11 Project Management Process

Project management includes five main process groups. Regardless of the methodology or terminology used, the same basic project management processes are used. Major process groups as identified by PMI include:

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing


The initiating processes determine the nature and scope of the project. If this stage is not performed well, it is unlikely that the project will be successful in meeting the business’ needs. The key project controls needed here are an understanding of the business environment and making sure that all necessary controls are incorporated into the project. Any deficiencies should be reported and a recommendation should be made to fix them.

The initiating stage should include a plan that encompasses the following areas:

  • analyzing the business needs/requirements in measurable goals
  • reviewing the current operations
  • financial analysis of the costs and benefits, including a budget
  • stakeholder analysis, including users and support personnel for the project
  • project charter, including costs, tasks, deliverables, and schedules


After the initiation stage, the project is planned to an appropriate level of detail. The main purpose is to plan time, cost and, resources adequately to estimate the work needed and to effectively manage risk during project execution. As with the initiation process group, a failure to adequately plan greatly reduces the project’s chances of successfully accomplishing its goals.

Project planning generally consists of:

  • determining how to plan (e.g. by level of detail or rolling wave)
  • developing the scope statement
  • selecting the planning team
  • identifying deliverables and creating the work breakdown structure
  • identifying the activities needed to complete those deliverables and networking the activities in their logical sequence
  • estimating the resource requirements for the activities
  • estimating time and cost for activities
  • developing the schedule
  • developing the budget
  • risk planning
  • gaining formal approval to begin work

Additional processes, such as planning for communications and for scope management, identifying roles and responsibilities, determining what to purchase for the project and holding a kick-off meeting are also generally advisable.

Project Scope

The project scope is expressed in a document that defines the parameters—factors that define the project and determine its behavior—what work is done within the boundaries of the project, and the work that is outside the project boundaries. The scope of work (SOW) is typically a written document that defines what work will be accomplished by the end of the project—the deliverables of the project. The project scope defines what will be done, and the project execution plan defines how the work will be accomplished.

No template works for all projects. Some projects have a very detailed scope of work, and some have a short summary document. The quality of the scope is measured by the ability of the project manager and project stakeholders to develop and maintain a common understanding of what products or services the project will deliver. The size and detail of the project scope is related to the complexity profile of the project. A more complex project often requires a more detailed and comprehensive scope document.

According to the Project Management Institute, a complete statement of the scope should include the following[1]:

Description of the scope

  • Product acceptance criteria
  • Project deliverables
  • Project exclusions
  • Project constraints
  • Project assumptions

The scope of work is the basis for agreement by all parties. A clear project scope document is also critical to managing change on a project. Since the project scope reflects what work will be accomplished on the project, any change in expectations that is not captured and documented creates the opportunity for confusion. One of the most common trends in projects is the incremental expansion in the project scope, which is called scope creep. Scope creep threatens the success of a project because the small increases in scope require additional resources that were not in the plan. Increasing the scope of the project is a common occurrence, and adjustments are made to the project budget and schedule to account for these changes. Scope creep occurs when these changes are not recognized or not managed. The ability of a project manager to identify potential changes is often related to the quality of the scope documents.

Events occur that require the scope of the project to change. Changes in the marketplace may require change in a product design or the timing of the product delivery. Changes in the client’s management team or the financial health of the client may also result in changes in the project scope. Changes in the project schedule, budget, or product quality will have an effect on the project plan. Generally, the later in the project the change occurs, the greater the increase to the project costs. Establishing a system for managing change during the project that captures changes to the project scope and assures that these changes are authorized by the appropriate level of management in the client’s organization is the responsibility of the project manager. The project manager also analyzes the cost and schedule impacts of these changes and adjusts the project plan to reflect the changes authorized by the client. Changes to the scope can cause costs to increase or decrease.

Scope Triangle

Like any human undertaking, projects need to be performed and delivered under certain constraints. Traditionally, these constraints have been listed as “scope” (quality), “time”, and “cost”. These are also referred to as the “Project Management Triangle,” “Scope Triangle,” “Triple Constraint,” or “Quality Triangle,” where each side represents a constraint. One side of the triangle cannot be changed without affecting the others. A further refinement of the constraints separates product “quality” or “performance” from scope, and turns quality into a fourth constraint.

