The numbers don’t lie: Managing complicated projects is a tough task. According to a study by led by McKinsey & Company in conjunction with the University of Oxford, a total of 45% of projects run over budget, 7% run late, and a whopping 56% of projects fail to meet initial expectations.
It’s clear there are a right way and a wrong way to do things. Understanding what’s at stake and choosing the right way is all about employing the proper methodology through organizing, planning, and prioritizing.
Luckily there are plenty of free project management resources out there that can assist you in moving assignments in the right direction AND arriving ahead of schedule.
We’ve narrowed down some of the absolute BEST free project management resources available on the web to help you every step of the way. Take full advantage of the best free resources and tips to tackle the most pressing assignments first. This way, if a client or another stakeholder happens to pop in for an update, you will able to present the most important results well ahead of schedule.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. What exactly is effective project management?
How to define effective project management
Project management – the successful outcome of these words mean different things for different people. Effective project management could lead to something as massive as building a new bridge or as intricate as bringing a new product to market.
Regardless of the end result, effective project management almost always involves:
- Maximizing team output and efficiency
- Leveraging unique knowledge, skills, and techniques
- Planning and initiating predetermined goals
- Completing all tasks within a given timeframe and budget
As is true with most important things, successful project management is much easier to envision as a bulleted list than it is to deliver in reality. Let’s dive in to find the best free online courses, websites and blogs, books, podcasts and expert advice for all your project management needs.
The best free project management online courses
The Internet provides a vast resource for both paid and unpaid project management information that can rival many formal education programs.
While you may have to forgo the opportunity to network and attend social events associated with traditional classes, online open access courseware and journal publications provide an incredible project management resource, and the best part is – many are available for you to access and download completely free.
Some noteworthy free resources for courseware include:
ALISON: Offering “free certified learning”, this database of great project management courses is perfect for beginners and more experienced professionals alike:
- Get started with Diploma in Project Management
- Ramp up with Modern Project Management – Working With Clients and Teams
- Become an expert with Project Management: Quality, Risk, Procurement and Project Closeout
Udemy: This online learning marketplace has enough free and paid content to learn virtually ANYTHING. Including project management…
- Consider starting with Introduction to Project Management course
- Compare approaches with Learn the Truth About Agile Versus Water
- Become a titled professional with How to Earn the Project Management Professional (PMP)
MIT Open Courseware: A free and open publication of material from thousands of MIT courses, covering the entire MIT curriculum and used by millions of learners and educators around the world. It provides free project management content worth considering:
- MIT’s System Project Management Course introduces management principles, tools, and methods to plan and execute successful project management.
- MIT’s 1.040 Project Management Course covers project management and implementation specifically related to infrastructure construction.
Peer-reviewed project management publications
Aside from certified courseware, peer-reviewed journal publications offer some of the best resources for credible information. For those looking for more advanced content, check out the following online free databases:
Engineering, Project, and Production Management – This resource covers advanced cross-disciplinary topics related to engineering management, project management, and production management.
Project, Program, and Portfolio Management – This resource provides access to peer-reviewed articles, which specifically cover the different aspects of project portfolio management.
Great project management websites and blogs
Traditional websites are another common and easy way to find updates, articles, and helpful information related to project management.
Feel free to find out more about the owner of each website and look for a way to keep up with them. Social media is a great resource from which to find and receive regular information (more on that later).
Here are some worth checking out:
Projects At Work – Offers a “community” of expert-level advice on practically all things project management-related.
Project Times – Serves the project management community by offering a comprehensive database of articles, blogs, webinars and more.
The 4-Hour Work Week – For those looking to implement unconventional tactics, maximize productivity, and get things done!
Aside from traditional websites, blogs are another hugely popular resource to digest great information from a first-person perspective:
FearNoProject – Updated by blog owner and project management expert, Bruce McGraw. FearNoProject serves as a platform for Bruce to share his thoughts on project management, technology, and organizational performance.
Leading Answers – Maintained by independent project manager expert, Mike Griffiths, This resource offers a complete suite of articles as well as tools for effective project management.
The leading project management communities
Need help to find an answer to an uncommon situation or problem? Communities are great for initiating dialogue with those who share similar interests and can provide insight not found elsewhere on the web. Find and connect with other project management professionals via the following online communities:
ProjectManagement.com: This is the community managed by the Project Manangement Institue, with thousands of PM professionals from various industries.
StackExchange: Offers a unique community for facilitating Q&A between project managers.
