As technology grows and changes, projects become bigger and more complex. According to a global survey done by the Project Management Institute, 41 percent of projects completed in 2017 were high complexity projects. It’s easy to see why. Many modern project teams have grown to include remote and international members, and innovative leaders understand that shorter project cycles are key to staying relevant. As a result, every team could benefit from more effective project management.
Each project is unique, but a good place to start is with the nine best practices for effective project management outlined by the Project Management Institute. Using these best practices will keep you making decisions proactively instead of reactively and help you manage a successful project. Here’s a quick, high-level overview of what each of these best practices can do for you.
Define the Project’s Lifecycle and Completion Criteria
In order to know if you’re on track to complete a project on time you need to know three things—your project lifecycle, key milestones, and completion criteria.
These four things will guide your team not only when you’re planning, but also when you’re working through the project, making changes, and delivering your final product. You can cement these when writing your project scope and timeline and building your work breakdown structure, and it will simplify decision making and guide you towards success.
Outline the Project Scope and Requirements
Speaking of success, one of the keys to keeping your success criteria clear is a well-defined project scope. Before your team starts working, you need to know exactly what you’re expected to complete and what the project will and won’t include. A project scope defines this for everyone and makes it easy to decide if something is or isn’t part of the project.
It’s easy for a project to grow and creep over time. This slows progress and can put your team off course. Spend time developing the requirement and scope of the project before you start work to keep your team on the right track.
Put Team Systems and Structure in Place
Each person on the team needs clear organization and defined roles to be successful. Every team member is there for a reason, and they should all understand what their job responsibilities are and what role they play on the team.
Along with that, defining systems for routine tasks, like approvals and testing, leverages the power of automation and makes these roadblocks easy for your team to tackle. When each team member understands the systems at work and their role in those systems, they can work more independently and utilize their unique skills.
Implement a Quality Assurance Process
Quality assurance should happen early and often. It keeps you from handing over work that doesn’t meet guidelines and helps you avoid small problems becoming a crisis. What your team members see as quality work might not be what you and your stakeholders see as quality work, and it’s important to reconcile that.
You don’t need to micromanage your team, but you should do a quality check on all the work being done on the project so that you can course correct if any problems show up. It’s easier to do that early on, before other parts of the project have been built on a weak foundation.
Build a Project Plan
Also known as “Planned Commitments,” this process includes evaluating, identifying, defining, and specifying both boundaries and resources surrounding nine key components: scope and mission, scheduling, budgeting, personnel, control, risk, and quality. At the onset of your project, make sure that your team and the stakeholders all understand what you have available to you and the guidelines established to keep you on track.
No matter how much planning you do, every project will need timeline adjustments. When these variances pop up, you need to take some time to look at what is changing and why. Tracking and analyzing variances helps your team understand why things aren’t going as planned and how to avoid them in the future.
Address the problem head-on and prevent it from happening again by looking for the cause—whether that be a team member or a particular task. Chances are, if you let it go without a resolution, it will come up again and take away valuable time and attention.
Determine Corrective Action Procedures
When you do encounter variances in your projects, you’ll need to decide what corrective actions you’re going to take and manage the tradeoffs you may have to make. Many times, you’ll have to make some kind of compromise.
When a project is over budget, you might have to lessen the scope. If the deliverables are taking longer than planned to complete, you might need to push your deadline out. You can’t plan ahead for everything that could possibly go wrong, so you need to be prepared to assess whatever roadblocks your team comes up against and decide what you’re going to do to remedy the situation.
Outline an Escalation Process
Whether a problem starts with an individual team member or with the stakeholders of a project, you need a process for escalating issues until they are solved. Well-defined processes for discussing and escalating issues means you’ll be less likely to put off conflicts until they become a much bigger problem. Fifty-seven percent of projects fail because of a breakdown in communication; if you’re not making it easy for your team members to talk to you about issues they’re dealing with, your project is likely to fail.
Before you start work on the project, put together an escalation plan and make it clear to your team from the beginning of the project what they should do when they encounter a problem. If they know that the people above them are ready and willing to help them find a solution, they’ll be more open about whatever they’re struggling with.
Be Proactive About Change Management
Even with a project scope and solid plan in place, there will inevitably be changes to your project. Developing a proactive change management process keeps everyone on the same page, lets your team move forward with change confidently, and keeps your project on a path to success.
Once you have learned about a change from a team member or stakeholder, your change management process should kick in. Assess the change and what it means for your project, prepare a recommendation for whether you think the change should be implemented, and then present the change to your team and to stakeholders.
Managing a project can be challenging, but approaching it with a structured plan and processes will help you handle whatever issues you come across. According to a recent study by PMI, 37 percent of projects fail because of a lack of clearly defined objectives and milestones. How many times have you worked on a project that could have been saved with better planning, a better understanding of the resources you had, or a better technology platform? These best practices are an outline of the processes you need to have in place to maximize efficiency and give your team the best chances of success.
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