The triangle illustrates the relationship between three primary forces in a project

  • Time is the available time to deliver the project
  • Cost represents the amount of money or resources available
  • Scope or Quality represents how well our project will fit its original purpose and measures for success

In reality the normal situation is that one of these factors is fixed and the other two will vary in inverse proportion to each other. For example “Time” is often fixed in a project and the “Scope” of the end project will depend on the “Cost” or resources available. Similarly, if you are working to a fixed level of “Scope” then the “Cost” of the project will largely be dependent upon the “Time” available (if you have longer you can do it with fewer people).

A phenomenon known in project management circles as “scope creep” can be linked to the triangle, too. Scope creep is the tendency a project has to accumulate new functionality. Some scope creep is inevitable as your project becomes better defined and will need to evolve. A large amount of scope creep however can be disastrous. When the scope starts to creep, new functionality must be added to cover the increased scope. More requirements fulfilled might equal a better quality product, but it will come at a cost.

In this situation you have three options :

  • Add time – delay the project to give you more time to add the functionality
  • Add cost – recruit, hire, or acquire more people to do the extra work
  • Cut quality – trade off some non-essential requirements for the new requirements

Project Priority Matrix

In order to make sure that all stakeholders are in agreement (or at least have a discussion) about the priorities of a project, a Project Priority Matrix can be used to make sure the trade offs between Time, Scope, and Cost are clear and that the project manager has a some guidance on the project priorities. Watch this video for an explanation:

For new product development projects, conceptual design of the operation of the final product may be performed concurrently with the project planning activities and may help to inform the planning team when identifying deliverables and planning activities.


Executing consists of the processes used to complete the work defined in the project plan to accomplish the project’s requirements. On a construction project, this would include the design and construction activities. On an information technology (IT) project, this would include the development of the software code. On a training project, this would include the development and delivery of the training.

Monitoring & Controlling

Monitoring and controlling consists of those processes performed to observe project execution so that potential problems can be identified in a timely manner and necessary corrective action can be taken to control the execution of the project. The key benefit is that project performance is observed and measured regularly to identify variances from the project management plan.

Monitoring and controlling includes:

  • Measuring the ongoing project activities (where we are)
  • Monitoring the project variables (cost, effort, scope, etc.) against the project management plan and the project performance baseline (where we should be)
  • Identify corrective actions to address issues and risks properly (How can we get on track again)
  • Influencing the factors that could circumvent integrated change control so only approved changes are implemented

In multi-phase projects, the monitoring and control process also provides feedback between project phases in order to implement corrective or preventive actions to bring the project into compliance with the project management plan.

Project Costs

The definition of project success often includes completing the project within budget. Developing and controlling a project budget that will accomplish the project objectives is a critical project management skill. Although clients expect the project to be executed efficiently, cost pressures vary on projects. On some projects, the project completion or end date is the largest contributor to the project complexity. The development of a new drug to address a critical health issue, the production of a new product that will generate critical cash flow for a company, and the competitive advantage for a company to be first in the marketplace with a new technology are examples of projects with schedule pressures that override project costs.

Project maintenance is an ongoing process, and it includes:

  • Continuing support of end-users
  • Correction of errors
  • Updates of software/hardware over time


Closing includes the formal acceptance of the project and the ending thereof.  Administrative activities may include archiving the files and documenting lessons learned.

This phase consists of:

  • Contract closure: Complete and settle each contract (including the resolution of any open items) and close each contract applicable to the project or project phase.
  • Project close: Finalize all activities across each of the process groups to formally close the project or a project phase. Also included in this phase is the Post Implementation Review. This is a vital phase of the project for the project team to learn from experiences and apply to future projects. Normally a Post Implementation Review consists of looking at things that went well and analyzing things that went badly on the project to come up with lessons learned.

Project Quality

Project quality focuses on the end product or service deliverables that reflect the purpose of the project. The project manager is responsible for developing a project execution approach that provides for a clear understanding of the expected project deliverables and the quality specifications. The project manager of a housing construction project not only needs to understand which rooms in the house will be carpeted but also what grade of carpet is needed. A room with a high volume of traffic will need a high-grade carpet.

The project manager is responsible for developing a project quality plan that defines the quality expectations and assures that the specifications and expectations are met. Developing a good understanding of the project deliverables through documenting specifications and expectations is critical to a good quality plan. The processes for assuring that the specifications and expectations are met are integrated into the project execution plan. Just as the project budget and completion dates may change over the life of a project, the project specifications may also change. Changes in quality specifications are typically managed in the same process as cost or schedule changes. The impact of the changes is analyzed for impact on cost and schedule, and with appropriate approvals, changes are made to the project execution plan.


  1. Project Management Institute, Inc., A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 4th ed. (Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008), 115–16


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