Getting ahead in project management
There are innumerable projects across the world that are in need of completion. As a project manager, your job is to split the work up into different tasks and ensure others complete their part of the jigsaw puzzle.
This entails overcoming a number of hurdles. So what are the most common of these, and how can you get ahead?
At the beginning of a project, ensure that you take your time to create a well-thought-out plan. This is probably the most critical step. If you do not have a clear overview of your upcoming tasks, it is very easy to lose track of your objectives during the project. This is especially true if the project takes a long time or if something unexpected happens, such as a team member’s illness.
Take your time, sit down and define your project clearly. Ask yourself: when will the project begin and end? What are the significant milestones? What are the potential bottlenecks? What is the project’s end goal? What is the budget? Which departments do I need to work with for the project?
After you have set out your plan, ensure that you present it to your colleagues to ensure their buy-in. In the long run, a good plan will save you a lot of time, money and frustration, and it can help you avoid costly mistakes.
Every organisation has its own resources – knowledge, time, equipment, financial resources, people and materials. These resources are limited, however, and you must keep an eye on them to ensure that you do not exhaust them, leaving your project to stagnate.
Additionally, as every detail and cost element of a project is not revealed from the very beginning, you cannot know the demand on every resource. Therefore, in addition to a project plan, you should also create a resource plan.
A good resource plan should contain columns explaining when, for how long and from whom resources are needed. The resource plan can help you use resources in the most efficient way possible, even if not everything is running smoothly.
Every project is delivered by people. They are the most important variable. Your first job is to find the right people for your project and your needs.
Usually, this is one of the steps that takes place before the project, but once you have established your project and started to work on it, you also have to keep everyone on track. Think about whether there are any tasks that must be completed before others can begin their work. Ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them.
The people on your team can make a huge difference, so make sure that you do not just like them, but that they are qualified and can correctly fulfil your requirements. It is also essential to keep your team members motivated — this is often a big hurdle in project management. Employees will deliver better work if they are enjoying working on the project.
After creating your project plan, you must assign the different tasks to the various people involved in the project. Usually, this is done at the beginning, when you talk through the project and discuss people’s roles.
For colleagues in other locations, project management software can play a role in collaboration. The right software ensures that everyone involved in the project can follow where they are, as well as what needs to be delivered, by whom and when.
Classic collaboration and project tools used for this include kanban and Gantt charts, but instant messaging is an increasingly popular tool as well. Real-time communication saves a lot of time, and ensures that information is clearly passed on to the entire team.
It is vital to identify and prioritise the most important steps of your project, especially because most of them will contain smaller steps and details that are essential for success.
Scheduled activities need to be sequenced by placing them in the order that they need to happen. It is possible to process two or more steps simultaneously, but your main focus should be on defining the most important steps and setting dependencies between different tasks. Ask yourself: how does each task affect the next step?
Involve the client
‘The customer is king’ is a principle you should subscribe to. Always keep that concept in mind. At the beginning of your project, your client will describe what they want out of it and tell you of any preferences it may have. This is the right time to respond to its wishes and define very clear conditions.
Keep the communication channels open with the client. During any project, there will be additional questions and new decisions to make. Clients should also be made aware of any bottlenecks or delays.
If you reveal problems at the end of the project, the client will likely be caught off guard and disappointed. Instead of waiting until the end, consider creating update reports for the client. This will vary widely by project, but, generally, daily reports might be a little too much. A weekly client report, however, could be a beneficial tool for both the project and your relationship with the client.
At the beginning of a project – and throughout its delivery – keep a close eye on your costs.
Overhead costs cover your products and services. These are hard to divide and assign directly. Costs could include office-space rental, equipment and furniture. The administrative costs cover items that keep your organisation operational, such as the salaries of your contract or finance department.
Yet, despite having worked out estimated costs at the beginning of the project, unexpected costs often accrue. How can you handle these, and what is the best way to inform your client? Usually, when these costs accrue, your project does not get finished on time, which you must then explain to the client. The best way to avoid this is to present the current status of the project, whereby you analyse the current costs and where unexpected costs are likely to arise.
At the end of the project, after you have delivered it successfully, take a short break, and then take a look back. Analyse what went well and where the weak spots were. Write any mistakes down so that they do not reoccur in future projects.
Improvement in project delivery is primarily achieved through learning by doing. You can make great strides and improvements by reflecting back on both failures and successes, which you can then apply on your next project.
A project will only be successful if you have a clear plan, a good team and plenty of motivation to deliver it to scope and on budget.
This blog first appeared as an article in the Autumn edition of Project Journal and is authored by Magnus Doll.