The making of a great project
Running a successful project from cradle to grave is a rare thing. It happens, but usually there are some significant bumps in the project road along the way – problems to overcome and issues to fix in order to make it to the successful implementation goal. Our hope as project managers is that they are relatively small issues – some that are fixable even before the customer needs to know about them.
That said, a great project isn’t really hitting a grand slam or even driving home the winning run. A big win is pulling off that big fix or managing to install a new technology requested by the project client against all odds when you…or maybe nobody…has done it in the way it needs to be done on your current project. That’s the big win, that’s the one big thing. And that’s great, but that thing doesn’t make a great project.
So what does make a great project? From my experience, it’s consistency of delivery. So, how do you ensure that? The best way I've found is through logical, ongoing best practises that include the following...
Weekly status reporting. Distributing a weekly status meeting is your chance as the project manager to inform all key stakeholders of the same information at the same time. And this is usually – and should always be – the driver for a weekly status call with the customer. Don’t just go through the motions on the status report either. Make it meaningful so your time spent on a weekly status call is not really just to confirm that the status report is accurate. That keeps everything running efficiently and effectively.
Weekly team status updates. Your project team is doing the real work on the project every day and you need to know what they are doing. You assign the tasks, but that’s not where it ends. Weekly team meetings are critical project touch points to keep everyone informed and engaged, and to get up-to-the-minute project statuses on the tasks you’ve assigned. Don’t skip having these meetings every week.
Consistent customer engagement. Keeping the project customer fully engaged and available from start to finish on the project means they are always there when you need them for decisions, input, approvals/sign offs, and maybe even a requirements interpretation. The project manager must consistently communicate with the project customer to help ensure this consistent customer engagement is happening.
Ongoing budget forecasting and reforecasting. Weekly reviews of actual vs forecasted budgets followed by a reforecasting of the budget will keep the project budget from ever getting too far out of hand. It will always allow you significant time to reach out for help or raise a flag so proper corrective action can be taken. The last thing you want is to skip this step for a few weeks and find out that your project is a financial disaster that can’t be fixed.
Senior leadership in the game. This may not be applicable on all projects, especially very small projects, but getting senior management involved in the project can send a very good message to the project customer that they are important. I don’t mean a call from the customer to your CEO expressing a concern of course. Just getting them to sit in on a status call and participate will help your project, and the customer’s perception of how you are handling the engagement, more than you can imagine. Try it and see.
Summary/call for input
Project success doesn't usually just come from one thing or one aspect of the project. There is no last-minute fix that will turn a project around into a great project. An eleventh-hour fix may save a project, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be happy or satisfied, or that it has fully met the scope laid out at the beginning of the engagement, or that it made it on time and on budget. Little things like the best practises listed above help make projects successful. A common thread through all of these is consistent communication from the project manager. That has to happen – that has to be the foundation for the project and to make the project a success... a great success.
What do you consider to be those little things that make your projects successful...possibly even great? Please share your list and discuss.