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What is Project Management?

What is Project Management?

Project management is "the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives” (Association for Project Management). It is a way of managing organisational change. A fundamental part of project management is that it follows a specific lifecycle from start to end. The project lifecycle contains different phases which involve the completion of activities that meet specific objectives.

An example of a project lifecycle used by Leeds Beckett University is given below and also available in high quality to print. Alternative lifecycles can be used to harmonise our project management approach with that of partner organisations or to meet specific needs. However, there are core themes common to each lifecycle, such as forming a business case, defining objectives, implementing plans and closing projects, which are vital in successful project management.

Life cycle

  • Four key phases support the work required during the project, from initiation to evaluation.
  • Each phase addresses specific, fundamental activities.
  • Decision gateways allow projects to be reviewed at the end of each phase (usually only used for major projects)

What is a project?

Our University defines a project as 'a temporary/time-limited endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives'. It is not the routine business of a particular department or an established standard cycle of activity. Normally, a project will introduce a beneficial change to our University in the form of a new product or service, or bring changes to existing ones. It is useful to determine at the outset whether a piece of work is a project or not, and to subsequently determine whether projects are minor, medium or major. This can be achieved by using the Leeds Beckett University’s Project Assessment Matrix.

Plus Icon The Project Team

Roles and responsibilities

Project Manager - responsible for the day-to-day management of the project, overseeing the Project Team and reporting to the Project Sponsor.

Project Board - in place to make decisions, approve plans and authorise any deviations from the Project Plan. The Project Board is accountable for the success of a project at a corporate level.

Project Sponsor - responsible for the success of a project at strategic level. They will appoint the Project Board, Project Manager and the Project Team and oversee the project as it develops, monitoring and controlling progress at a strategic level.

Project Support and Specialists - other members of the Project Team such as project support officers or colleagues with specialist knowledge play an active role in progressing the project, drawing on their expertise within the field. They are responsible for areas of work within their remit.

End User - the individual/team/group who require the outcome of the project. The end user will use and benefit from the projects final product.

Work Package Lead & Team - responsible for ensuring the completion of work package tasks, identifying areas of concern and reporting progress to the Project Manager. Smaller projects may not require this to be an explicit role.

Supplier - a key member of the Project Board and is responsible for the quality of the project deliverables. They will have the relevant skills and expertise to facilitate effective work on a project and will be accountable for the standard of work that is produced e.g. a representative from a business area, able to contribute to a particular service to help realise the project's objectives.

Plus Icon 1. The Initiation Phase

Project initiation

Initiation cycle

We enter the initiation phase as:

  • The project has been mandated by the Project Sponsor
  • The Project Board has been formed
  • The Project Manager has been appointed

The initiation phase outlines the justification for undertaking the project in the particular manner proposed. The objectives, scope and constraints are precisely defined. A broad, high-level plan is formulated, and the project team, stakeholders and methods of communication are identified. The end-goal of the initiation phase is to determine whether a project is viable and worth pursuing.

There are four questions to be answered by any good definition of a project:

  • What is the business problem or opportunity being addressed?
  • What objectives are necessary in order to satisfy the business problem or need?
  • How will we determine if the project has been successful?
  • Are there any assumptions, risks, or obstacles that may affect success?

Key documents at this stage are - 

Assessment Matrix

This matrix is designed to provide an early stage review of the project’s anticipated impact and its associated risks and can be used to assess whether it is or is not a project, and its complexity and scale.
Typically completed by the business area initiating the project.


Document signed by the Project Sponsor confirming that the project can start.

Typically there is a notification from senior management to commence work, possibly by way of a verbal 'go ahead' or email.

Business Case

This outlines the business need for the project e.g. what problem, issue or opportunity the project seeks to address.
Typically prepared by the business area wishing to take the project forward or the business area benefiting from the project. This may need to be shared with senior management for approval.

Project Initiation Document

This is the main planning document which combines all preparatory information required to complete the planning stage. Prior to the completion of this document the Project Sponsor may have established the Project Board who have strategic oversight of the project and/or the Project Manager and Project Team responsible for taking the project forward.

All of the above are recommended for Medium and Major Projects, and the Business Case and Project Initiation Document should be used for Minor Projects as well.

Identifying and managing risks

Risks are uncertain events with the potential to positively or negatively effect the achievement of the project's objectives. Project Managers need to identify risks and determine a response (e.g. avoid, transfer or accept the risk).

Our University provides a risk register template to log risks, assessing impact vs likelihood.

Plus Icon 2. The Planning Phase

The detailed project plan is developed in the planning phase. Matters that are dealt with during this phase include outlining work packages; identifying tasks; estimating time, cost and resources required; developing a schedule; identifying risks and contingencies; allocating resources and preparing a communication plan.

Key documents at this stage are - 

Product Specification Document

This document is used to provide a record of the specifications of products required to complete the project. This is recommended for projects with multiple or specialist products.

Risk Register

This are a register of potential risks that if realised would impact upon the success of the project. It logs action taken to mitigate risks and who is responsible for the identified risks. For an overview on how the University manages institutional risks please visit the Governance and Legal Services web page.

The simplest way to conduct a risk analysis is to ask four questions:

  • What could go wrong?
  • How will I know that it is going to go wrong/has gone wrong?
  • How can I stop it happening?
  • How can I limit the damage?