ALISON Community: Supplement ALISON’s free online training by meeting and greeting other like-minded people through the community
The best (next to) free project management books
When it comes to actual learning, books are a great alternative to website content primarily due to the overall depth of information provided. Though some books are better than others and not all are free, if you look hard enough you are sure to stumble across some unique and certainly relevant resources to meet your project management needs.
Whether you are hunting for best practices, wrestling with a current project, or hoping to take on a leadership role on the subject, the following books can currently be bought for around one cent (just add shipping and handling):
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: this work presents a guide to the body of knowledge as it relates to project management.
Information Technology Project Management: this resource “offers the ‘behind-the-scene’ aspect of technology” and how it relates to project management.
Project Management: A Systems Approach to planning, Scheduling, and Controlling: a true classic on the subject that has been dubbed “the industry-leading project management 'bible'”.
The most valuable project management podcasts
For those looking to be more productive while sitting in traffic or up their knowledge while having lunch, podcasts offer one of the most convenient resources for learning project management. Here are some of the industry’s top picks for those on the go:
People and Projects Podcast: Provides “interviews and insights” related to improving teamwork and tackling projects.
The Lazy Project Manager: Led by best-selling author, Peter Taylor, this podcast revolves around the ‘work smarter, not harder’ approaching to getting things done.
PM-Podcast: This resource offers a mix of valuable Podcasts and eBooks covering various topics on the industry.
Sensible Project Manager Podcast: This Podcast is backed by 15 year’s worth of experience, providing listeners with an “insider’s edge” into practical project management.
PM For The Masses: Hosted by Cesar Abeid, this podcast combines personal stories and stories from other industry experts to provide a comprehensive resource “for the masses.”
The best free eBooks and other ‘downloadables’
EBooks and other content made for download are great resources for many reasons. They are easily accessible, just save them to any personal computer or smartphone, plus they read just like a book.
Some popular free choices for all of your PM needs include:
The most influential project management experts
Apart from devouring content from online courseware, blogs, books, and websites, the best way to learn is by actually following the experts. Many project manager gurus are a good resource because they’ve experienced success, and in turn offer advice through social media and other websites.
Here is a list of our select project management masters and how you can stay up to date on their latest tips, thoughts, and expertise:
Glen B. Alleman: Glen is a blogger focuses on performance-based project management.
Shim Marom: Shim is a project management professional consultant specializing in offering free thinking-style tips and advice.
PMStudent: PMSudent is owned by Margaret Meloni, and stands to provide project management professionals with “PMP study advice that works”.
Additionnal Project management influencers on Twitter:
- Thomas Kennedy: @ThePMCoach
- Bob Sutton: @work_matters
- Susanne Madsen: @SusanneMadsen
- Michael Kaplan: @mkaplanPMP
- Lindsay Scott: @projectmgmt
You can find a Twitter list of all these Project Management influencers here.
What effective project management looks like - Putting it all together
Now that you have some of the best free project management resources at your disposal, it’s time to take action. As you spend time reviewing relevant information and following the experts, just remember:
Successful project management comes down to proper organization, planning, and prioritizing.
And the BEST way of ensuring success is to figure out what works and then focus on creating a repeatable system around it. Since the process of setting specific tasks and initiating the appropriate call to action involves a sequence of events, your strategy to arrive at the end objective should also include a sequence of events.
Generic 5-Step process you can use to outline your next assignment
Step 1: Initiate
Decide on the team’s goals. Is it realistic to assume these goals can be met? What resources do you have at your disposal?
Step 2: Plan
Outline and write down the overall strategy. Prioritize your work by defining a budget, setting a scheduled due date, and getting ready to take action!
Step 3: Launch
Get all systems ready to GO. Communicate with your team to assign tasks and divvy out responsibilities. Then bring all available resources to bear.
Step 4: Control and monitor
Once the project is well underway, it’s crucial to keep an eye out for things such as deviations from budget and current pace towards target. This is the time to self-correct and get back on track if and when needed.
Step 5: Close
The deadline has arrived. Were the results as accurate as intended? Was the client happy with end results? What could you have done better? This is the time for evaluation of the entire project.
Reading helpful project management content, studying top course material, and accepting outside professional advice related to the subject is great for building a foundation. And of course, it also helps to have a repeatable process to mimic each time you have a new assignment.
But neither all the best content in the world nor the most well-defined execution process is enough to guarantee your team’s success. What you also need is visibility. Visibility to share, track, and keep up with your team’s progress.
And what better way to achieve visibility than to have granular access to track and manage your team’s progress every step of the way?