Essentials of Project Management – In 3 Minutes

Any project at work can bring about exciting challenges and changes. Read on to learn more about how to identify them, and what the phases of projects look like to help you to run them efficiently and accurately. Rest assured all the content covered here has been tried and tested on our very own project management training courses.


When is a Project a Project?

Too often great projects we are hoping to work on turn out differently to what we expected. Lots of managers wrap a large task up and call it a project. This is because they think that ‘I have a project for you’ sounds more interesting and motivating than ‘I need you to do that big task again.’

So what is the difference between a project and business as usual?

Projects are;

If you are looking at a task which you, or anyone else, have completed in the past, even if only once every few years, it is not a Project. This is Business as Usual. However we can still apply project management principals to large business as usual tasks.

Because they are brand new, have planned objectives and are uncertain and ambiguous, ALL projects bring about CHANGE.


Waterfall and Agile Projects

The Waterfall Project Management method has a traditional linear approach where phases cannot advance until the previous phase is complete. Once a phase is complete, it is difficult and costly to revisit it. Therefore the Waterfall method requires that work cannot begin until we have all of the information required, and that we cannot make changes once work has started.

This method works particularly well in construction.

While this approach is effective for straightforward projects that follow a set path, it may not be suitable for more complex projects that demand a more flexible and dynamic approach.


The Agile Project Management method was adopted first by software teams, who moved from the traditional, sequential waterfall approach to a method that allowed consistent feedback and adjustment throughout the development lifecycle. It is a flexible and iterative approach which focuses on continuous releases or sprints, with the ability to adjust each sprint according to changing requirements.


The PM needs to decide which method will work best for their project.

The Project Lifecycle

All projects have a lifecycle, and all 4 phases of the Project Lifecycle are equally important.

Project Phase 1 – Initiation

This phase can commence once we’ve tabled an idea. At this stage, the idea is just an idea, as there are considerations to think through before management or investors approve it. These considerations include;

  • Is it a nice to do or a need to do?
  • The benefits if we do it and the impact if we don’t
  • Does this align with our organisational goals?
  • When do we need to do it?
  • Ball Park figures for costs, timings, and resources
  • Do we have the skills and time to do it, or should we outsource it?
  • Who is going to authorise it?
  • Who is going to manage it?
  • Who else will be involved?
  • What is included in the project, and what isn’t?
  • Potential risks


A business case or Project Initiation Document (PID) including all of these considerations needs to be prepared to support the project.

At the end of the Initiation stage we will have agreed the Deliverables. Deliverables are what we will provide at the end of the project. For example, a system that is going to provide specific data.

There is always the temptation to jump right in and get going on a new project. However, if the initiation stage isn’t thoroughly complete, the project is highly likely to fail or be cancelled, wasting both time and money.


Project Phase 2 – Planning

Now that we have the go ahead, it is time to do some serious planning.

We have to decide how to create the agreed deliverables and exactly what work is involved. This is called Scope. When somebody requests a task or deliverable which had not been agreed at the outset, we describe it as Out of Scope.

To understand exactly what work is involved we create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Every step is broken down into individual tasks with the expected amount of time each task should take. The Project Manager needs to involve people with specific skills and knowledge at this stage to ensure that nothing is missed, and time estimates are as accurate as possible.

The WBS is used to create the project schedule and milestones as well as calculating critical path and costs.

The final things to decide at the planning stage, are what reporting  is required, and how risks and communication will be managed.


Project Phase 3 – Execution

It is now time to put our detailed plan into action and ensure we keep the team on track.

Putting the plan into action involves tracking and measuring progress, managing quality, mitigating risk, managing the budget, and using data to inform decisions.

Keeping the team on track involves setting and monitoring KPIs, supporting, enabling, and motivating the team, and resolving any issues that may arise.

Tasks for the Project Manager during the execution phase include;

  • Project Introduction and Kick Off meeting
  • Assigning resources
  • Setting SMART goals and KPIs
  • Monitoring progress
  • Monitoring time, budget, quality, and scope of work
  • Directing, managing, and developing the team
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Setting up tracking systems
  • Holding status meetings
  • Updating the project schedule
  • Reporting
  • Risk Management
  • Change Management
  • Modifying plans as needed
  • Communicating with all stakeholders



And Phase 4 – Closing

How do we know when we can complete? The project is declared finished when the agreed scope of work is complete, and the agreed deliverables have been signed off and handed over to the new owners.

