project plans, details, files, and feedback
Share status updates with all stakeholders
Improve team collaboration
Project management developed from the convergence of several different types of engineering in the early 1900s, but the tools and techniques that define modern project management didn’t begin emerging until the 1950s. At that point, project management started becoming a distinct, recognizable methodology—most frequently applied towards engineering projects. In 1969, the Project Management Institute (PMI) was officially formed, and the organization played a large role in defining and solidifying project management over the next several decades. In addition to offering certifications for project managers, the PMI published the first ever Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK guide) in 1996, which they update regularly.
Historically, the project manager was a dedicated employee—frequently trained in project management methodologies and toolsets, and often certified by organizations like the PMI. To run a project management process, you needed a project manager—because project management tools were difficult to set up and use, and often required unique expertise.
Modern project management is different. Instead of complex certifications and hard-to-understand jargon, today, anyone can be a project manager. In fact, at Asana, we think if you manage a project—any project—you’re a project manager. The flexibility and democratization of project management is due in large part to improved, modern project management software. Instead of clunky, hard-to-navigate tools, modern project management is flexible, visual, and made for you—instead of the other way around.
There are a lot of project management terms and jargon, but it isn’t as complicated as it might first seem. If you’re just getting started, or if you want to know what your coworker means when they call something an Agile methodology or talk about a project’s scope, here’s a breakdown of the types, components, processes, and team roles within project management.
Project management is a way to help your team track all of the work being done in order to meet a project’s requirements on time. But within the broad category of project management, there are additional types, methodologies, and approaches, including:
Agile project management. Agile is a type of lean project management that’s popular with product, engineering, and software development teams. With Agile, teams believe in continuous improvement, flexible reactions to change, iterative processes, and incremental evolution. Some popular Agile frameworks include Scrum and Kanban.
Waterfall model. In the waterfall model, tasks cascade down in a linear approach: once one task is completed, the next is ready, and so on. The waterfall model includes six phases: requirements, analysis, design, coding, testing, and operations. This model is best suited for projects where the deliverables and scope are fixed, since the waterfall method can be less flexible in-the-moment than some other project management methodologies.
PRINCE2 methodology. PRINCE2 stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. In the PRINCE2 project management methodology, projects are broken into seven processes: Directing a Project, Starting up a Project, Initiating a Project, Managing Stage Boundaries, Controlling a Stage, Managing Product Delivery, and Closing a Project.
Critical path method (CPM) and program evaluation and review technique (PERT). CPM and PERT were the original project management methodologies, developed in the 1950s. CPM provides an algorithm to map the critical path between complex, connected tasks with defined time frames. With CPM, teams can identify the longest stretch of dependent activities. PERT, on the other hand, helps teams identify the critical path when the timeline and time frame are unknown. In PERT, project managers identify all of the tasks that need to be completed (not just the critical path) in order to determine the minimum time to complete the total project.
There isn’t one defined checklist of every component within project management. Mostly, that’s because there are different types of project management—each with their own components, processes, and formats. But in general, whatever project management methodology or tool you use will include:
Every project should have a defined goal or objective. As you outline your project goals, use the SMART goal framework to ensure you have clear metrics and criteria so you can accurately measure project success.
A project plan is a blueprint of the key elements your team needs to accomplish in order to successfully achieve your project goals.Read: How to create a project plan that works to keep you on track
Most projects will have a budget that will restrict and define what you can accomplish during your project.
Project risks are anything that might go wrong in your project—like going over budget or missing your due date. Project risk management is the practice of identifying risks before getting started on a project, so you can best prevent them. This entails creating a risk register.
During the planning process, you’ll also define your project scope—which is the size, limitations, budget, and goals of your project. Knowing your project scope can prevent scope creep, which occurs when your project deliverables and work exceeds your project scope.
A resource management plan is a plan for how you’re going to allocate your team’s resources—whether that’s employee bandwidth, technical tools, or budget. Creating a resource management plan for your project can help you best manage and schedule your team resources, so you can maximize resource availability.Read: What is resource leveling? (Techniques and examples)
Project stakeholders are anyone involved in your project. This can be cross-functional team members or executive leadership.
Most projects will have a timeline—a start date, when work is kicked off, and an end date, when work is completed.Read: How to create a project timeline in 7 steps
The deliverables are the assets, files, or products you will have finished at the end of your project timeline. Deliverables can include ads for a brand campaign or new features for a product launch.
