As a project manager who’s been around a while you would have experienced a visit to the project guillotine. Perhaps, it was due to a massive schedule slip, budget overrun, or scope creep (or sometimes all three – now that’s total chaos). And, as a project manager, you were the first in line at the guillotine!
In retrospect, you (always) get a feeling, “If only I handled the project differently, it could have been a success.” Sound familiar? If yes, here are some best practices that you can follow to avoid some expensive project surprises and steer your projects towards success.
1. Identify Scope, Budget, and Time
Your first project check should be to define what you want to accomplish or, in other words, define the project objective. To do this, you should define the three most important and inter-related parameters – scope (overall goal), budget (money), and schedule (time). Consider these three parameters as a triangle. As a project manager, you need to keep the whole triangle from falling apart.
Let’s say your IT project involves installing antivirus software across your company. At the start of the project, the costs are controlled very strictly. But time slips away and it takes longer than intended. Now, you decide to allocate more resources to speed up the installation process making the budget go haywire. Here, the budget side of your triangle is in jeopardy.
Similarly, in a software environment, you might try to scope in more in a particular project thereby compromising the time and budget sides of your triangle. A classic example is attempting to give your end-users “unplanned” features that will help them use your software effectively.
In most projects, one of the three parameters remains fixed, while the others can be changed to fix a problem or to optimize the project. It is for you to make the call on which side of the project triangle is key to your project’s quality and success.
2. Breakdown Your Projects into Milestones and Tasks
Starting work on a project without planning can create confusion, schedule slippage, cost overrun, and resource issues that slim down the chances of project success. To manage your projects effectively, it is best to breakdown your projects into tasks and subtasks, (i.e., work breakdown structure that will help you to keep your projects organized and on track.) Here’s what you can do:
Gather your team, and identify all the tasks and subtasks for a given project (grab a sticky note and note down the pointers).
Define the tasks and subtasks, and then prioritize and arrange them.
Keep adding, changing, and removing the tasks and subtasks until it sounds logical or accurate to proceed.
Now go back to your project management tool, add the tasks and subtasks, and allocate the right resources to each task. You can also set milestones or, in other words, define the date on which a report or deliverable is due or completed. This way, you can gauge how far you are from your milestone, how fast your resources need to work towards achieving it, or how to better manage your resources to deliver on time.
3. Build a Collaborative Team
Within a team, you will find a mixture of different people with different attitudes. The best team culture happens when the team members collaborate with each other, work in tandem, and realize that everyone else has a significant contribution to the success of a project .
If one of your team members lacks cooperation, your IT project can quickly become tangled. This in turn erodes the team morale. As a project manager, you need to stay on top of communications and ensure that the team is motivated.
4. Choose Your Project Management Tool Wisely
There is a dizzying array of project management software in the market. However, you need to have a clear understanding of your business needs and challenges to narrow down the choices and identify the right tool.
At the most basic level, a good tool will help you manage your projects from start to finish. To elaborate, it helps you breakdown complex projects; facilitates collaboration; allows you to manage time, scope, and budget; and in turn ensures profitability.
5. Use Data to Make Better Decisions
As your project moves along, it will evolve. There will be many changes in terms of the tasks, resources, and time and you need to make decisions at each stage. This is where Gantt charts come into play to get a holistic view of your project’s progress and to make better decisions.
Gantt charts will give you a visual timeline from start to finish of each task, show the progress of the individual tasks assigned to your resources, track the utilization of your resources, as well as monitor the progress of the overall project thereby helping you make better decisions. The use of colors in the Gantt charts will further enhance the look and feel of your project reports. And you’ll just love customizing and using it to handle your projects.
These best practices can be an effective starting point. Adopt them and you’ll save your head and avoid the chopping block.