Regardless of which project management approach you subscribe to every project can benefit from some focus on elements that are relevant to all projects and all methodologies. We all want to improve our project success rate and consistently deliver projects we can be proud of so just what are the aspects that cut across the boundaries of different project management styles and approaches?
Most project managers will have experienced their fair share of successes (I would hope) but also their fair share of failures. But can you always know what made one project a success and another a failure – part of the reason could be outside your control (particularly when it comes to the budget) but, assuming we didn’t just get lucky on the successes what did we do differently and how can we learn from that so that the number of successes always outnumber the failures?
Most successful projects succeed because of a few simple aspects of project management that are done well. If you can determine what these are for your own personal style of project management and the methodology you use then you can implement them in all projects and are well on the way to being recognised as a successful project manager. There are no rules to what will work best as every person, every project management method and every working environment is different. Budgets vary as do organisations’ internal project frameworks but an experienced manager should be able to establish what works best in their own environment.
Here are the 5 areas that I typically concentrate on – you may already do these well and need to concentrate on other areas (in which case do share your thoughts) but they make a good starting point.
It is easy to pay lip service to the importance of good communication in a project – sending out regular emails and reports, holding frequent status meetings etc can persuade people that they are communicating well on a project but to communicate really well you need to properly engage with everyone involved in a project – not just the stakeholders, client and team leaders but everyone. And that means through informal as well as formal methods so that you understand how issues affect people personally.
Communicating well means that everyone understands what is expected of them, that they receive relevant feedback (and constructive criticism, if necessary), that they are motivated and actively want the project to succeed, from the lowliest trainee to the most important stakeholder. This means knowing what the benefits are to them personally such as recognition for a job well done or a more streamlined process or a report that better enables them to show senior management what a good job they are doing.
Managing communication well can be difficult on a large, complex project so make sure you establish the means of communication right from the start.
I know that I have worked on projects before that had budgets or timescales (or both) set in stone before the project was even formally initiated (usually with the hope of gaining some competitive advantage) and, naturally, this makes realistic planning difficult. But, as the project manager, it is your responsibility to work with the immoveable deadlines and/or budgets and change what you can. Throwing resources at a project that can simply not be done to a certain timescale will not help so typically you will need your powers of persuasion to get it to work – usually by changing the scope. Don’t let others persuade you that the project can be completed successfully when your experience and instinct tell you otherwise – the result will simply be failure and if there is any blame to be laid you can bet it won’t be at anyone else’s doorstep except yours.
So make sure your plan is feasible before starting the project in earnest but don’t be tempted to skip any stages that you know to be necessary.
Control The Budget
Controlling a project budget means tracking it every step of the way and ensuring those working on the project know that the budget is being tracked. If an estimate for a task is exceeded don’t be tempted to ignore that over-run or, worse, try and cut back on another task to compensate. So tracking the budget means tracking not only costs for physical products but also hours worked. This is often particularly poorly done when the team members and project manager are permanent employees who are not actually billing the company for their time.
Change Management is all about controlling the project scope – the detailed definition of what work must be done to produce the desired outcome. Don’t be afraid of change – anyone who tries to keep the initial project schedule the same throughout the project is burying their head in the sand – accept necessary changes when they arise but be careful not to lose sight of the original scope of the project and get side-tracked onto tasks that are not really necessary.
Changes throughout the course of a project are part of what will help you to deliver a successful end-product, providing they are controlled and managed well. As much as traditional project management methods focus on specifying requirements fully at the outset they also recognised that change happens.
Proactively manage project risks
There are different schools of thought towards risk management in projects but one area that should never be overlooked no matter what your opinion on risk management is to identify those risks that you can and then actively look for solutions to mitigate them, wherever possible. This might involve carrying out additional activities, for example, if your know that the requirements specification is not detailed enough in certain areas then plan time to review those parts of the specification lacking in clarity – assign that task to an individual or team and check up on it regularly. If the schedule is tight look at ways to perform tasks more efficiently throughout the project – a little bit of time saved on each task may not seem significant but can add up to help the project achieve its deadlines.
What are the areas that you concentrate most effort on when managing a project? Feel free to contribute your own opinions and ideas…