Milestones are checkpoints that signify when a group of work is completed or a new bucket of work is launched. Unlike deliverables, which represent a product or result, a milestone is a moment in time.Read: How to set, achieve, and celebrate project milestones
Your project may also have dependencies, which happen when one task can’t begin until another task is completed. If your project has a lot of dependencies, you might benefit from a Gantt chart-style view so you can visualize your work in a timeline.
As you manage your project, you’ll need to send progress reports and status updates to project stakeholders. Good reporting can increase cross-functional visibility and collaboration.Read: How to write an effective project status report
Every project will vary slightly, depending on what you’re working on, what team you’re on, and how your team members like to collaborate. But in general, there are five main project phases that occur during the project management process:
Project initiation. During the initiation phase, you’ll assemble your project team and identify your project scope. Depending on the complexity and scale of your project, you may also want to create a project roadmap.
Project planning. Project planning is when you outline your project requirements and define what “project success” will look like. This project phase is critical to successful project management—and hitting your project goals. During the planning stage, you’ll create your project plan, identify key milestones, and align on project costs and timeline.
Project execution. The bulk of your project will be the executing phase—this is the time you and your team will be working towards your project deliverables. During the executing phase, you’ll want to practice workload management, time management, and task management to make sure your team is aligned, on track, and not overwhelmed.
Project performance. Reporting happens during and after the executing phase. During the project, reporting will help you course correct, collaborate, and increase cross-functional visibility into your work. Then, once your project is complete, you can report on how you did, and brainstorm ideas with project stakeholders on how to improve during future projects.
Project closure. Once the project is done, take some time to debrief with project stakeholders in order to capture lessons learned. Depending on your team, you might do this as a project retrospective meeting, a project post mortem, or a project debrief.
The best way to manage an ongoing process, like a bug tracking or creative request project, is with work management. Project management is actually a part of work management—but while project management can help you coordinate individual projects, work management software is built to help teams manage both discrete projects and processes that have no beginning or end date.Read: Work management vs project management: what’s the difference?
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not you need project management, read on to discover the benefits of project management, along with a few simple ways to bring these ideas to your team’s way of working—no fancy degree or certification course required.
If you’ve ever leapt into a project without a plan, you know how messy things can get right from the start. You might end up skipping essential steps in your project schedule, scrambling to complete a forgotten task at the last minute, or answering the same logistical questions over and over again: “When’s this due? What are we doing next?” Worse, the quality of your work might suffer as you rush to push your project across the finish line.
Instead of writing the plan as you go, map out everything that needs to get done, along with task owners, deliverables, and due dates, before starting your project. Then, visualize your project to-dos in a timeline or categorized list to clearly outline who’s doing what by when. For example, if you’re planning an event, you might list each individual step leading up to the main event, who’s responsible for each step, and how far in advance you need to complete the steps. Then, schedule them on a shared project calendar. This way, you’ll avoid rushing to order last-minute invites or having two teammates book two separate caterers (whoops!).Read: How to create a project plan that works to keep you on track
By outlining a clear plan with all of your project to-dos, then adding deadlines, task owners, and other essential details, you’ll turn what would have otherwise been a chaotic and wasteful execution process into an efficient one. You’ll have a clear idea of the scope and timing of your work, and can spot potential conflicts before you’ve even started. With just a bit of forethought and planning, you’ll be able to waste less time and resources—and who doesn’t want that?
List everything you need to do before getting started. Then, add details like due dates, task owners, status, or links to relevant files. If this is a new kind of project for your team, add in a little buffer time for any unplanned for steps or glitches.
Organize everything in a shareable plan. Whether you use a simple list or calendar, or something more visual like a timeline or Kanban boards, you’ll want to organize your plan so it’s easy for anyone to see who’s doing what by when. Then, circulate it among your stakeholders to get everyone on the same page.
Turn repeatable projects into a template. If this is a project you’ll run over and over, create a template that you can iterate on to save time in the planning phase next time around.
