Beginner Guide for a Project Manager

As much as expert senior, middle, and junior developers are needed to make a project work, they’re essentially cogs in a wheel. On their own, these professionals are able to make great things happen, but a project needs multiple people to work together to take it to the finish line.

If the cogs in a wheel are misplaced, mismanaged, or overworked, the complicated machine that is your project will not work. This is why it’s the poor project management that contributes to IT failures the most.

If you employ great programmers but they fail to produce results, it’s your project management practices that may be to blame. You can counter this by sticking to this beginner guide for a PM.

Follow the guide, and you will learn all the essentials of taking an IT project through the 5 essential stages with no problems.

How to initiate a project

The job of a project manager starts well before they have to do any team management. The very first step in the life of a project is initiating it. Once you get a new project request, it’s your job to assess how well can your organization handle it and what you need to accomplish it. 

Here’s what you need to clarify:

  • Project business case
  • Define deliverables
  • Estimated project cost
  • Estimated project timeline
  • Project team

The most notable thing about this process is that you can’t do it alone. You need to involve all the stakeholders to make sure you don’t miss any information.

You need to talk to your higher management, to the clients, and to your company’s team leads. This will make sure you have a solid grasp on the project technicalities that may not be obvious from your point of view and fully understand the clients’ needs.

All of the information you gather during this stage goes into the project charter, a document that describes project goals, the scope of the project, the resources you need to accomplish the goal including team members, and risk management strategies.

Once that document is created and approved by the company leadership, you’re good to transition to the next stage.

How to plan a project

Any project plan has to take three main things into consideration:

  • What you need to deliver
  • What resources you have to deliver that
  • What is the clients’ approval workflow

Depending on these three, you will have to choose the right methodology, create a roadmap with significant milestones and day-to-day workflows. The worst part about this is that you may not be able to change the last component of a successful project plan, the one that doesn’t rely on your company.

You may need to work closely with the client’s personnel to make sure your milestones match perfectly with the company’s workflow. Once you do that, create a roadmap that outlines what major steps you need to undertake. You can do it with a Gantt chart or a value stream map.

Then, decide on what resources you have and how at your disposal. Create a reserve pool of talent you can draw from if anyone on your dedicated team goes out of action. Then, create a RACI matrix to make the monitoring stage less of a chore.

Jacob Wilson from says the biggest problem with managing multiple projects is that sometimes PMs don’t have the same base of schedules and can pull talent from your rooster. It’s a good temporary solution, but it creates a huge strain on the employees.

As a top programmer, you will always get reassigned to new projects to help and will never be quite sure what you’re supposed to do. If you want to avoid that kind of stress for your most important resources, people, you need to sync all the schedules or perhaps assign the best performing employees code review duties.

Once you have the roadmap ready and you’ve designed the first Agile iteration, it’s time to go to the next stage.

How to execute a project

You’ve done a lot of work talking to the team and to the client to make the plan perfect. However, if you’ve worked a day in project management, you know even the perfect plan can fail miserably. Often, it happens not because of poor planning but because of poor risk management.

Team problems are very common. You can expect a certain team member to contribute up to 5 hours daily for a month, but they get sick or get snatched for a project with a bigger priority. Now, you find yourself understaffed and the existing team will have to do overtime.

To avoid this, you need to do sufficient risk management before. Have back-up personnel you can use if any of the core team members can’t work. People from other teams who are not heavily engaged or freelancers who can start working on short notice are a great option.

The next common problem is having difficulties with the deliverables. Often, a team comes up with an optimistic time estimate and the project ends up being way harder than you originally expected. You can counter this by adding 20% of the estimated time to the deadline during the planning process and by making your planning structure non-rigid.

Employ a method like Agile, and you’ll be able to work in shorter iterations, finding out problems and solving them faster.

The last common type of problem doesn’t depend on you. A perfect client does nothing but approve your work and pay in the end. Unfortunately, in the real world, a client may turn out to be hard to deal with. In the middle of the development process, they come up with a deliverable that you need to implement right now or demand the deadlines to be made shorter.

The only way you can counter that is by creating a contract that is worded in a way that the client can’t claim more than you initially agreed upon.

How to monitor a project

This stage coincides with the execution stage. While the execution stage is largely the team’s job, monitoring is where your efforts as a PM matter the most. Monitor the KPIs of your project and how well is your team meeting them.

If you see a large difference between the set goals and the performance, it’s time to analyze what’s going wrong and how you can re-plan to adjust performance.

Make sure you don’t take up too much of the team’s time with the interviews, though. If you find out that the initial plan that was agreed upon with the client was flawed, you’ll need negotiation skills to pull this out.

How to close the project

After all this hard work, you may feel like getting this over with as soon as possible. However, closing the project the right way will lift up the team’s spirit and save the company from legal problems afterward. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Check if every detail of the plan is followed through
  • Confirm every deliverable with the client
  • Organize your notes for further analysis
  • Personally thank the team members
  • Finish up with the legal side of things

Following this checklist makes sure the company is legally safe, the team is happy, and you have information to analyze and improve upon later.

Wrap up

Project management is not an easy job, but you can do it if you have the right learning material. Save this guide to use for reference later and check out other educational material on our website. If you want to take the learning even further, give PMBOK a look.