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!

Create amazing Reports with Microsoft Project

When managing a project using Microsoft Project, stakeholders often need to receive progress updates. Because not everyone can read a Gantt chart, MS Project comes with a set of pre-designed reports and dashboards to help you better understand your data. You can easily create amazing reports with Microsoft Project. Below is an explanation of the different types of report that can be created.

Dashboard Report Types

Project Reports


How much is completed on a project and what’s left to be done.

Cost Overview

The current status of top level tasks showing planned, remaining costs and cumulative costs.

Project Overview

How much of your project is complete, upcoming milestones, and tasks that are past due.

Upcoming tasks

The work that has been done in the current week, the status of any remaining tasks that were due, and what tasks are starting in the next week.

Other Report Types

Cash Flow

The cost and cumulative cost per quarter for all top level (summary) tasks.

Resource Cost Overview

The cost status of work resources showing cost details in a table and a chart showing cost distribution.

New Reports from templates

A chart for your project data, showing actual work, remaining work, and work by default.

A table for your project data, showing the Name, Start, Finish, and % Complete fields.

Two charts side-by-side, showing the same project data.

Visual Reports

View visual reports instantly in Excel or Visio

In MS Project, you can also view specific project data as a visual report in Excel or Visio, if you have those programs installed. Select Reports, Visual Reports, select an Excel or Visio report for your project data, and click View. Excel builds a local Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cube file and shows your data in an Excel PivotChart or Visio PivotDiagram. This is a legacy feature from MS Project 2010 and earlier.

MS Project Visual Reports

Examples of Reports

Here are a few visual examples based on a sample project.

Cost Overview

Create amazing Reports with Microsoft Project

The Cost Overview report shows the following:

  • Costs, Remaining Costs and % complete.
  • A chart of cumulative costs.
  • A chart of cost status for top level tasks.
  • A cost status table for top level tasks.
Reporting changes to a project

In the same example, the first two phases of the project were completed as planned. There is a delay of 4 days with excavation due to bad weather.  The project plan shows which tasks are complete.

Gantt Chart

The Cost Overview Report now reflects the changes made and shows the project as 14% complete. The Cost Status table identifies the cost variance for the Foundation phase.

Create amazing Reports with Microsoft Project

Project Statistics


Select Report, Dashboard, Burndown to show graphically how much work and how many tasks are completed as well as what’s left to be done.

Create amazing Reports with Microsoft Project

Overallocated Resources Report

Select Report, Resources, Overallocated Resources to identify which resources are overallocated and at what points in the project. This is a great way of seeing where unnecessary costs are being lost.

Overallocated Resources

Cashflow Report

Being able to report and analyse your cash flow visually is a great way to track the spend of a project. It also makes the data digestible and ideal for sharing with clients and colleagues via email or PowerPoint presentation.

Select Reports, Cost, Cash Flow to see a chart and table of the project cash flow.

To change the timescale of the report from quarters to months:

Select the chart, click the Edit button for the Time category in Field List and choose Months.

Cash Flow

To learn how you can create amazing reports and project plans with Microsoft Project, why not consider an STL training course on Microsoft Project.