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The Complete Guide to Project Management

Get more projects across the finish line (with less stress)

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What is project management? Project management is the coordination of your processes, tools, team members, and skills so you can deliver projects that exceed your goals.

You and your team are getting ready to conquer a major project. It’s like a long stack of dominoes — it’s so cool when it works, but a big ol’ disappointment if a single piece is even slightly out of place.

These types of projects can be both daunting and exciting, and you might be tempted to start as soon as possible. Do you cross your fingers that everything magically falls into place? Rub a lamp and hope a wish-granting genie arrives to lend a helping hand?

Those would be nice (and let us know if you find a way to make them work!). But, in reality, the secret to success for your big, hairy projects is effective project management.

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What is project management, and why is it important?

Project management methodologies

Have you heard that old adage “more than one way to cook an egg”? There’s no one strategy for completing a kick-ass project. That’s where a project management methodology comes into play. It’s a set of rules, principles, and processes for managing a project.

Methodologies might sound formal, but you have some room to innovate here! It’s important to note that many teams and companies use a combination, rather than relying exclusively on one. Regardless of which approach you choose, it should help promote a strong culture of transparency.

1. Waterfall project management

When you think of traditional, sequential project management, you’re picturing waterfall project management. With this method, you break your project into different phases. When one phase ends, the next one begins — there’s no overlap between them.

When to use: For long projects that require a single timeline and a sequential order.

Commonly used in: Construction. Building a house or structure requires a successive order. You can’t put on a roof before you’ve poured a foundation, for example.

2. Agile project management

Agile project management is an iterative approach and is much more flexible than waterfall project management. It's a DevOps best practice that breaks projects into chunks that are tackled in short bursts (called sprints). After each sprint, your team reevaluates the work you’re doing to make any necessary changes and ensure you’re staying on target.

Scrum

Scrum project management is one of the most popular Agile methodologies used by project managers. Like Agile, it is centered around continuous improvement. You can use a framework like scrum to help you start thinking in a more Agile way and practice building Agile principles into your everyday communication and work.

When to use: For projects that aren’t yet well-defined and require a lot of adaptability.

Commonly used in: Software development. This profession pioneered agile, and this approach allows developers to build higher-quality software because they’re able to test and review at regular intervals.

3. Lean project management

If you’ve heard of lean manufacturing, those same principles apply to lean project management. The goal of this methodology is to increase output and value while reducing waste. To use it, you’ll need to map a value stream, which is the sequence of project activities. Then, you take a magnifying glass to that stream to identify and eliminate work that doesn’t add value. This means your project process will be as streamlined, optimized, and efficient as possible.

Kanban

Kanban is a specific implementation of Lean project management. Project tasks are represented visually on a Kanban board, allowing team members to see the state of every piece of work at any time.

When to use: For projects that need to be delivered quickly.

Commonly used in: Manufacturing. When you’re producing physical goods, you want as little waste as possible to minimize spend and maximize profit. That’s why this approach is popular in manufacturing, especially in the automotive industry.

The 5 stages of the project management process

Imagine that you’re starting a project from the very beginning. Project management doesn’t come into play only when you actually start checking off tasks — you need to lay the groundwork first.

With that in mind, the Project Management Institute (PMI) established five distinct stages of project management.

Stage #1: Initiating

Think the first step of the project management process is planning? Not quite. Before you can map out a strategy for your project, you need to get stakeholder buy-in. This is where a project charter comes in to outline the business objective of your project for approval. We recommend using a project poster instead, as a more digestible format that’s faster and easier to read. In this stage, you should answer questions like:

  • What’s the business case for this project? Our strategic plan template can help!
  • Is this project feasible?
  • Should we pursue this project?

To put it simply, in this stage you’re trying to decide if this project is even worth tackling before you invest too much elbow grease.

A great way to help facilitate this discussion is a premortem, a thought exercise in which you imagine what could go wrong and decide how to prevent it.

Stage #2: Planning

If you decide to move forward, you’ll next head into the planning stage. This is where you’ll develop a detailed project plan that your entire team will follow––and thank you for! Planning is essential for avoiding scope creep. Our to-do list template can help! . Questions to answer in this stage include:

  • What is the goal of this project?
  • What are the key performance indicators (KPIs)?
  • What is the scope?
  • What is the budget?
  • What are the risks?
  • What team members are involved?
  • What tasks are involved?
  • What milestones need to be met?