Once the prep work is done, it’s on to the actual management part of project management. However, without a clear project owner to help your team across the finish line, it’s all too easy for teammates to drop tasks, forget details, or not know who to go to with questions.Read: How to effectively manage your team’s workload
While companies with a formal project management function will have a Project Manager to make sure project plans are going according to, well, plan, those without one often let these responsibilities fall on the person leading or initiating the project. For example, if you’re an editor publishing a new series of articles, a developer orchestrating a website migration, or an account manager updating their client reporting systems, you’re also likely the one coordinating all the moving pieces of your project.
Fortunately, you don’t have to take on a second job to manage your project effectively—a little communication and collaboration can go a long way. By making it clear to others that you’re the point person for your project, everyone else involved will know who to go to with questions and to look to for updates. And by outlining everyone else’s role in the project, you’ll eliminate confusion on how you want your teammates to be involved.
Clearly communicate your role (and everyone else’s). Whether it’s in the planning phase or at the outset of your project, make sure everyone knows who the project lead is (you!) as well as the responsibilities of others involved.
Check in with and answer questions for task owners. Since you’ve created a clear plan, stakeholders already know what they’re responsible for. Now, help them stay on track by checking in on how their work is progressing or helping them get access to anything they need to unblock work.
Regularly share status updates.Keep the momentum going by sharing updates with your team on project progress. Not only will this keep everyone up to date and reduce status update questions, but it will encourage and motivate your stakeholders.
Projects aren’t successful when teams don’t know what their project goals are. Without clear goals, teams not only lack intrinsic motivation—they also run the risk of working towards the wrong objective or toiling away at low-impact work.
With a project management tool, you define your project goals up front. That way, everyone working on the project is aligned on the project goals—and can optimize for the steps they need to take to get there. For example, if your project is to launch a new product, you might set a goal to “Drive a 20% increase in upgrades.” This goal would in turn influence your launch decisions as you go. It would also serve as a metric to measure success after the launch.
The individuals on your project team will benefit too. By ensuring you’ve really thought through the problem you’re trying to solve and giving your team a “north star” to align on, you’ll keep your team focused on tasks that will make an impact on these goals—rather than getting lost on unnecessary work.
Assess why you’re launching this project. Ask: Why does this need to be done? Who will this impact? How does this project fit in with your organization’s larger goals? Does it fit in with work other teammates might already be doing? What results do we think we’ll see from this initiative?
Share your goals with all of your stakeholders. Before planning your project, share your goals with everyone who needs to be involved. Depending on how your team works, you could either do this with a kickoff meeting, by circulating a document, or by sharing it in a project management tool—just so long as everyone understands the goals (and non-goals) of your initiative.
Set up a process for monitoring and reporting on goals. Don’t just set ‘em and forget ‘em. Make sure you have a plan for regularly checking in and reporting on your goals. This way, you can easily see if you’re at risk of missing your goal and adjust your plans to hit them.
The term may be project “management,” but managing a project is only one piece of the puzzle. Before you even get started on work, you should align on a communication plan. Your team likely has an email management tool, an instant messaging tool, and a project management tool, among others. A communication plan establishes when each tool should be used. For example, at Asana, we use email for external communication, Slack for quick internal messages, and Asana for all of our actionable work.
The average employee switches between 10 tools per day. When you don’t have an established plan for which tool should be used when, switching between those tools can vary from confusing to completely overwhelming. A communication plan reduces decision fatigue and makes sure every team member is on the same page.Download report: The Anatomy of Work Index to learn more
Establish communication conventions. At the most basic level, your communication plan should define the tools and frequency of communication between your team.
Provide opportunities for feedback to be shared. Your communication plan has to work for everyone on your team, so make sure all stakeholders are aligned. Offer opportunities for feedback and workshopping, until the communication plan feels doable for all involved.
Clarify project stakeholders and their roles. When should stakeholders be looped in? Are there any project approvers that should always be notified before anything goes live? Document project stakeholders and their roles as part of your communication plan.
Align on the frequency and style of status updates.One of the most important elements of your communication plan is how you’ll share project progress. Ideally, all of your actionable work will be stored in your project management tool, so you can easily compile and share status updates.
To put these tips into action, consider using a project management tool to help your team better collaborate and stay on track.