Project Plan (minor projects)

Project Plan (medium and major projects)

There are many different ways to track the project progress, for example by using Microsoft Project or simple Gantt charts as per the Microsoft Excel spreadsheets provided here.

This is commonly used by the Project Manager and/or Project Team to plan future work and monitor process.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The WBS:

  • Shows all activities required during the project
  • Provides a visual representation of the project scope, which aids estimating time and resources needed
  • Note that the WBS does not show the timeline of the activities

Work Package Description

A work package is a bundle of tasks. This template can be used to keep a record of the tasks and objectives allocated to a particular work package. This may be allocated to an individual or a team.

Financial Plan

Provides a record of the budget, costs and total expenditure of a project. For larger scale projects the budget would need to be agreed with the relevant management accountant in accordance with our financial processes.

Communication Plan

A log of the information that needs to be shared throughout the project, highlighting the type of communication and the frequency and who needs to receive this communication. Deciding how communications will take place with stakeholders in the planning phase is vital. Consider the influence of stakeholders and the degree to which they are impacted by the project/plans.
Typically managed by the Project Manager and Project Team.

The above can be used in Minor, Medium and Major Projects, except for a Work Package Description and Product Specification Document, which might not be needed for Minor or Medium Projects and a Communication Plan, which might not be needed for Minor Projects.

Plus Icon 3. The Delivery Phase


The project plan is put into action in the delivery phase. Actual progress and expenditure is monitored against the plan and the budget to check that it is on track. The Project Manager may have to formally manage any significant deviations from the plan during this phase, or escalate issues that have arisen. Stakeholders should be updated according to the communications plan and/or where necessary.

Key documents at this stage are - 

Project Highlight Report

The highlight report is prepared by the Project Manager with input from the Project Team at agreed intervals to keep the Project Sponsor, Team and Board informed on project progress.

Work Package Highlight Report (if required)

Work Package leads use this version of the highlight report to keep the Project Manager updated on work package progress at agreed intervals.

Issue Log

This is a record of the issues affecting the delivery of a project, what needs to be done to address the issue and who has responsibility for resolving the issue.

Typically managed by the Project Manager and Project Team and issues should be reported to the Project Sponsor and Project Board (where there is one in place).

Lessons Learned Log

This is a log of project related experiences that can be used to improve the future management of similar projects.

Typically prepared by the Project Manager and Project Team.

Exception Report 

At any point within the project cycle this form can be used to inform the Project Sponsor and/or Project Board when an agreed tolerance level (i.e. when cost/time/quality expectations) will be exceeded.

The above can all be used in Medium and Major Projects. The Project Highlight Report and Issue log are also also suggested for use in Minor Projects.

End Stage Report (for Major Projects)

Used to close a stage of the project at a pre-agreed project milestone after which the next stage of the project can commence.

Typically prepared by the Project Manager for the Project Sponsor and/or the Project Board to review.

Plus Icon Change Control

Change control occurs when there is a request to make a significant deviation from the project plan.

It is a structured process; change requests are evaluated/investigated and the change proposal then approved, deferred or rejected by the Project Board before any change is implemented. 'Scope Creep' can result from poor change control processes.

The 'iron triangle' identifies how such a change might impact primary constraints of time, cost and quality - 

Time -

  • Involvement of more stakeholders will increase the length of the project
  • If there is no budget to extend the project length, the quality of outputs will be impacted

Cost - 

  • Project costs will increase proportionally with the length of the project, e.g. due to staffing costs
  • Costs will increase due to the need for additional software licences
  • If budgets are not reconfigured in light of these changes then quality may be impacted and/or the project might not finish on time

Quality - 

  • Outputs may be impacted by a greater number of competing stakeholder demands
  • More time and budget may be required to maintain quality standards
  • Project resources may be stretched and struggle to deliver the expected quality of the product
Plus Icon 4. The Closure Phase


The project enters the closure phase as all planned work has been completed and the product/service has been accepted by stakeholders/clients and signed off by the Project Board/Sponsor.

The closure phase reviews the project in line with the project initiation document to assess performance and delivery against the project objectives and the acceptance criteria that was agreed at the start of the project. As part of the review, lessons learnt from the project should be recorded to guide future projects. The project should be formally signed off by the Project Sponsor, Manager and Board (where applicable) and communicated to the client. There may need to be a staged handover to the end-user to ensure a smooth transition to business as usual activity.

Key documents at this stage are - 

Project Review Report

An evaluation of the success of the project in relation to the business need and objectives put forward in the business case. With a focus on project costs, quality of outputs and resources. The review should evaluate the perception of the success of the project; whether the benefits have been realised; what elements of the project went well and what elements did not go well.

Typically prepared by the Project Manager with input from the Project Team and shared with the Project Sponsor and/or Board

Can be used in Medium and Major Projects. Suggested for use in Minor Projects.

Project Completion Statement

A notification to state that the project has been completed and closed, usually approved by the Project Sponsor or Board

Can be used in Minor, Medium and Major Projects.

Post Project Review Report

Provides a record of the benefits analysis and summary of the lessons learnt. This document is completed in the post-project phase, following the end of the closure phase. Further evaluation may be required once the project has been fully embedded into the business area.

All stakeholders should contribute to the review and evaluation of projects.

The above can all be used in Minor, Medium and Major Projects, although the Project Review Report is only usually used for Major Projects.

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