For companies to expand, improve, or pivot, they need well-defined projects and specific roles to oversee them. That means clear deliverables, quality parameters, and hard deadlines.
And we’re not talking about any old assignment. The aim of a project is to achieve specific business objectives that are aligned with the overall company strategy. Some examples of business projects include:
- Launching a new digital product like a smartphone app
- Constructing a new call-center to boost customer service capacity
- Transitioning to a new internal software system.
Project management is the process of managing these projects to ensure deadlines are hit and the end result meets expectations. Projects can be extremely large and involve hundreds of people, or simple ongoing processes that only a handful of professionals are responsible for.
But, whatever the scale, talented project managers are required to keep the project heading in the right direction.
If you’re a natural leader, strong communicator, and super-organized individual, you have the right kind of personality to make it in this exciting field. You’ll need to learn key project management skills and follow certain best practices to succeed.
Project Management Best Practices
Project management has evolved into several sub-disciplines including Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, Lean, and Six Sigma. It’s becoming increasingly important to understand the best practices associated with each domain. These best practices are normally derived from project management methodologies, industry conventions, international standards, and a company’s guidelines from past projects. Let’s discuss some of the common best practices followed in the field of project management.
1. Establish and Maintain a Connection with Stakeholders
One of the most common reasons for a project to fail is a misunderstanding of the customer requirements. It can result in last-minute scrambling due to overall customer dissatisfaction.
Ensure that you’re on the same page as the project stakeholders from the get-go. You need to align your understanding of project deliverables, goals, quality standards, success metrics, plausible risks, budget, timelines, resources, and performance constraints.
It’s good practice to hold a kick-off meeting and follow it up with regular progress updates. The importance of these meetings can’t be overlooked and you should do your best to ensure the stakeholders, project teams, and anyone else involved, attends.
In case of any unprecedented glitches, you must inform the stakeholders and work with them to get the issue resolved as early as possible.
2. Create a Detailed Work Plan
One of the primary responsibilities of a project manager is the creation of a project work plan. This is the backbone of project management and a well-defined and well-structured plan helps you execute the project as expected. The project must be organized into clear phases or task groups, and the roles and responsibilities of each team must be clearly defined. Add milestones to all major dates, approvals, deliverables, and meetings. Developing the work plan is only the beginning. You’re also responsible for ensuring the team actually sticks to it, throughout the project.
3. Communicate Early and Often
Before beginning a project, you’ll need to set up a meeting with all the stakeholders and team members involved. This ensures that everyone is on the same page where the project expectations are concerned.
This initial meeting is also your chance to get feedback on your work plan. The team may highlight certain issues that you may have overlooked. These could be technical challenges or manufacturing constraints, for example.
Set up a communication plan that includes regular progress meetings with the team. This ensures you and the stakeholders are aware of the project status at all times. It'll also help you quickly deal with any issues or surprises, and minimize the impact on the project.
It's good practice to write down the minutes for each project meeting, and circulate it to all attendees. People that were unable to attend can then easily catch up on progress.
Also, regularly monitor the progress of tasks and activities throughout the project, using project management tools and software.
4. Create a Risk Response Team
Things can, and often will, go wrong. Here are some examples of unexpected changes that can occur during a project:
- A sudden budget cut
- A change in market conditions that leads to a change in requirements
- Key team members leaving the organization during a critical phase
- Deadlines being missed due to unforeseen technical difficulties.
No matter how well you plan and chart the anticipated risks, unexpected issues are bound to crop up. You should, therefore, build a risk response team that can take over during critical phases or project emergencies.
The risk response team should be tasked with developing contingency plans to mitigate or reduce risks. For example, if a valuable resource leaves the organization, this risk response team will find a backup resource. They’ll act fast to recruit someone who can learn quickly and step into the position.
In case the project funding is cut short, the risk response team would work to create alternative avenues for funding, or try to reduce product development costs. They could research alternate materials, bypass unnecessary branding, reuse and modify existing components, and look for cheaper manufacturing sites.
5. Develop a System to Escalate Issues
Sometimes, issues are only addressed at the last minute due to the fear of rebuke from senior management. You can avoid this situation by formulating an issue escalation system for the project.
An issue escalation matrix should have two main components: a process to identify the seriousness of the issue, and the escalation path for various issue levels.
Some other ways to ensure that issues are resolved on time are:
- Create an open working culture where employees feel comfortable voicing issues or concerns.
- Team members shouldn’t be intimidated by senior management.
- In the case of outside vendors, wait for their service-level agreements before escalating the issue.
- If multiple stakeholders are involved, escalate the issue only to those stakeholders who are directly impacted.
- Leave out the stakeholders who are not affected by the issue.
- Always gauge the intensity of the problem and offer remedial measures if possible, along with the escalation.
6. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Automation is a great way to save time on repetitive tasks, especially those that occur again and again across different projects. For example, using software code to sort data, or algorithms to create basic 3D model templates. There’s no point reinventing the wheel, and by using automation tools like this you can save valuable time and reduce project costs. Smart software isn’t the only way to automate. You should also develop teams that are specialized in working on certain repetitive tasks. Most jobs are time-consuming and involve a learning-curve when done for the first time. But, by doing a task repeatedly, team members become extremely efficient. You can assign simple but repetitive tasks to interns or relatively new team members.
7. Document Everything
It’s a good idea to have all project-related data well-documented. This includes project plans, bottlenecks, expected deliverables, scope changes, task dependencies, risk mitigation, stakeholder feedback, as well as lessons learned from past projects. If new software or system tools are being considered for a project, ensure you create a book of knowledge on the subject. You can also build a list of subject matter experts (SMEs) that have learned the tools inside out. These resources will prove essential when training new team members in future projects. A list of all project resources, documents, scientific papers, reports, results, and presentations should also be well-documented and accessible.
8. Develop Leadership Skills
In addition to strong technical and management skills, leadership skills really make a project manager stand out. A solid leader makes stakeholders and team members feel like they're in good hands and creates an atmosphere of trust and transparency in the organization. There are various ways you can develop your leadership skills. Practice discipline, learn how to listen, and understand how to inspire others. You’ll also need to be assertive when necessary, and master all forms of communication.
9. Learn How to Empathize
A project manager needs to be understanding and have the ability to empathize with the stakeholders, the project team, the suppliers, and the end-users. Put yourself in their shoes to understand their situation better, and adopt a more flexible approach.
For example, if a stakeholder has had a sudden request to tweak the project requirements, try to understand what has driven this change, and if it was under the customer’s control. In any scenario, understand that nothing is set in stone in this field of work. Go back to the team and see how the change impacts the product development phase, and if it would have a major impact on productivity or any approaching deadlines. In short, try to be open-minded and as accommodating as possible.
You should be mindful of the team workload before assigning new activities. If certain team members are overburdened or forced to stretch their workdays, it can cause a dip in productivity, risk multiple project deadlines, and most importantly cause employee dissatisfaction.
When extra hours are unavoidable, be sure to recognize the employee for their hard work and extra effort, and offer awards or bonus compensation.
A Rewarding Project Management Career Awaits
Top project managers are highly sought-after in the business world. The role is challenging, but for the right candidate, provides immense job satisfaction. Not to mention, an above-average compensation package. To continue researching this field, and other tech professions check out our careers blog.
If you’re ready to kickstart your PM career, you can join our project management bootcamp course. Our in-house experts will teach you career-ready leadership skills and fully prepare you for a well-paid PM role.