During the execution phase it is common for out-of-scope requests to creep in. These need to be negotiated at the time as any changes have an impact on time, cost, and quality. We can usually absorb minor changes, but more significant changes may require a completely new project, generally known as Phase 2.

For example, in the case of our system to provide specific data. Phase 1 has been achieved, but now you are being asked to adapt the system to provide additional data. We can’t just bolt this onto the end, or we will never complete. We roll the first system out. Meanwhile a new project, Phase 2, starts to create the adaptations.

Even in Agile projects with all the various iterations or sprints, there has to be a time where we can reach an agreement that the work is complete, and the deliverables can be handed over.

The team will hold a meeting to evaluate successes and failures and present their findings in a final report. The final budget also needs to be counted. We need to store the documentation in a single place.

The Documentation is important for 2 reasons;

  1. If the project repeats as Business as Usual for example, organising a trade fair, the documentation can be used as an instruction manual.
  2. If the project is cancelled for any reason, the documentation will need to be provided to auditors to prove where the money was spent.


Finally it is time to celebrate with your team – well done!

Macros: A Hidden Time Saver in Excel

here we share the much-overlooked Excel Macro feature – and how it can save you considerable time every day.

How do Macros Work?


The Macro Recorder in Excel is a useful tool that allows users to automate repetitive tasks by recording the steps. The Macro Recorder generates Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) code. It records the steps taken by the user in any given process and converts them into VBA code. This process can then be replayed whenever needed in the Visual Basic Editor.

Why you should use them.

The Macro Recorder is particularly helpful for users who are not familiar with VBA programming, as it eliminates the need to write code manually, but the Macro Recorder is also very useful for users with VBA programming knowledge.

Next, we will explore the best practice, how to record macros as well as the strengths and limitations of using them.


Best Practice:

If you spend 5 hours per month creating an Excel report, good news! You won’t have to again if you follow these steps.

  • Break the report down into several more bitesize macros. This makes it much easier to handle the macros and when something changes in the process, you will only need to re-record the relevant macro.
  • Record the first part. Stop the Macro recorder, and test to make sure that it is working. Record the next part, stop, and test etc. This testing will save you from the frustration of a poorly recorded macro !


Recording Macros with the Macro Recorder

– To start recording a macro, go to the Developer tab in the Excel ribbon and click on the “Record Macro” button.

You may have to add the Developer tab to your ribbon. It is done by clicking File -> Options -> Customize Rippon, and tick Developer tab.

Click Record Macro


Give the macro a name, and if you want to be able to execute the macro by using a shortcut, enter the shortcut in the Shortcut Key box.

– Once the recording starts, every step you perform in Excel will be recorded, including typing, clicking on cells or commands, formatting, and importing data.

– The Macro Recorder records the steps in VBA code, which can be viewed and edited in the Visual Basic Editor.

– After you have completed the steps you want to record, you can stop the recording by clicking on the “Stop Recording” button in the Developer tab.

If you want to see the macro code, click Visual Basic in the Developer tab. Excel store the macro code in modules. In the Project explore to the left, you can see all open Excel files. You will need to double click Module 1 to view the code. In this example, we have have recorded two macros.


When you want to execute the macros, click Macros in the Developer tab, select the macro, and click Run.


Saving a file with macros.

It is important that you save a file with macros as a macro enabled workbook(*.xlsm). Otherwise, the macros will be deleted. You can find the option under Save as Type.


Strengths of the Macro Recorder

The Macro Recorder is a great tool, especially for those who are new to VBA programming. It provides a starting point and helps users identify the syntax and structure of VBA code.

– It allows users to automate recurring tasks and apply the same actions to multiple cells, rows, or columns without the need to manually perform them each time.

– The Macro Recorder can be a helpful reference for users who want to learn VBA by examining the generated code.

– You can save and reuse the recorded macros in the same workbook. You can also share them with others.


Limitations of the Macro Recorder

Whilst the Macro Recorder is a powerful tool, there are certain limitations to be aware of.

– It may generate more code than necessary, which can slow down the execution of the macro.

– There are some complex steps or tasks which you can not directly record using the Macro Recorder. For Example, looping through a range of data.

– The Macro Recorder is not suitable for all scenarios. In some cases, you might have to use manual VBA coding to achieve the desired functionality.



Hopefully you agree, you can use the Macro Recorder in Excel to save yourself significant time. By following the steps above, you’ll be able to automate repetitive tasks by recording user steps and actions and generate VBA code. It is especially useful for users who are new to VBA programming and provides a starting point for understanding and utilising VBA in Excel.