TOPIC SPOTLIGHT: Project Management Best Practices
“All things are created twice; first mentally; then physically. The key to creativity is to begin with the end in mind, with a vision and a blue print of the desired result.”
At the outset, taking on responsibility to manage a project (or multiple projects) can be daunting. Whether planning a big event, developing a new website,
launching a product to market, rolling out a training program or redecorating your home, you need to employ key project management techniques to help
ensure your project is a winner. Below is an overview of the top seven best practices at the heart of good project management, fundamentals that can
help you achieve project success.
1. Define the Scope and Objectives
First and foremost, understand the project objectives. Suppose you are asked to organize a company blood donor campaign. Is the objective to get as much
blood donated as possible? Or, is it to raise the local company profile? Identifying the real objectives will help you plan the project.
Scope defines the boundaries of the project. In the same blood donor campaign example, is the organization looking to take staff members to the blood bank
or should employees make their own way there? Deciding what's in or out of scope will determine the amount of work to be performed and the types of
resources that will be needed.
Early on, along with the scope and objectives, understand who the stakeholders are, what they expect to be delivered and enlist their support. Once you've
defined the scope and objectives, get the stakeholders to review and agree to them.
2. Define the Deliverables
You must define exactly what will be delivered by the project. If your project is an advertising campaign for a new energy drink, then one deliverable
might be the artwork for an advertisement. So, decide what tangible things will be delivered and document them in enough detail to enable someone else
to produce them correctly and effectively.
Key stakeholders must review the definition of deliverables and must agree they accurately reflect what they are expecting to be delivered.
3. Plan the Project
Planning requires that the project manager determine which people, resources and budget are required to complete the project. This information is used
to develop the project plan.
You must define what activities are required to produce the deliverables using techniques such as Work Breakdown Structures, which break down the project
work into manageable sections. You must estimate the time required for each activity, dependencies between activities and decide a realistic schedule
to complete them. Involve the project team, if applicable, in estimating how long activities will take to complete. Set milestones to indicate critical
dates during the project. Write all of this into the project plan and get the key stakeholders to review and agree to the plan.
Project plans are useless unless they've been communicated effectively to the stakeholders and the project team. Every team member needs to be clear on
his or her responsibilities. Further, for large projects, holding regular status update meetings with the team is crucial to ensure the project is
moving along on schedule and team members are on top of their tasks. Regular status meetings are also a great way to communicate as a group, anticipate
any problems and make course corrections as needed.
5. Tracking and Reporting Project Progress
Once your project is underway you must monitor and compare the actual progress with the planned progress. You will need progress reports from project team
members. You should record variations between the actual and planned cost, schedule and scope. You should report variations to your manager and key
stakeholders and take corrective actions if variations get too large.
You can adjust the plan in many ways to get the project back on track but you will always end up juggling cost, scope and schedule. If the project manager
changes one of these, then one or both of the other elements will inevitably need changing. It is juggling these three elements - known as the project
triangle - that typically causes a project manager the most headaches!
6. Change Management
Stakeholders often change their mind mid-project about what must be delivered. Sometimes the business environment changes after the project starts, so
assumptions made at the beginning of the project may no longer be valid. This often means the scope or deliverables of the project need changing. If
a project manager accepted all changes into the project without revising the scope and deliverables, the project would inevitably go over budget, be
late and might never be completed.
By managing changes, the project manager can make decisions about whether or not to incorporate the changes immediately or in the future, or to reject
them. This increases the chances of project success because the project manager controls how the changes are incorporated, can allocate resources accordingly
and can plan when and how the changes are made. Not managing changes effectively is often a reason why projects fail.
7. Risk Management
Risks are events that can adversely affect the successful outcome of the project. Such risks include: staff lacking the skills to perform the work, materials
not being delivered on time, unforeseen weather changes, facilities issues and many others. Risks will vary for each project, but the key risks to
a project (or those most likely to occur) must be identified as soon as possible. “Plan Bs” must be made to avoid the risk, or, if the risk can’t be
avoided, to lessen the risk’s impact if it occurs. This is known as risk management and involves continually reviewing risks and looking out
for new ones that could crop up.
Following these project management best practices can’t guarantee a successful project, but adhering to these fundamentals will provide a strong
framework and a foundation for a better chance of success. If you are managing any project, disregard these best practices at your own risk!