This step is to ensure you and your team all have shared expectations before you get started. If you think you’re getting too caught up in the minutiae, you aren’t. And strategic planning frameworks can help!

Stage #3: Executing

Grab your coffee and get your power cable, because it’s go-time. This is where you and your team will roll up your sleeves and start conquering project tasks with your project plan as your guide. In the execution stage, you’ll need to:

  • Allocate necessary resources
  • Ensure assignees carry out their tasks
  • Host status meetings
  • Set up tracking systems

The bulk of the work happens in this stage, and it’s also where you’ll start to see your project really coming together. See? All that planning was worth it.

Stage #4: Monitoring

Just because you have a project plan doesn’t mean things will run smoothly on their own. It’s like setting a budget for yourself — having the budget doesn’t do anything if you don’t keep a close eye on how you’re managing your money.

That’s why you need to monitor project progress to ensure things stay on track. You should evaluate your project against the KPIs you established in the planning stage.

What should you do if your project feels like it’s strayed from the path or fallen prey to scope creep? Take a moment to reevaluate. You can decide if you need to realign things, or if your original plan needs to shift. That’s the great thing about monitoring — you have regular checkpoints to course correct.

Stage #5: Closing

The closing stage is about wrapping up loose ends. This includes:

  • Hosting a postmortem or retrospective to evaluate the project
  • Preparing a final project report
  • Collecting and storing necessary project documentation somewhere safe. A collaborative documentation space like Confluence is great for this, by the way.

Not only does this give your team the chance to officially wash their hands of the project, but it also makes it easier to refer back to it when necessary.

7 Tips for successful project management

Even if you follow all of the above steps, effective project management isn’t a set-and-forget scenario. There are a few other best practices you’ll want to implement to help your project run as smoothly as possible.

Host a project kickoff meeting

Your project kickoff meeting is when you’ll establish goals, break down your timeline, and generally get everybody on the same page about your project. Our team meeting agenda template can help!

Regardless of how excited your team is to get to work, don’t skip this sitdown. You’ll proactively clear up confusion and rally your team around a shared goal.

Be mindful of task and resource dependencies

Remember when we talked about projects that feel like a string of teetering dominoes? That’s especially true for large, cross-functional projects. Maybe Daisy can’t start creating graphics until Joel has drafted the content (that’s a task dependency). Or maybe Choua can’t use a piece of software while Derek is using the shared license (that’s a resource dependency).

Your project tasks don’t happen in a vacuum, so it’s important that you account for these dependencies.

When all of your tasks and resources are connected, you need to understand how they fit together, or you run the risk of watching in horror as your whole line of dominoes comes toppling down.

Identify your critical path

Identifying your critical path is a great way to prevent schedule overruns. While it might sound like something out of an action movie, your critical path is just your longest string of dependent project activities. If you hit a snag or delay on that path, you know the whole project is at risk of coming in late.

Finding your critical path allows you to know where you have some wiggle room in your schedule, and where you need to stick as close to your timeline as possible.

Hourglass

Be realistic with your timeline

It’s common to underestimate the time it takes us to complete tasks, and it can be a real detriment to your project timeline.

Keep yourself in check by referring back to timelines for previous projects. Consult your time-tracking software (if you have it) to see how long typical tasks take, and ask your team to gut check their schedules.

Use project management software

If your team members need to dig through endless email threads or folders to find what they need, your project is bound to drag behind.

That’s why it’s helpful to use project management software (like Jira) to store your documentation and organize your project in a knowledge management software (like Confluence). It increases visibility into all project steps and tasks, centralizes communication, and gives your project team one single source of truth.

Establish clear roles and responsibilities

To get the best output from your team, people need to know exactly why they’re involved. What is their role and what are they expected to contribute?

Not only does this instill a sense of purpose and accountability in your project team members, but it also prevents them from stepping on each other’s toes and allows you to play to everyone’s strengths. A RACI framework is a popular way to assign roles and responsibilities. The acronym RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. Confluence slightly tweaks this framework, calling it DACI, with “D” standing for “driver.”

Make it a collaborative process

Managing a project can be stressful, and you don’t have to do it all alone. Your team will have a lot of great insight into your project plan, including if your timeline is realistic or if you’re forgetting about dependencies. Team brainstorming is a great way to share and hash out ideas. Here are some tips for running an effective brainstorming session.

