Knowing how to set a project up for success is a key part of any good project manager’s job. Whether you’re kicking off a new project, picking up a project part way through, or helping onboard new team members, getting things right from the start will always help a project succeed more easily.
And setting a project up for success doesn’t mean getting everything right. It’s a mindset; learning how to ask the right questions, which processes to put in place and quickly understanding exactly what the team needs to achieve. It’s about working with people, not against them, and most importantly, it’s about adding value to that project.
Joining a new project isn’t necessarily a straightforward process. As project managers, we often run straight out of one project and into a new one. We usually have multiple projects at the same time and whether we will admit or not, we usually have certain projects that we prefer to others. All this means that it can be hard for project managers to properly rest, recompose and reset in between projects. We’re expected to just keep going — landing with impact and seamlessly integrating with new teams, budgets, timelines and aspirations.
In some ways this is great. It means we learn quickly and build up our experience and network at pace. But it can also be exhausting, overwhelming and all encompassing. Knowing what to do, when and how with clarity can be tough.
Whether you’re starting a project afresh, or joining a pre-existing project, there are certain steps you can take to make sure that you’re setting yourself, and your team, up for success. Knowing what questions to ask, what audits to do and what actions to take can help make your onboarding process become much more seamless.
Here are some top tips for any project manager looking to set themselves and their projects up for success:
1. Clarify the vision: a project will only be successful if everyone is clear on what they’re aiming for. On any new project, get used to asking questions that help you understand what success looks like for that project. Ask the client, speak to stakeholders and talk to the team. If answers aren’t immediately forthcoming, or differ from each other, then you can add immediate value by getting everyone on the same page.
2. People: do a skills audit of the team. Establish who is appointed and on what basis. Work out where the team’s scope starts and stops, and check fees and appointments align with this. Then, establish what is missing. Does the project require specialist advice? Does it need information from the supply chain, or early engagement from sub-contractors? Is manufacturing information required to progress the design and / or build? Then make sure you close those gaps so the right people are involved and the right expertise is in the room.
3. Tools: establish what project management tools are being used, when and by whom. For example, does the project have a clear and up-to-date brief, project execution plan, directory and risk register? What are the reporting requirements of the project? How are documents shared and managed? On any new project, make sure those tools serve the team. If a document is difficult to use, don’t be afraid to update it. Project management tools are only useful if the team buys into, knows how to and can easily use those tools.
4. Processes: ask what processes are already in place and establish if any additional processes need to be in place. Processes take project management tools from passive to active. Clearly identified processes allow activities to be refined and streamlined so you and your team can save time, money, resource and stress. Look at where the team are spending their time and ask whether those things can be automated, updated or simplified.
5. You: a critical component of a project is retaining the knowledge, wisdom and experience of a dedicated project manager. So make sure you set yourself up for success personally. Projects can often feel more like a marathon than a sprint and remember that your team will benefit if you make it to the end with them. As you move onto a new project, be cognoscente of where you are. If you’re running low on energy, commitment or motivation, make sure you take some time to look after yourself. Take control of your calendar as meetings are set up. Programme in desk time for yourself. Make sure you have the support you need. Make sure you have the right training, skills and experience to succeed. And if you don’t, ask for help. The project will succeed better if you’re preforming at your best.
Starting a new project takes considerable time and energy. As the project manager you’re perfectly placed to make an immediate positive impact. Use the tips above to more easily set your projects, and yourself, up for long term success.
BuiltWell Project Management provides high impact project management, leadership development and wellbeing training. Reach out to Founder Rachael Keeble to discuss how BuiltWell can help your PMs level up and become more autonomous, efficient & successful.
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