Professional Education and Career Blog

How to Properly Do Project Management and Improve Your Outcomes

stress1Project Management is one of those areas that can be extremely slippery to implement well. But to keep your projects on-track and on-budget, it’s crucial to have an effective plan in place. Good project skills can cover a lot of management territory. By following a few tips, tricks and guidelines, you can ensure that your next project rolls to a successful conclusion.

1)      Always plan for the worst.

If there is one thing every seasoned Project Manager knows, it’s that unforeseen problems will occur that will lay waste to the time schedule. Expect these disasters and build in plenty of extra padding into your time schedule. Many people have experienced companies where every project seems to always be behind schedule. The reason is that poor project planners only account for best-case times of what something “should” take, rather than expect some percentage of those are not going to fit the ideal. Be realistic about what can be accomplished.

2)      Know exactly what your project is.

This may seem obvious, but too many projects get started without enough details being nailed down and defined. People go in with more enthusiasm than planning, and end up with a lot of stakeholders having different ideas of what the goals are for the project and how it will accomplish those goals. Before anything is started, fully develop the project plan with very well defined objectives, key elements, and success criteria. Make sure everyone signs off on the plan (literally) so that there are no loose ends to trip things up later.

3)      Ensure the right people are in place.

This is one of the more underrated skills a great project manager can have. Spend the time to really evaluate the best way to organize the teams, with the right team leaders in the right spots. In a fast-paced company, it can be tempting to just assume employees are interchangeable parts, but investing time in matching the right people into the right place can save large amounts of headaches later.

4)      Pay attention to morale.

People are not machines, and you can’t get great results by just cracking the whip and pushing them harder. Practice the 90/10 rule when it comes to listening versus talking. By being open to hearing about problems, they can get solved much sooner than having employees fear bringing up problems and then letting them fester. Often thank your team for good jobs, and when it doesn’t go so well, thank them for pushing through and conquering the problem. Studies consistently show that employees work harder when they’re appreciated and rewarded. And most importantly, keep your sense of humor in the face of pressure.

5)      Be the firefighter.

The team leaders are leading their teams, and few of them are going to have the high-level view of seeing where things are going wrong. If there is a problem that crosses teams, get involved and determine why it’s happening and bring the players together to solve it.

6)      Embrace frequent communication.

Even the best planned projects can have pieces go off-track. The best way to prevent people from having their head too deep in their work, going off plan, is to get everyone in a room to talk about where they are. That allows employees to hash out any problems and work as a team. Encourage people to talk about the problems and roadblocks they’re running into.

stress27)      Don’t fear change.

It’s nearly always the case that project plans have to be changed at some point. But that doesn’t mean the plan has failed, it only means the plan is adapting to the new information. Don’t feel like nothing can go in the plan unless it’s cast in stone. It’s okay to put items in the plan that you think may have to change later. A project plan is supposed to be a guideline representing the current best beliefs, not a straightjacket.

8)      Remember that the goal is a successful project, not a successful plan.

It’s important to keep the big goal in site: A quality result. It’s almost always better to be late delivering a great project with apologies, than deliver a poor project on time that everyone hates. A late project is much more forgivable than a bad project. The Project Manager’s job is not just to hit time targets, it’s to ensure that each piece is done the right way, cumulating into a product the organization can be proud of.