Even if you’re part of a hybrid or remote team, resist the temptation to plan projects in isolation. Involve your team to hash out a more reasonable plan and boost their sense of ownership over the project. Our brainstorming template can help!

Key members of a project team

Every project must begin by identifying roles and responsibilities. Knowing your role upfront sets everyone up for success in staying on track to meet project deadlines. Potential project roles include:

  • Project manager: Person who oversees the entire project and is responsible for the project’s success.
  • Project sponsor: Senior manager who champions the project and works closely with the project manager.
  • Team member: People who actively work on the project tasks.
  • Supplier: People who provide goods or services for a project.
  • Stakeholder: People who have an interest in the project. These can be broken into:
    • Primary stakeholders: People who actually do the work and are actively involved in the project.
    • Secondary stakeholders: People who might come to meetings and play a small part but aren’t key decision-makers in the project.
  • Interested stakeholders: People who are in the loop on the project but don’t play an active part or have a lot of influence.
  • Client: Person who receives the final project, if it’s a client-facing project rather than an internal one.

What to look for when evaluating project management software

Choosing the right project management software can be tricky. To ensure your team gets the most out of its project management tool, we recommend that you look for a solution that offers the following capabilities:

  • Create a shared calendar to track project milestones and deadlines
  • Share files and documents for easy access and collaboration
  • Create task lists and assign tasks to team members
  • Track project progress and generate reports
  • Facilitate and streamline communication between team members and stakeholders
  • Estimate project duration and budget
  • Allow team members to comment on tasks and provide feedback
  • Generate automated reminders and notifications
  • Set up project templates to streamline project creation
  • Manage resources and workloads
  • Track issues and risks
  • Manage change requests
  • Create detailed reports
  • Monitor project performance

Why use Confluence for project management

Confluence sets itself apart as a collaborative knowledge hub to supercharge project management with thousands of templates, plays, and integrations for maximum flexibility and scale.

Consolidate tools and centralize work

With Confluence you have knowledge, task, and project management combined with team collaboration. Embed a Trello board for Kanban-style project management, like Sprout Social. Or, integrate Confluence with Jira Work Management for an Agile approach to project management, like Castlight Health. Jira makes it easy to plan, track, and manage your projects, while Confluence boosts transparency and centralizes your project-related conversations and resources.

Scale with team and company growth

Confluence is designed to enable project management for technical teams and business teams, as well as for small businesses, remote teams, and enterprise-scale companies. Scale with unlimited instances to provide organizational autonomy, segregate data for security reasons, or customize environments. Confluence also has the security, compliance, performance, and reliability needed to support enterprises, including guaranteed SLA uptimes; data residency in US, EU, Australia, or Germany; and certifications with GDPR, SOC2, and more.

Secure and protect work and knowledge

What happens when a teammates leave your company, does their work leave too? Confluence protects project work from being lost, even if teammates leave a company. You can create permissions, set controls, and assign admins roles.

Analyze and optimize performance

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, right? In combination with Jira Work Management, you can track progress, monitor activities, and generate reports to help optimize project processes and workflows.


Project management is the engine powering team productivity. But not all project management solutions are created equal. Find out why more than 85,000 companies use Confluence.

Project management templates

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Persona template

The Persona template helps you create detailed profiles of target customers for marketing and product development, complete with persona names, goals, challenges, and information sources.

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Customer journey mapping template

Use this template to understand your customer’s experience with your product, including their emotions and pain points.

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Disruptive brainstorming template

This Confluence template will help your teeam generate fresh ideas.

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DACI template

Use this DACI template to define each person's role in the decision-making process and make the right call sooner.

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Project poster template

If project briefs and project charters aren’t your cup of tea, try this template for a project poster instead.

Key benefits of project management

1. Improve collaboration

We know we need to work with others to meet our goals, yet effective collaboration doesn’t come easy for most of us. There are varying communication styles, different approaches to organization, and so many other factors that make collaboration challenging.

Project management software gives teams greater visibility into what their colleagues are working on, what deadlines are set, how individual tasks fit into the overall project process, and more. All of this contributes to the greatest benefit of project management software: better and easier project collaboration.

2. Centralize communication

Your team is struggling to communicate with disorganized email threads, direct instant message pings, and comments that get lost in the shuffle.

