Delivering projects successfully is not easy! Add to that the challenge of many businesses today expecting projects to be delivered faster, cheaper, better.
Projects have a bigger chance of success by using effective project management processes and techniques. With a combination of planning, monitoring, and controlling both before and during the delivery phase of project management, how these elements are delivered can all make the difference in completing a project on time, on budget, and with good quality results.
In 2019, the Project Management Institute (PMI)’s annual ‘Pulse of the Profession’ report data shows that to deliver successful projects, it takes a mixture of engaged executive sponsors, project alignment to organizational strategy, control over scope creep and, most importantly, organizations must value project management. Earlier in 2015’s Pulse of the Profession Report, they found that across all industries only 64% of projects are delivered successfully. PMI’s findings suggest that organizations since then are understanding and therefore investing more in best project management practices to achieve successful project performance.
So how do some projects succeed where others fail? How can good project management deliver successful projects? How can project managers maintain productivity, keep stakeholders engaged and ensure successful project delivery on time, within budget and mitigate risks?
Here are our top 10 tips on how to be productive and ensure project delivery success.
1. Lead, instead of Manage
The best project managers lead their teams by example and do not micromanage everything. Your role as the project manager is to keep everything on track by keeping everyone involved feeling motivated to achieve the milestones to complete the project.
In APM’s 2015 research findings ‘Conditions for Project Success’ respondents highlighted that, “All parties involved in the project must be, and remain, committed to the project’s success; any lack of commitment is recognised and dealt with and project leadership inspires commitment in others.”
The project manager will be the one who provides leadership and direction to the project and to everyone involved, so strong soft skills on top of key technical skills is needed.
2. Have a plan!
Planning in project management is most important for any project. As the old saying goes: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
A thorough and detailed plan should be prepared at the start and communicated with everyone who is involved. Create a crystal-clear process with achievable deadlines. Be realistic when setting deadlines and assigning deliverables. This will all enable your project team to work within reasonable constraints without being tied into unreasonable expectations.
Project managers need to strike the right balance between achievable outcomes and desired delivery dates between the team, the management, and the stakeholders. It would not be beneficial for the quality of the project scope to be compromised by team members feeling pressured to urgently to deliver within unreasonable time-frames or unrealistic budgets.
3. Provide detailed agreed deliverables
Provide full details of what the exact project deliverables are. Avoid being vague. A good project manager clearly communicates what success will look like and exactly what factors will mean a project deliverable is completed. This allows all project team members to crack on with their assigned tasks with full details of what needs to be achieved and by when.
Understanding the interdependencies of each task within a project is crucial as part of the details provided. This allows everyone to know what the impact would be to everyone else and other project milestones if they fail to deliver on what has been assigned to them. The importance of this is both to ensure all project team members work towards delivering on time but also to ensure each project team member knows who needs to be informed immediately of any changes or issues that arise along the way.
4. Stay flexible, be agile – plan, re-plan, plan again
Things will always change in any live project. Unexpected issues can and will arise which is why you should not expect to stick to a rigid project plan. Allow room for flexibility so that you can alter course based on changing dependencies and new scenarios.
In their 2016 article, ‘Embracing Agile’, Harvard Business Review (HBR) encourages us all to embrace agile methodologies! Here HBR highlights how “The spread of agile raises intriguing possibilities. What if a company could achieve positive returns with 50% more of its new-product introductions?”
Of course, you should have a detailed, organised plan to start with. You should also be responsive to changes by staying flexible, being agile and being ready to reprioritise when you need to. Review, re-prioritise and adjust your project plans accordingly.
5. Have a sense of urgency
The Project Management Institute lists ‘Urgency’ as a critical factor in project planning. Project management should be carried out with a sense of urgency and with the goal to deliver against the agreed time, budget and scope.
Yes, there will be instances of events or issues arising that are out of our control. In these instances, challenging deadlines and budgets are risky but necessary.
Goal posts can be adjusted out of necessity however the project manager should review the project status regularly, update the project team throughout the delivery phase, and revise the plans accordingly to meet the original deadlines as much as is realistically achievable. Without setting deadlines we would all never be able to get stuff done!
6. The magic of three - Scope, Budget, Time!
Successful project management has always been based on three main factors: delivering a project to scope, on budget and on time. These three elements of a project are often referred to in Prince2 methodologies as the ‘iron triangle’ or the ‘project triangle’.
It is up to the project manager to track the status of these three things and to keep everyone on the project updated. All three factors need to be discussed in detail with the project team and stakeholders.
Project managers should clearly communicate the status of each of these elements throughout the project life cycle, while juggling these three variables all at the same time – ideally without having to compromise on more than one of them – but rather use them to their advantage to manage projects successfully.
7. Maintain open and clear communication with everyone
Communication is crucial to successful project management. The more open and clear the communication you can have with everyone, the more successful your project will be.
Get to know your project team. Learn how they work best. Do your part in making sure everyone is aligned on shared goals, clear on their task objectives and that everyone is comfortable to communicate with each other openly and honestly. Doing so will encourage your project team to voice issues and raise red flags immediately when it matters most.
You want your project team to feel 100% comfortable to communicate with each other so that you can adjust project plans accordingly if needed. It is better to learn from the mistakes than to have teams hiding problems when they arise for fear of reprisals.
8. Break it all down into actionable steps
It can feel overwhelming to think about completing a big project scope. The best things to do is to take it all one step at a time. When you break it all down into smaller, step-by-step deliverables you will see that it feels more achievable. This is where project management comes in. Anything can look scary when you can’t see the wood from the trees.
Take the time to break down each deliverable into small actionable steps and prioritize them. Nowadays, there is a wide selection of project management software tools you can use to manage these plans, keep visibility and track the status of each step as the project progresses.
9. Ongoing monitoring and control of risks
Keep getting and giving regular feedback. As highlighted above, project teams should maintain open and honest communication together especially when monitoring the project status to flag and control risks.
Project monitoring and controlling activities keep the project on track and is done from the beginning until the end of the project. While doing so throughout the whole project, the project manager can check if the project has deviated from the project goals and update everyone involved if it has.
If necessary then this allows the project manager to re-prioritise, re-plan, review, and repeat when needed until the project is completed.
10. Never stop learning and improving your craft as a Project Manager
The way businesses and projects are run is constantly changing. With the ever-changing business needs and the fast-paced introduction of online digital tools, it is even more important to keep on learning and growing professionally for your own development as well as to be able to continue to successfully deliver projects.
If you are managing projects regularly, you’ll want to keep upskilling, keep yourself informed of any industry changes and best practices to make sure you are working with the right people, the right tools, systems, and resources for your projects.
Projects can be completed on time, on budget and within scope by using project management methodologies to combine the right balance of planning, monitoring and controlling. By learning from the mistakes and experiences from past projects, project teams can create the perfect blueprint for new project plans and implement your plans effectively enabling you to achieve the best results!
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