Whoever said it was easy being a project manager may never have had the responsibility of being one. To carry out a project, whether for a multimillion-dollar large-scale business or a small startup, requires dedication, patience and acumen. We should also mention bucketloads of coffee, preferably ‘rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless [and] depraved’.
But is it inevitable that you will be crushed by the weight of the project?
Not if you employ the best tricks and execute the right strategy tailored to the specific and unique needs of the undertaking.
Here are 10 project management tips that every new (and experienced) manager needs to know.
1. Establish the Organisation’s Expectations
Prior to initiating a major project, you can help the company lay out realistic expectations, a series of steps to ensure the team completes the project on time and budget. By doing this, the organisation can ensure a sustainable advantage over competitors in the industry and enshrine this strategy into long-term planning.
The key question is: how do you find out what is a reality-based expectation?
This is where your project management skills come into place because now you can implement various methods:
- hire and retain the right talent with the appropriate skills
- take advantage of technological solutions
- experiment with benefits realisation management
- accept agile procedures (see below)
- connect strategy preparation with management execution.
Depending on where you stand in the company, you could also recommend Enterprise Project Management, or EPMO. This is a centralised business tool that bridges the gap between strategy and enterprise, utilising a diverse array of support mechanisms for corporate governance and project portfolio management.
2. Define Critical Milestones
Every project is defined by moments, a series of agile practices that will eventually lead to a finished product. No matter what type of endeavour you are working on, the entire thing will be delightfully based on two things: the main phases and the sub-phases.
The primary phases will consist of starting, planning, executing and closing. The sub-phases are the little things you coordinate with your team to complete, from understanding clients’ needs to compiling data to writing technical documents. This is the personification of successful project management.
Jot down every important milestone, because it will serve as an effective indicator if you and your team are achieving success.
3. Study the Finer Points of Projects
The only way a house can be constructed is if there is a strong foundation. The same is true of project planning; without meticulously studying the finer points, then you will not produce a solid project. Like a house without a stellar foundation, your project will wobble, sink and inevitably implode.
So, to make sure planning is effective, you need to incorporate these tricks into your management:
- define the goals of the clients
- outline the objective of the company
- identify the stakeholders in the project
- understand what their interests are
- know their expectations from beginning to end.
One more thing: an in-depth project strategy should include the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Which brings us to our next point.
4. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses of Team Members
As the saying goes, you are the company you keep. This age-old adage even applies to management!
Businesses survive and thrive by showcasing their employees’ strengths and hiding their weaknesses. You need to adopt the same mentality when you are delegating assignments, tasks and responsibilities.
Akin to baseball analytics, managers will, prior to a game, determine who excels at what and against whom. Well, put on your ball cap and see where Sally the Engineer, Johnny the Linguist, Billy the Tech Wizard and Susie the Number Cruncher fit into your plans.
Hint: those nicknames should tell you everything you need to know!
5. Maintain Broad Communication
Communication, communication, communication. This is a professional skill many are lacking in today’s ultra-competitive and fierce labour market.
To manage a project without any hiccups, you need effective communication between all the parties involved: clients, stakeholders, team members and project managers. Should there be a problem in the communication arena, then there will be blindsided attacks, issues of ‘Well, you didn’t tell me that!’ or ‘Yeah, well, you should have told me!’.
Ultimately, the lines of communication must always be open, employed constantly and ready to use.
So, how do you ensure communication is working properly? Here are a few tips:
- write project status reports keeping everyone on the same page about any new developments
- hold general communication meetings at the start and end of every workweek
- maintain an open-door policy to allow anyone with questions or concerns to speak freely
- ditch the ‘on-a-need-to-know basis’, because chances are you will forget what it constitutes.
Ineffective communication will often result in project failures, delayed submissions, and perhaps exceeding budget limits.
6. Motivate Your Team
An attribute of good management is leadership.
What is good leadership? For one, the ability to motivate your subordinates. This can be a difficult thing to achieve because not everyone is motivated by the same words, physical expressions, corporate goals and ideas. It is your role to abandon the one-size-fits-all approach and tailor your management style to each person on board.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- show appreciation for your employees with office parties, gift cards, contests and verbal praise
- offer opportunities to grow their skills and advance in the company
- communicate honestly and regularly; employees hate being in the dark and playing the guessing game
- foster relationships between senior executives and entry-level workers
- encourage independence and provide workers with the option to self-manage.
7. Employ Budget Management Skills
Will your project progress, advance to the next stage and be completed? You want to say ‘yes’, but that depends on the budget.
Sure, a large multinational corporation will have immense resources to get a project through. However, most companies – large and small – tighten their belts and operate within the confines of a finite amount of dollars [or insert currency of choice here]. This can put a lot of pressure on the project manager and corrupt everything that he or she has planned to date.
Does it have to, though? No. As long as you implement these five tools, you can stay in control:
- always factor in costs of spontaneous attacks or surprises
- fathom what the stakeholders truly need and want
- ensure everyone is held accountable, as well as informed on any changes
- develop key performance indicators (KPIs) that aspire to achieve long-term goals
- when necessary, revise, revisit and review.
Remember: if you manage the pennies, the dollars will follow.
8. Keep Meetings Organised and Focused
A lot of negative press has surrounded The Meeting. The consensus is ostensible that The Meeting is a waste of time and the ones who lead these powwows just like to hear themselves speak and shout platitudes for an hour or two.
But why toss the baby with the bathwater? It isn’t so much that The Meeting is bad for business; it is that it is not utilised correctly.
As a project manager who is too busy to utter clichés – giving 110%, paradigm shift and thinking outside the box – you want your meetings to be in-depth but to the point. This ties into the previous point about communication, too.
The goal of every meeting is to have a couple of topics to discuss, which can be achieved by staying organised and focused. At the end of this 45-minute get-together, one question should be asked: does everyone know what this meeting was about?
9. Use Software Tools
The dog is no longer man’s best friend. It is technology.
The business world has done an incredible job adapting to changing conditions, advancing digital tools and maximising these opportunities to maximise profit. Of course, there are some outliers, but most companies are utilising the latest and best hardware and software to get the job done.
You, as a project manager, can do it too.
There is a lot of software out there that can complement your management style. The best program is something that combines collaboration, time management, communication, planning and document sharing into a single ecosystem.
Unsure of what to use? Here are some suggestions that are budget-friendly (free with an option to upgrade) and come with a wide array of software benefits:
10. Perform a Review When Finished
In the end, it is important to perform an exhaustive review of the project. We’re not just talking about perusing the finished product and ensuring that every goal, need and task was completed. Instead, you will need to examine every phase, assess each sub-phase and perform introspection of your project management skills (were they the best they could be, or is there room for improvement?).
By reviewing the beginning, planning, executing and closing, you can improve upon something, maintain its efficacy or establish the best course of action.
And you know what? This is the best learning tool of them all.
Experts have likened project managers to classical conductors. The orchestra director guides every violinist, cellist and trombone to follow and execute every note in a detailed score. The project manager will have the weight of the world on his or her shoulders, but this type of pressure is what will make or break a career.
Will you be like Icarus and ascend to the skies only to see your wings flame out because of the sun? Or will you model yourself as Nike, the Greek goddess, and be the personification of success?
What other project management tips would you like to share with us? Join the conversation below!