While there are literally dozens of tools you could choose from, you’ll want to avoid looking at more traditional project management tools since most of these tools are built for more traditional processes and can take a lot of time to set up and onboard. Instead, look for something that’s easy to adopt, flexible, and customizable. Bonus points if you’re able to connect work across projects (which can be hard to do in email and spreadsheets) and communicate with teammates where the work is happening.Read: 9 ways to improve your team’s efficiency at work
Obviously, we think Asana fits the bill and is a great option for companies who want to get a jump start on better project management with a tool that’s both easy to adopt and has the features your team needs to be successful.
Get everyone on board with one central tool. Instead of letting every team or team member use a different tool to manage projects, agree on one tool everyone will use. This way, you can better encourage collaboration and reduce confusion on where to find essential information.
Set conventions on how to use it. Help everyone feel confident they’re using their new tool right with some simple guidelines. For example, you might say “always add a due date to tasks” or “make sure to add ‘marketing’ in all marketing project titles” or “if you have an actionable request for someone, create a task in our project management tool instead of emailing them.”
Share out status updates and reports. The fastest way for your teammates to see value from a tool is giving them more visibility into project statuses and progress. By sharing out status updates and showing project progress in your new tool, you can help teammates better understand where work stands and encourage them to use the tool for their own work as well.
Congrats—you’re a project manager! No really, that’s all it takes. When project management first emerged, there were strict training and certifications you needed in order to be considered a “project management professional.” But that has changed over the past several decades, due in large part to the democratization and expansion of current team roles. Originally, you needed a project manager to “run” your projects—but as more team leads began running their own projects, project management has transitioned from a profession to a skill.
Modern project management tools are made with this shift in mind. At Asana, we believe that anyone can be a project manager. If you work on a team, and your team works on projects, you can be a project manager—without having to learn the ins and outs of a new tool. You just need a tool that’s built for you—not the other way around.
Project management tools are a visual way to gain clarity and connect with your team. Think about how your team currently manages work. If you don’t share a project management tool, your team’s projects, tasks, files, and communication are likely scattered across tools, which reduces team visibility and alignment. Without a central source of truth, team members don’t have clarity on what their priorities are, and they likely spend a lot of time searching for answers. In fact, according to the Anatomy of Work Index, we spend 60% of our time every day on work about work—things like searching for documents, chasing approvals, and attending meetings—instead of skilled or strategic work.
With an online project management tool, you have a better way for communicating priorities and aligning on who’s doing what by when. To help teams provide clarity, project management tools offer several different ways to visualize your project work in real time. Here’s a look at the most popular types:
Kanban boards are a visual way to plot out your project progress. In a Kanban board, progress is represented by vertical columns, and tasks move through each stage until they’re complete. A typical Kanban board might have columns for New, In progress, and Completed work.Try boards with Asana for free
Gantt charts are horizontal bar charts used to visualize a project’s timeline. In a Gantt chart, tasks are represented as horizontal bars, where the length of the bar represents how long the task is going to take.Try timeline with Asana for free
Project calendars are a great way to make your tasks come to life and clearly visualize your upcoming week or month’s tasks. Project calendars are popular views for projects that have many different tasks with unique due dates, like editorial calendars or social media content calendars.Try calendars with Asana
In a spreadsheet-style view, you can gain clear, at-a-glance insight into who’s doing what by when. In this type of visual project management, you can clearly view your project workflow in a linear, grid-like view.Try to do lists with Asana for free
We mentioned work management software earlier, because work management is the umbrella under which project management falls. With project management, you have great tools to organize, plan, and deliver your projects. But work management doesn’t just help you with a single project process—instead, it helps your team get a holistic view of how all of your projects and initiatives connect. There are two main work management tools that do that, in addition to the four common project management views we listed above.
Project portfolio management is the secret to monitoring all of your initiatives in one place. Portfolios provide a bird’s-eye view into all of your work, so you can keep your team on track across projects. They allow you to connect everyday business with corporate strategy.Try portfolio management with Asana
With workload management, you can get a clear picture of your team’s work and capacity to ensure no one is burning out or getting bored. That way, you can spot potential overwork and adjust tasks if needed.Try workload management with Asana for free
No matter what company or industry you work in, your team will benefit from adopting a few project and work management basics. Even a few simple changes to how you plan, manage, and report on your work can make your team more efficient, accountable to their work, and confident that they’re tackling the things that matters most.
Asana is a work management tool that helps teams organize and execute on work. Learn more about Asana today.