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The 5 Best Practices Every Project Manager Should Use

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This Post Originally Appeared on www.project-management.com

 

Failure is an inherent part of any project reliant industry, however, with reports finding around 25 percent of IT projects failing outright, another 25 percent showing zero return on investment, and a further 50 percent needing extensive re-working on completion, where do we draw the line between a natural commonality of our industry, and an issue that demands more attention?

Although the underlying causes of the issue are far more complex than to just focus on the pitfalls of project management – especially with larger companies putting more emphasis on speed, and economy of completion, instead of understanding the nuances of individual project requirements. By making small adjustments to the way we handle management responsibilities, we can help mitigate the rate of project failure.

There’s an abundance of articles out there claiming to hold the key to more successful project management and whilst they all teach essential project management skills, they rarely break through the surface and detail the specific and actionable practices you can implement to streamline your everyday operations.

Whilst practicing the big picture project management principles is no less essential, it’s the detail orientated project managers that are ultimately those that have recurring project success. Refocusing your management practice from the macro skills, to specific and targeted techniques, can be the difference needed to ensure your projects are always completed on time, on budget and with excellent results.

Top 5 Best Practices for Project Management

The old saying goes that the devil is in the details, but with project management a clearer focus on detailed and specific techniques within your larger project management practice could be your project’s saviour.

Create a Detailed Project Definition Plan

When a project needs to get done quickly, there can be a tendency to circumvent the proper planning processes, but rushing through the planning stages of a project leaves critical vulnerabilities in your project structure, and is a surefire way to your project collapsing in on itself.

Proper planning is necessary to ensure that not only will a project actually be completed, but results in reduced cost, duration and increase in quality of work over the project’s lifetime. An essential planning component which is often overlooked is a Project Definition Plan. This document should be the primary deliverable from the perfunctory planning process, detailing all the necessary performative and trackable aspects of the project. Alongside defining the roles and responsibilities of each member, the document should also outline the overview, objectives, set processes, and scope of the project. Ultimately, the Project Definition Plan should unify your team under a universal set of procedures and aims, enabling them to work in unison towards the overarching project goal.

Once approved by the customer and relevant stakeholders, the Project Definition Plan should ultimately become the basis for all project work to be performed from, offering a valuable measure of cohesion throughout the project process, allowing a better scope of measurability.

Define Project Management Procedures

Whilst the procedures of the project should be outlined somewhat in the Project Definition Plan, extra care and attention should be applied when defining and subsequently communicating them to your team.

It’s imperative that the project procedures you put in place are strict, scalable and ultimately, universal across the entire project staff and project itself. Thorough and definite project management procedures are your first line of defence against scope creep, and organise how you will manage reporting issues, risk assessments, quality and provide clear routes of communication.

Hold a Project Kick-Off Meeting

Doing all the planning and creating a spectacular Project Definition Plan is all going to be for nothing unless you can find a way to communicate it clearly to your team. Holding a project kickoff meeting before the project begins ensures that all your team, and everyone that has some stake in the project, are aligned with the same goal. Enabling you to better manage expectations down the line.

Ensure the Project Sponsor Approves All Scope Change Requests

Outside of managing the schedule, managing project scope is one of the most important requirements of controlling a project, as it is losing the leash on the scope that causes budget over extensions and has valuable team members working on deliverables that are not important project requirements.

Nevertheless, dealing with scope change requests is an important part of managing a project with two core areas that must be understood in order to be successful – knowing who the customer is and being able to recognise scope creep.

Requests for scope changes will come from across your project team, most often from stakeholders that may even be managers in their own right, however, whilst they can submit proposals, it is only the project sponsor, your customer, that can give the approval for any scope changes. As they are the only ones that can financially cover the changes and assess if the impact is acceptable.

Similarly, holding every proposed change against the overarching objectives of the project as defined in the Project Definition Plan, can mitigate the potential for scope creep.

Continual Assessment

Theoretically, as you have already reached consensus on your project definition, outlined procedure and concluded a detailed workplan, the only challenge facing you is to properly facilitate all the pieces falling into place. Unfortunately, no project is ever that simplistic and proactively applying management skills and techniques to unforeseen obstacles will be the true test of any project manager.

A way to mitigate the amount of damage control necessary is to employ a system of continually assessing the progression of your project, focusing particularly on areas such as the work plan, the budget and the risk assessment.

As your planning horizon moves forward, and the project plan becomes less concrete and more of a guideline, it is essential to monitor, and subsequently update your project plan with, activities that have, or are being completed, alongside the financial expenditure, and burgeoning potential for new risk. Overseeing your project in this way can help to determine whether the project will be completed within the original effort, cost, and duration, enabling you to accurately update project stakeholders and sponsors. More importantly, it increases the visibility of potentially optimistic timelines and vulnerabilities in your project plan that could affect the end result of your project, giving you the opportunity to re-adjust and create solutions before the issues accumulate.

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