I’m Simon and I’m an Account Executive at Higher Click. Previously, I worked for one of the biggest insurance companies in the world. My current position is between a purely managerial role and that of an executive, so I’m involved in quite a lot of project management. This article will summarize all that I’ve learned over the years.
A project manager’s main job is to bring a particular project to completion, both on time and within budget. There are all kinds of factors that can cause a project to veer off its tracks, both internal and external, but steps can be taken to ensure that your project experiences as little disruption as possible.
With planning and preparation, you can put your project into the best shape even before you begin, and hopefully minimize the types of interruptions that can derail the best-laid plans. Proper work before beginning a project can also ensure that any unexpected occurrences can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
1. Ensure that you have full project detail up front
A completely detailed project scope, with approval from all stakeholders, is a necessity. Be sure the scope includes interim milestones, a detailed timeline, and a budget that is sufficient to cover all required work.
If you get everything in writing at the beginning of the project, you have an excellent foundation to build upon. Change is inevitable, but you have to maintain control and point out when the project begins to resemble something completely different from what was originally outlined. This is critical to avert disaster if your client tends toward “scope creep,” which is when someone asks for “just one more little thing” repeatedly, until the endeavor has become a lot more or different from when it began.
2. Set realistic expectations
A PM I once knew was fond of saying, “You can have two of the three: good, fast, cheap. You CANNOT have all three.”
Make sure everyone on the team, including the client, understands the limitations of the project. You can finish a task successfully on time and within budget, as long as expectations are reasonable. You most likely cannot work miracles if expectations are not reasonable, and would only setting yourself up for project failure. Don’t begin your project with failure nearly predestined.
3. Establish measurable and reportable criteria for success
How can you know if your project is going to be successful if you don’t have any way of measuring success? You will need interim milestones, especially for an endeavor that will span a long time, so that you can determine if you are staying on track or straying from the project’s goals.
You must have both internal checkpoints and client checkpoints. Never leave incorporating a client’s feedback until the very end of the project, unless you want to risk having to re-work substantial components if the client is not happy.
4. Select team members, and assign responsibilities carefully
Gather your human resources, and make sure that skill-sets align with required roles. This is an important first step: If you assign the wrong person to a task, you are reducing your chances of success before the project even begins.
Make sure each team member is clear on what is expected from them and when. Encourage them to ask questions to clarify anything that may uncertain, and to come to you whenever something seems to be out of place or going awry. Clear and open communication is mission-critical.
5. Embrace your role as leader
You are the director of this project, so be sure to act the part and do not let any other team member assert dominance over your position. It’s your job to draw the best work out of your team members, so you are coach, mentor, and motivator. You may need to cultivate a team atmosphere among people who have not worked together before, so be sure to include team-building exercises if necessary. You also are the liaison with the client, so be accurate in your communications both internally and externally.
Be sure to provide strong and calm leadership to your team if your project encounters turbulence. It’s far more difficult to be a great leader in times of stress, but that’s exactly when your team needs you the most.
6. Manage project risks
Hopefully you have defined the more likely risks up front during the project preparation, so you will already have contingency plans in place for certain occurrences. If you can see when a risk is imminent, you can take preventive action to avoid it, or you can quickly step in with corrective measures if necessary.
Be ready to halt a project if the risk becomes unacceptable. Part of your role as leader is to know when things have begun moving inexorably toward a failure point.
7. Evaluate the project when complete
Once a project has been completed, it’s important to do a “post-mortem” report, even if it is only for internal purposes. You can pinpoint what went right and what went wrong, determine what could or should have been done differently, and establish the best practices for use in future undertakings.
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