That’s bad news (and a big time-waster) for your projects. When team members have too many places to check for information, wires are crossed, deadlines are missed, tasks are forgotten, and confusion builds.

Project management software keeps all of your communication — from timelines and status updates to feedback and questions — in one single place that’s easily accessible to everyone. This breaks down silos so that everybody can not only share knowledge, but effectively manage how and where they share it.

3. Streamline task management

For your projects to be delivered successfully, team members need to know which tasks they’re responsible for and when they need to have them completed.

Unclear responsibilities and directions from managers are a big piece of that; working within numerous apps and tools only adds to the mayhem.

If a team member is assigned a task in one tool but they spend more of their time in another platform, they’ll miss that important notification. Managing your projects in one piece of software patches those holes and also breaks your biggest most overwhelming projects into individual steps and action items.

From there, you can assign those tasks to the correct team members with a deadline so they’re aggregated in one place, and people will get notified of their new to-dos.

A dartboard with darts stuck in the bullseye.

4. Create a single source of truth

Your project management software will be your repository of project-related information. Documents, assets, updates, timelines, meeting notes, and everything else should be stored in your software. (Here’s a handy template for meeting notes to keep track!) Doing so ensures it’s accessible, organized, and searchable. Team members can find what they need without wasting a ton of time digging for the truth.

5. Boost efficiency

Add all of the above benefits together, and you get the best benefit of all: your team can move work forward faster. A lot faster.

With project management software in place, your team is communicating well. They know what’s expected of them and what they should get started on next. They can easily locate the information they need.

Working together like a well-oiled machine significantly cuts down on lost time. The Jira Work Management project management template helps teams get started faster with tried-and-tested workflows, instead of starting a blank page every time they need to create a new project.

Now, work no longer drags on and on because your team is equipped with the resources they need to crank out high-quality results at an impressive pace.

6. Track progress

You don’t want to deliver just any project. You want to deliver a project that stays under your budget, honors your timeline, and meets its original goals.

Those important elements are easy to lose track of when you’re up to your eyeballs in project work, and it’s a slippery slope. If you don’t keep a close eye on those limitations and expectations, you’ll struggle with schedule, budget overruns, and wasted effort when team members need to re-do work to get the project back on track.

Project management software organizes your work so it’s simpler to track things like your spend and deadlines. Additionally, you can generate reports to monitor progress as you move forward — rather than realizing too late that you’ve missed the mark.

Key benefits of project management

Jira Software helps teams successfully plan, track, and deliver top-quality products supported by specialized project management apps for Jira.

1. Improve collaboration

We know we need to work with others to meet our goals, yet effective collaboration doesn’t come easy for most of us. There are varying communication styles, different approaches to organization, and so many other factors that make collaboration challenging.

Project management software gives teams greater visibility into what their colleagues are working on, what deadlines are set, how individual tasks fit into the overall project process, and more. All of this contributes to the greatest benefit of project management software: better and easier project collaboration.

2. Centralize communication

Your team is struggling to communicate with disorganized email threads, direct instant message pings, and comments that get lost in the shuffle.

That’s bad news (and a big time-waster) for your projects. When team members have too many places to check for information, wires are crossed, deadlines are missed, tasks are forgotten, and confusion builds.

Project management software keeps all of your communication — from timelines and status updates to feedback and questions — in one single place that’s easily accessible to everyone. This breaks down silos so that everybody can not only share knowledge, but effectively manage how and where they share it.

3. Streamline task management

For your projects to be delivered successfully, team members need to know which tasks they’re responsible for and when they need to have them completed.

Unclear responsibilities and directions from managers are a big piece of that; working within numerous apps and tools only adds to the mayhem.

If a team member is assigned a task in one tool but they spend more of their time in another platform, they’ll miss that important notification. Managing your projects in one piece of software patches those holes and also breaks your biggest most overwhelming projects into individual steps and action items.

From there, you can assign those tasks to the correct team members with a deadline so they’re aggregated in one place, and people will get notified of their new to-dos.

4. Create a single source of truth

Your project management software will be your repository of project-related information. Documents, assets, updates, timelines, meeting notes, and everything else should be stored in your software. (Here’s a handy template for meeting notes to keep track!) Doing so ensures it’s accessible, organized, and searchable. Team members can find what they need without wasting a ton of time digging for the truth.

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