The Do’s And Don’ts Of Effective Project Management

April 5, 2016

Whether it is the development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building, or the launch of a new product or service, at some stage every business or enterprise will no doubt find itself with a project of some sort to undertake.

Now, Project Management is a complex thing, with so many variables and stakeholders at play, it can be very easy for timeframes to slide and budgets to be exceeded. And while there will always be a reactive element in managing your projects, there are some key things to consider that will allow you to remain in control as the work progresses. Behold. The 8 Do’s and Don’ts of Project Management, starting with..

The Don’ts

DON’T be D.U.M.B (or rather DO!)
We all know that planning is a key stage in the project management life-cycle, and of course a lack of effective planning will most certainly cause a project to struggle. That said a significant cause of project failure is not due to poor planning alone. It’s more specifically the absence of clear, accurate objectives and measurable outcomes included in that planning.

To be successful you need to ensure that you and your team are all heading in the same direction

… and that you have measures in place to monitor your success. Ask yourself what you are delivering? And no, it is not simply the project deliverable, its more than that, which makes it a difficult question to answer and one that needs a little more thought than you might expect.
Be Smart. Try using the acronym DUMB when setting your objectives. DUMB, (doable, understandable, manageable and beneficial), can help set useful objectives to keep you on track. You should think about why you are doing what you are doing and ask your stakeholders to help you define success measures for the project.

Don’t be Vague on Time and Budget
How much time and budget does your project need? Another tough question, and you can’t answer this one based on assumptions or guesswork, though in the early stages it might be tempting. You also can’t base this on when the project NEEDS to be delivered or how much money is available to do it. You need to be realistic, accurately estimate how many hours are in the project? How much contingency do you need? What does the hardware/software/expertise cost? Have you factored in training, testing and support? All of these factors and several more need to be considered and addressed when putting together time frames and budget estimations.

Start a project on the right track by having sufficient resources in place at the start, get advice from people who have worked on similar projects and lock in vendors/contractors to fixed priced quotes where possible. Take a bottom-up budgeting approach to arrive at reasonable estimates for the project. And always, ALWAYS avoid numbers plucked out of thin air. You can pretty much guarantee they will lead you into overrun country.

Don’t Under Communicate
Amidst the long list of other things you need to be doing, sending out updates and scheduling status meetings can be easy to let slip… especially if things are moving slowly. But lack of clear and regular communication is right up there at the top of the reasons for project failure. There is no excuse for failing to communicate with your stakeholders and project team, even if there’s nothing to say, get them together and discuss why it’s not moving, what that means and what’s being done about it. Regular project meetings and updates relating to progress and any changes in the direction of the project are key to keeping everyone on track and the project moving forward in line with the plan.

It also makes for happy, well-informed teams, and we like those.

Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Scope
The thorn in every project manager’s side and a major cause of overruns and conflict is scope slip. Changes to the project scope as it progresses are frustrating and costly and close management of the project scope is a fundamental factor is running any successful project. As such it is essential that the project manager ensure that the project scope is agreed upon and documented as a baseline at the very start of the project.

Once it’s all locked in you will also need to introduce a process to handle requests for scope change and include criteria to assess the variation for impact on the budget and schedule. You can then clearly communicate (see above, happy teams, happy projects!!) advising of the impact of these scope changes and gain approval from the project team before including the change. This allows for sign off of any increases to time or budget estimations and ensures that everyone is aware of the changes.

The Do’s

Do Surround Yourself with the BEST Team Possible, Not the Most Available…
Are you selecting people for your project based on availability or skill set? All too often, people are selected simply because they are available and in certain cases, your need to ask yourself, Why are they available? If you want to ensure a successful project, you NEED the right people. It’s important to employ the right project manager (Self Management can often be a false economy, be honest with yourself) and team members to deliver on the requirements and expectations. Build a team based on skill set and experience, not on availability. Consider whether it’s worth paying a premium for a small team of highly proficient and experienced people and factor this into your budget.

And on that self-managed thing, remember managing a project is difficult and it can be made more difficult and stressful without the relevant experience. If the project has a significant impact on your business, it makes sense to ensure that you give it the very best chance of success. Do you have the time and skill set to effectively manage this project to delivery? If not, employing an experienced Project Manager can save a lot of headaches in the long run. If you decide to hire a PM, look for someone with the skills, knowledge and experience required to run meetings, develop a project plan, manage risks and issues, and deal with stakeholders. Someone who understands your industry and has delivered similar projects in the past, that way you can feel confident that you’ll get the best outcomes.

Do Kick Off Your Project with a BANG!
Is it worth having a project kick-off meeting? Many projects drift into action without a clear start point. Everyone knows what he or she is doing; it’s obvious, right? We’ve talked about it for months.. NEWS FLASH people forget, they misinterpret and they may not have actually been listening in the first place. Who was at which planning meeting? Who saw the proposal documents? As you slide into project planning, it can be easy to forget exactly who is across which elements of the project. That’s why it is important to get the whole gang together and make sure that everyone on the project team is clear about the project goal, aims and objectives.

Everyone needs to be clear about their individual roles, responsibilities, key project milestones and deadline dates.

Having an initiation meeting allows for questions to asked and answered and perhaps just as importantly, it provides an opportunity for the team to see each other as TEAM. Project Management is a collaborative process, and a kick-off meeting is hugely valuable in getting everyone on the same page.

Do Dig Deep when Gathering Requirements
Many projects start with the barest headline list of requirements, only to find later the actual needs have not been fully understood. Often, there are gaps in the requirements, dead-ends or requests that simply don’t make sense without additional clarification from the people who are actually impacted by the work. Without a full understanding of the business it can be easy to miss things you’re unaware of, like the booking system you didn’t know they used that no longer works with the changes you’ve made to their Point of Sale software. To avoid the horror of delivering a project that doesn’t actually meet the business requirements, make sure you ask ALL THE QUESTIONS, even the stupid ones… in fact, especially the stupid ones! Find out exactly what they want and how it will be used and once you have that agreed, right it down! By writing a statement of requirements and having it signed off by the project stakeholders, you have produced guidebook for the project and clearly documented that this is what you have agreed to deliver.

Do follow The Process
Many projects start with a fanfare and a great deal of optimism only to get bogged down and struggle for months and years some without ever delivering. It’s not that people aren’t working hard, they are, but they don’t have a clear process to follow.

They don’t know how far it is to the finish line and that’s terribly un-motivating. Project management processes fall into five groups:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring and Controlling
  5. Closing (this is a big one!)

It’s important in each of these stages that you outline what needs to be done, the order in which it will be done and the key milestones along the way, for those for success measure we talked about. As with everything the best processes are those that are kept simple, are easy to understand and have clear steps, outcomes and owners. You need to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

With the right planning, communication and monitoring your project will run a lot smoother and the risk of going over time or over budget (or both!!) will be hugely reduced. Project Management is about juggling multiple streams of work and people, hopefully some of these tips will be helpful in keeping all of those balls in the air.

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This week’s post has been a team contribution. Paula is our project manager and process expert and when not working with us she works on her own business, We Love Monday.



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