A quick guide to effective Project Management
A project manager means different things to different people. When it comes to stakeholders, the PM is the one who makes sure projects get delivered on time and within the budget. For the project team, he/she is the one who is responsible for creating an effective work environment. So what does it mean to the project manager?
At the most basic level, Project Management means keeping the project under control. But while you might be tempted to think this means complete control over every aspect of it, you have to keep in mind that no one is expecting you to single-handedly manage the project from start to finish. After all, you are working together with a team of skilled people.
Ideally, a project is based on a Business Plan which provides a roadmap built upon detailed requirements, settled by the stakeholders. Of course, the more complex it gets, the more challenging it is.
The question is: how do you handle a complex project so as to ensure a good flow without compromising quality, cost or time?
Working in IT as a Project Manager I follow some guidelines that make my day easier and I want to share them with you.
There is so much truth in this image that I hit Like every time I see it.
Good Project Management starts with a plan; it requires specific objectives and corresponding action points. Keeping track of everything that goes on in the process is not an easy task, meaning that documenting the right information is a crucial part of any project.
If the requirements are not clearly defined, there is no project for me to run. After all, it’s impossible to reach a destination that doesn’t even exist.
If the budget hasn’t been established, I can’t manage costs and assign the proper resources that ensure project profitability.
Furthermore, if no deadline has been set, I can’t establish a course of action. A project without a deadline is merely a concept.
In short, if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. Development based on assumptions leads to failure most of the time.
The first step is to make sure that you have a bare minimum of information that is needed to kick off the project. Setting clear directions and ensuring a shared understanding of the teams’ goals and objectives is going to save your client a lot of money in the long run.
This is where the Discovery Phase comes into play, as it creates the perfect dynamic for uncovering client requirements and expectations. At this point I usually recommend a workshop session with the stakeholders, together with one of the designers and the tech lead; it is crucial for the success of the project to gather as much info as possible.
- Ask the right questions - Successful Project Management starts with asking stakeholders the right questions. This will help you foster communication and gain insight into your clients’ expectations and project goals.
- What? - Objective
- Why? - Purpose
- Who? - People, resources
- How? - Context, strategy
- How much? - Costs
- When? - Timescale
- Make sure there is a roadmap in place - Identifying and establishing milestones and objectives is vital for the success of any project. Flying blind while doing software development is expensive.
- Request detailed use cases - Use cases provide a structure for defining functional requirements in the context of business. The advantages of having clear requirements and project scope are countless:
- Business and IT alignment
- Clear project flows
- Requirements based testing
- Effective user acceptance testing
Get at least the first 2 bullet points in place if you want to have some sort of basis that you can rely on. Of course, there are more things to consider if you decide to follow the process by the book, but the above points should give you a good base to build your project on.
2. Challenge the project, the people, yourself
Always challenge the project, always ask yourself, the team and the stakeholders “Why?”.
“Why are we implementing this feature? Why are we going for this design concept? Why should the flow be this way and not the other way around?”
Asking the right questions and engaging the right people leads to unexpected discoveries that lead to better solutions.
In an Agile environment, you can challenge assumptions and answer the whys during grooming sessions. While the theory says that you should allocate 10% of the total development time to go through the backlog, meeting with the key team members once a week for 1 hour should do the trick. It is during this time that you sit with the team to discuss user stories and answer any related questions.
The Product Owner plays a very important role in the grooming session. Being responsible for managing the backlog, they are qualified to answer any questions related to features and functionality.
I personally believe that it’s important for the Project Manager to have a good understanding of the product and be able to take on the role of a Proxy PO, but this is a story for another time.
What you ultimately want to accomplish at the end of this meeting is to get everyone on the same page and to achieve a shared understanding of the project among all team members.
3. Think SMART
The success of any project is highly dependent on how you set and structure goals. Setting specific and measurable goals greatly increases the likelihood of achieving them.
This is where SMART comes into play:
- Specific - Set clear and well-defined goals.
- Measurable - Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress.
- Action-oriented - Break down goals into actionable steps.
- Realistic - Set realistic, attainable goals that are well within your team’s capabilities and resources.
- Time-limited - Make sure there is a deadline.
The ability to set smart goals is a skill every Project Manager should have. One thing you should keep in mind is that although the goals must be clearly defined from the start, it is important to keep a flexible attitude towards them. Throughout the project, a PM should constantly review, update and prioritize goals according to shifting conditions.
At the end of the day, remember to think SMART and plan for success.
4. Create trust
Project Management is not only about understanding the technicalities and dependencies of a project, nor is it only about assigning tasks to people and making sure they follow their estimates.
Above all, Project Management is about people working together towards a shared goal. It is about communication and relationship building.
Your job as a PM is to create an environment where productivity and creativity can thrive, an environment built on trust.
So how do you go about building trust within your project team?
- Encourage open and honest communication
- Be transparent
- Listen proactively
- Show empathy
- Lead by example
Ultimately, building trust is all about showing that you care about the people, and not just about the project budget and timeline.
5. Make use of the tools
Project management tools can help you effectively streamline the process and increase your productivity.
Whether you’re looking for a simple solution to help you organize tasks, or a more complex system capable of integrating a variety of features, there’s a tool out there for everyone. However, with so many great options out there, choosing the right one(s) can turn out to be a daunting task.
Essentially, the tools you choose should be compatible with the needs of the team and the project. For example, Trello is a great option for startups and small teams since it’s low-cost, easy to use, yet extremely powerful in its simplicity.
For enterprise-level projects and bigger teams, you might find yourself in need of a more robust solution; options such as Asana, Basecamp, Pivotal Tracker and Jira offer more complex features and respond to the needs of a variety of projects.
Whatever tools you decide on, make sure to provide a framework for transparency and open communication. The team and the stakeholders should be able to see at a glance how the project is performing—simply by looking at the task-board. Every team member should know exactly where they stand and what needs to be done.
One tip I recommend is to follow the KISS principle (Keep it Simple, Stupid). The tools are meant to help you save time and make your life easier, not slow you down. There’s a fine line between the two, so be careful to choose a tool whose complexity is directly proportional to the size of the project. Start small and adapt.
What other tips would you add to this list? Let me know what works best for you.