Making the Most out of a Project
September 26, 2013
The Five Keys to Project Management Success
A previous blog post (Project Management Certification Career Path) already addressed how attaining various PMI certifications can increase your initial monetary gain from a project management job role, but how do you increase your value to an organization in order to keep the benefits coming long after your hire date? Well, the answer is easier said than done but really you just need to be good project manager.
This seems simple; most people try to be good at their jobs in order to reach their desired raises and promotions but in a job role where only 34% of project managers are deemed successful it is by no means any easy task.
Project Management is all about methodology and creating an efficient and effective process for completing any given project within the identified constraints of time, money and quality. There is no doubt that refining a method to achieve success is an art form, and it will require more than just training but real-world application and, even more vague, intuition. However, achieving this coveted goal will carry through to every project you face, not just at work but in your personal life as well. From planning an IT venture to a wedding to a home remodel, every long term task is a project that will need to be managed in some shape or form and doing so effectively will save you tremendously in terms of time, money and even stress.
Even though projects will vary greatly between each other, there are a few key tasks you can use each and every time to make sure you develop the best method possible. Below are the top five tips to follow in order to become a successful project manager.
Number One: Don’t Skimp on the Planning Phase
This is quite simply the most important step to becoming a successful project manager and it is the first step you will encounter for every project you undertake. The planning phase is crucial and it is your first opportunity to create a solid navigational structure to follow; so do not even think about rushing this process. In fact, take as much time as you need, within reason of course, to truly understand the project. This is your opportunity to assess what needs to be done and what risks are associated with it in order to make an educated decision about whether or not to move forward, so take your time and carefully analyze the situation.
In this phase, develop your understanding about the project’s details and purpose by asking yourself the questions Who, What, Where, When, Why and How, and ask these questions often. Really take this time to drill down to the core purpose of the project and what you expect to gain from it as well as the road you should take to get there. By understanding the purpose and the desired path you will begin to realize issues you may not have noticed before and this will provide a whole new perspective on the project’s risks.
Once you have questioned every detail of the project and devised solutions to the discrepancies which arose, then you can decide whether the time, costs and risks associated with this endeavor permit you to move forward. At this point you can create a detailed map of where you want to be at each road mark in terms of time and resources spent in order to create a meticulous yet feasible budget.
Number Two: Understand the Stakeholders
Learn who your stakeholders are by listing out all of the key players that will affect your project along the way, possibly in both negative and positive ways. These could include your direct boss, the customer and even other agencies you will need to collaborate with along the way. The list could be lengthy depending on the scope and importance of the project but take the time and list out each key player and their role because every relationship, if not properly maintained, can lead to project failure.
Once you have named all the key players, identify what stages they will be most involved with along your project roadmap. This will help you remember to not only manage the relationship at these critical points but also which stakeholders will probably need information concerning the project at any given time. Keeping your stakeholders informed will keep them happy and help your project continue along its path with fewer issues.
For those stakeholders that you deemed could negatively affect the project’s success, identify ways to mitigate the risk they pose. Prepare yourself for the issues that could arise and at what points in the project roadmap that this could occur, then monitor their involvement and create a plan to limit the effect they have before it causes your project to fail.
Number Three: Create a Benefits Plan
You have already identified some of the benefits associated with this project in the planning phase or else you wouldn’t be moving forward, but now take the time to develop a comprehensive benefits plan. This plan addresses your need-to-have benefits which directly mark a project’s success as well has the nice-to-have benefits that will only be viewed as an added bonus and not a necessity. Once you have identified the specifics of these two lists, incorporate a detailed report to accompany your roadmap as to when you should begin seeing each benefit and which team members are responsible for bringing them to fruition.
Once you have mapped them out, incorporate a clear method for calculating their success by identifying key metrics. This will allow you to monitor and adjust elements of the project throughout its lifecycle to increase the number of benefits realized as well as provide detailed reports to stakeholders in regards to the specific must-have and nice-to-have benefits you have elicited.
Number Four: Monitor Project Benefits and Manage Expectations
While you should monitor benefits to ensure that they are realized at their projected road marks, you will also need to monitor them as a means for managing expectations. A successful project manager knows how to handle stakeholder expectations so that they remain happy with the developing results throughout the project lifecycle while not becoming unrealistically hopeful in regards to the impending completion of the project and the long-term benefits associated with it.
The worse thing that could happen for a project manager is that a successful project isn’t given the notice it deserves because benefits creep lessened the impact of the results. Managing realistic expectations involves a great deal of communication between the manager and the stakeholders. Take the time to understand what your stakeholders expect from the project continuously throughout its lifecycle to ensure they are on the same page as you. This is where the benefits roadmap can come into play too, by clearly communicating where you expect to see benefits and what metrics determine a benefit, everyone involved can understand where the project is at, where it is going and the true success it is becoming.
Communication is the ultimate key in this step and it will involve frequent communication to keep everyone aligned towards the same goals. Also, make sure to clearly identify the project’s must-have benefits from its nice-to-have benefits and the reasons behind the labels in order to eliminate confusion and set a baseline of expectations from the start.
Number Five: Address Problems Rationally
While you may not want to admit it, problems do and will occur at some point during the project’s lifecycle. The best thing you can do as a project manager is to understand that this will happen and approach every problem from a logical perspective. Just because a problem arises quickly doesn’t mean that it commands a quick response. When a problem is identified, first assess what needs to be resolved and when an answer is needed, in some cases the answer may be immediate but in others it could allow for more time before a solution is required. Identify the time you have in order to use it as a way to make the most educated decision.
Once you have determined the amount of time available to resolve the issue, you then need to develop a plan. Similar to the planning you performed in step one, create a detailed timeline of events in order to effectively resolve the issue within the given time period. By effectively utilizing the time you have available, you will be able to craft a rational response without wasting unnecessary time and resources.
While you need to be able to stay calm in the event of an issue and respond rationally to the obstacles which inevitably arise, it is always better to have planned for any possible issues as much as you can during previous stages of the lifecycle. This means when you are researching outside agencies or manufacturers to use during the project, keep detailed records of your second, third and fourth choices in case the first falls through. Also don’t just identify a single project lead for certain aspects of the lifecycle name two or three people responsible in case of an unforeseen illness or other event which prohibits one from working. By dispersing responsibilities and keeping clear records throughout the lifecycle it will eliminate potential issues or, at the very least, mitigate their effect allowing the project to continue running smoothly.
One Final Thought
These steps are fairly simple but it is a wonder how many project managers forget to fully follow through with them. As you begin or continue your project management career, make sure that project quality remains your number one focus. Everything above ensures the quality of the project and that should never be spared. By focusing on this throughout your career you will begin to see consistent project success and know what it is like to be among the 34% of managers who are doing it right.
If you have your own tips for achieving project management success please feel free to share them in the comments below!