Project management is the management of a project. It is as simple and as complicated as that.
To manage a project, it takes the application of processes, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve objectives. A project is an endeavour to meet planned goals.
Project management best practice for results means understanding the results you expect. Therefore, a project manager defines the scope of the project, the time and cost you are willing to expand on the outcomes and the expected quality.
Project management role obviously shares many characteristics with management generically.
The difference is that generic management is an ongoing process. Project management has a defined goal and timescale within which to present the deliverable.
The core responsibilities of the project manager are the definition of the project and the reason for its existence.
It is then about capturing the requirements of the project, specifying quality and estimating the timescale and resources while justifying the business case for the investment.
A large proportion of the role then become the effective leading and managing the team and the possible risks, issues and changes.
And the best practices are…
It is a complex role that is highly focused on an outcome. Many projects end in failure and yet still company bosses not only expect success, they expect it to be delivered faster and cheaper and better than could ever be expected.
What would be the top ten best practices to deliver these exceptional results?
Number 1: Find your best project definition document.
The amount of time you invest in planning at the start will reduce potential delays and costs during the project. It is tempting to dive straight in and start getting results but in effect, you could end up performing tasks and activities that are redundant and repetitive.
The best way to reduce the time of a project and the budget is to front load the process with careful planning.
A project definition is the first deliverable of any project and lays out the project at a high level ready for approval by the relevant stakeholders, whether this the executive level or the customer.
There are many templates for such project definition documents online, but the essential content should include:
- Project overview – the summary of the overall nature of the project
- Objectives – the specific aims and outcomes that you hope to achieve
- Scope – what is the reach and extent of the project outcomes and what is out of the scope of the project?
- Risks – the potential for things to go wrong and the safeguards put in place to mitigate against these threats
- Approach – the overarching design of the project process
- Organisation – the roles within the project and the remit for the work they will complete; plus, who is accountable to which stakeholder for the duration of the project
- Effort, cost and duration estimate – best guess estimates that will likely be revised as the workplan is undertaken
- Signatures – once presented and agreed by the stakeholders, acquiring signatures signifies their approval of the high-level vision of the project
One of the significant roles of a successful project manager is the presentation of this early planning and explaining why the project is to proceed in the way envisioned.
Buy in at this early stage helps delineate clear success criteria that will help great project managers exemplify the impact of their work later in the process.
Number 2: Keeping the planning horizon is sight
The point of this early planning is to keep a view of the high-level ideas and concepts and not to get too specific too soon.
If you plan the whole project from the start infinite detail, you will likely find yourself re-planning a lot of what you need to do because things change and unforeseen factors arise.
So, the project remains conceptual until you reach that part of the process, and then you bring the project into a higher definition of detail.
As the next part of the process arrives, create a detailed workplan that includes assigning resources and estimating the work needed.
Once you reach the point where you worry that the planning may need to change if earlier activities don’t fall into place, stop planning in detail as you have found your planning horizon.
As the project progresses and you move through some of these activities, you will be able to run the planning horizon even further forwards to the end destination of the whole project.
Number 3: Be clear on your procedures
You need to make sure that your team and your stakeholders have a shared understanding of the procedures for undertaking the project.
If you lay these out from the beginning – focusing on key ideas such as assuring quality, managing risk, communication – then you are unlikely to meet points of conflict down the line.
It is likely that your organisation will have standard procedures and you can just enforce these within the management of your project.
Number 4: Keep an eye on the budget and the schedule throughout
It is just easy for time and money to drift. If you presume things are getting done at a specific cost, then you are likely going to meet a nasty shock towards the end of the project.
No project proceeds without problems and within your best guess estimates. Therefore, a significant skill of project management is applying rigour and discipline to manage budget and timing each time you review the workplan.
You should commit to reviewing aspects of money and time once a week for a massive project and fortnightly for a smaller project.
You should identify elements of the workplan that are complete and those which need to be carried forward or adapted to help the project come in on time.
The changes will then need to consider the potential impact on a budget. If you are moving outside the budget limits, then you and your team will need to explore where cost-cutting can take place or whether the relevant stakeholder needs approaching for additional funds.
Number 5: The best project managers see the warning signs early!
This is where there is more art than there is science in project management.
It is the ability to see the small variance or nuance and being able to extrapolate or anticipate the potential impact this will have on the whole project.
Here are some potential examples:
- You spot a small variance in schedule or budget, and this got slightly bigger the next time you checked – the differences are minor, but the trend is to an increasing gap between expectation and reality that needs to be recovered quickly
- You spot that some tasks marked complete are only partially finished and need to be revisited
- You are starting to rely on overtime to hit deadlines
- The team morale begins to suffer due to the pressure of budget and deadlines
- The quality of deliverables is starting to decline and a lot of time of being used up revisiting items that have not passed quality assurance
All these factors affect most projects; the trick is to see the risk and manage the risk before it impacts on the overarching success of the whole project.
Number 6: Keeping an eye on the scope
It is easy for there to be a drift in the scope of the project. This may be caused by under-estimating the skill needed to complete the task or a change in the design of the primary deliverable due to small incremental changes throughout the process.
Avoiding scope creep is crucial because it could lead to the whole project being deemed a failure, as you do not meet the expectation of the stakeholders and customers.
If you feel scope drift starting to occur, then it is a good idea to sit down with stakeholders and customers and renegotiate the expectations of the project outcomes.
Number 7: Continue to assess risks throughout
As part of your initial planning, you will have identified risks and aimed to mitigate these.
However, once a project begins new risk assessments should be undertaken periodically to ensure that there are no further problems that could arise.
Number 8: Resolve issues quickly.
Any issue in a project is a big problem, no matter how incidental and small they may seem.
If you, as the project manager, or a team member opens an issue, then it should be addressed quickly. If you feel there is no sense of urgency to resolve the issue, then it may not be a problem at all.
However, there should still be communication to explain why this has been closed down as a potential risk to the project – else people may not feel listened to.
Project Management best practice for results means planning, reflecting, adapting and repeatedly completing until the whole project has come to fruition.
Keeping your eye on the end outcome, while keeping the next step of the process in precise definition, is the crucial factor to the best results of the most exceptional project managers.