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Project management is a notoriously tricky business. From project initiation to close, there are countless things to keep track of. Costs, risks, resources, deadlines – just staying on top of them is a job in itself, and since no two projects are quite the same, it’s hard to find one neat formula to manage everything. But there are a few things you can do to avoid the most common difficulties. Minimize risks and lead more effective projects with these 22 indispensable project management tips.
1. Invest in smart project management technologies
There are countless project management tools that can save you serious amounts of time. Read up what’s out there and ensure you understand how they can help you identify risk, organize your finances, and plan according to your resources.
2. Make sure you can define the project before it starts
It might sound simplistic, but you should be able to outline your project from the very beginning. What are the project goals? Why are you working on this project now? What benefits will it bring you? Ensure you’re clear on the logic behind the project.
3. Involve main stakeholders right from the start
Get to know everyone who’ll be involved in the project, especially the main stakeholders – they’ll be the ones whose judgments will have most influence. Speak with every stakeholder to be able to manage their expectations right from the start.
4. Set key deliverables
Before the real planning starts, hold an internal meeting to discuss deliverables. Figure out what your deliverables will be, who will be involved and when you need to deliver – and get everyone to sign this off.
5. Set practical cost and time estimations
When projects fail, more often than not it’s due to busting budgets or deadlines. To increase your chances of success you need to consider all the tasks that form part of this project, how long each task will take and what the budget is per task.
6. Use past project performance to estimate time and money budgets
The best way to know your limits is to study how you’ve previously performed on similar tasks and projects. Review how your budget was spent, how long each project task took, and where your hidden project costs arose to make watertight estimates.
7. Define how you will communicate
Before you start, everyone should be familiar with your communication routine. Will you have weekly progress reports or monthly updates? Do you want people to send email updates or are Slack threads better? What necessitates a meeting? Where should everyone record their notes and updates? Clearly lay out how you’ll update stakeholders and make sure the whole team is onboard.
8. Set the start and end date
Before the project execution kicks into gear you should already have a clear start and finish date. Once this is set, you’re then able to prioritize tasks and projects based on urgency and importance. Having a clearly defined end date also helps stop projects overrunning. Just make sure everyone respects it.
9. Write a one-page plan
During the planning stage you’ll need to put together a comprehensive plan, but ensure you also create a streamlined one-page plan. Not only does this help keep the most important points at the forefront of your mind, but it also means you have quick answers to questions like: what are the risks? What are the benefits? How will I measure project success?
10. Stay flexible and allow for adjustments
It’s inevitable you’ll need to make changes to your plan. Be sure to leave enough time to incorporate them –both from clients and internally – and remember that few plans decrease in terms of scope! No matter how detailed your strategy is, things don’t always go to plan, so make sure you factor that in.
Execution & Control
11. Track all project time automatically
Project time tracking is the only tool you need to manage team resources and how your budget is actually spent. But it’s completely redundant if that requires you to recording everything by hand. Manual tracking is notoriously difficult; it interrupts your focus and no one wants to do it. So automate it completely – and enjoy accurate project data in the process.
12. Monitor your progress every day
Make sure you’re aware of all deadlines so time constraints don’t creep up on you. Give frequent updates to your team, either virtually or face-to-face, and ensure you have an overview of total project progress, as well as how individuals are getting on.
13. Motivate your team
Your employees are your most important resource, so make sure they’re motivated and feel appreciated. Reward good performance and publicly recognize your team’s effort. Put time aside to catch up with individuals and ensure they know that their contributions are valued.
14. Celebrate minor accomplishments along the way
Following on from the point above, be sure to take time to celebrate your small wins at each stage. Every time you reach a milestone or successfully refine or improve a process, celebrate it. The execution phase is usually the longest and most grueling, so boost morale whenever you can.
15. Declutter – physically and virtually
Don’t get bogged down with the small things. Removing distractions – like email, calls and admin – is essential to get stuck into deep work during this stage. Be strict with email and Slack, and consider setting “hours of availability”, so small queries don’t distract you throughout the day.
16. Check-in with everyone, but only when it actually suits them
See point 15 – constantly interrupting people kills their productivity. If your team is small, aim to have a catch-up lunch; if your team is big, downgrade this to a quick coffee or even a direct message on Slack. Alignment is essential, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of anyone’s focus.
17. Keep communication meaningful
There are many different ways to communicate, but if you’re sending out emails or written communications, make sure the reader is clear about what you’re saying. Poor communication and unclear instructions have thwarted many a project. Just aim to group questions into one contact wherever possible – no one wants a constant drip feed of queries.
18. Reflect on what you’ve learned
Be honest with yourself about any challenges you faced. Take a look at your tracked project time data and discuss: what worked and what didn’t? What surprised you? What took longer than anticipated? What threw your progress off? Write an honest and thorough evaluation of each problem you faced, then reflect on the related lessons you learned, or which strategies you’ll implement in the future.
19. See how long each project task took
This is essential for analyzing team efficiency, and setting more competitive project estimates for future projects. You’ll learn which parts of your workflow need to be improved and which types of work are the most profitable, so you only take on project that are worth your time.
20. Go over every plan and timeline
Triple check that nothing fell by the wayside – it’s astonishing how many minor things you overlook when you’re focusing on an end goal. If you’re skipping over something during the execution phase, set reminders so you don’t forget to go back to it at close.
21. Wrap up with your team
Make the end official, however you see fit, so everyone can move on. Team socials are nice and a basic “thank you” email goes a long way. It’s important to draw a line under the project and celebrate what you’ve all achieved. Try to pull out specific things each team member did: these small things have a huge impact on employees’ sense of value.
22. Give yourself a treat
Project managers work hard and wear a million hats at once. Following a project’s closure, it’s important to recognize your own achievements and reward yourself – for the work you’ve done and the ways you’ve grown, too. It goes without saying that your whole team should be rewarded, but don’t forget yourself!