Successful project management entails more than just living up to all of a project's stated objectives. It also means sticking to its budget and delivering on time, which often entails detailed scheduling and budgeting. While it may not seem like much at first, there's a lot more that goes into delivering a project successfully.
From staying under budget, to ensuring delivery prior to the deadline, to minimizing risks—proper planning in project management goes a long way! In this article, we outline 10 key project management steps to follow in order to ensure success.
What is Your Role as a Project Manager?
As a project manager, you will have to ensure that the project reaches its goals according to the budget and schedule.
However, a project is always susceptible to deviations and adverse events. In order to avoid or minimize such possibilities, project managers should seek to meticulously maintain a few standard processes in order to ensure smooth project delivery.
The 10 Key Elements to Running Successful Projects
Outlining the Project
At the beginning of the project execution process, you must first make explicit the project's aims in order to align the project's goals and resources with its budget and schedule. The project goals and objectives should be conceived through collaboration with other members of your team and organization are all on the same page. In doing so, list down project objectives and goals first.
A project's success depends highly on its ability to meet the standards the client had in mind. Listing out the project goals helps you understand the requirements and plan accordingly. It creates a clear map for the project managers to follow, based on which they can analyze the needs of each party.
Once the project's goals have been mapped out, you can determine the time required to complete the project and whether or not it's achievable. If there are external factors that are likely to affect the project plan, you will have to factor those in and modify the project plan along the way.
Effectively Communicating with Stakeholders
Stakeholders are any and all parties who are affected by the project's potential success or failure. These include sponsors and beneficiaries of the organizations. It is imperative to keep them constantly engaged so that their needs can be evaluated.
One crucial, though often overlooked, stage of project planning and execution is identifying important stakeholders. Since stakeholders have the power to make or break any project, you must communicate effectively and understand the requirements that the team must fulfill.
That said, it is impractical to consult or include every stakeholder group. That is why the project management team must come up with a feasible plan that meets the requirements of all those stakeholders who are most relevant to the project. Stakeholder feedback should always be documented so that it can be reincorporated into new project management strategies.
Since most stakeholders are invested in many projects simultaneously, and may not be able to dedicate lots of time to following up with lengthy reports, it's important to communicate with them in the most engaging, direct manner possible.
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Identifying Project Scope
During project execution, it can often be challenging to mediate (oftentimes competing) interests of the client with those of the stakeholders. 'Project scope' is shorthand for what the project intends to achieve within certain already-delimited and clearly-defined boundaries. Project scope functions as the foundation for the entire planning process of the project. In this step, the project manager lists the project objectives, deliverables, deadlines, number of tasks, and budget.
Since it consists of all the tasks that the team needs to get done by the specified time, a project scope helps the team remain on track. This is precisely why project scope is used as a reference document in order to secure additional buy-in from external stakeholders. It also comes in handy when sudden changes occur and the project manager needs to modify the plan.
Having A Work Breakdown Structure or WBS
When you take up the responsibility of a project manager, you assign each team member different tasks depending on their various skills, abilities, and competencies. Once you’re done identifying the project scopes, you’ll have a clearer perception of what tasks and responsibilities to assign to each teammate. Make sure you consider the strengths and weaknesses of each individual and the project's resource availability.
When you simplify a project and break it down into organized steps like a flowchart, it allows you to handle each task better. The more complex a project tends to be, the more defined the WBS is. Moreover, WBS also helps you visualize task interdependencies. The simplified state of your project objectives helps you assign tasks better.
Building an Effective Team
The successful delivery of a project significantly depends on the quality of the team members who are set to carry it out.
That being said, your responsibilities as a project manager do not end with forming a compatible and competent team. You need to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates based on the project requirements.
Many tasks may need approvals before or after their execution. So as a project manager, you will also have to include external stakeholders and clarify their responsibilities.
You need to communicate with different project contributors, including project sponsors, designated business experts, clients, auditors, quality and risk analysts, among others, regarding the responsibilities of their respective roles. A project sponsor may need to approve the financial aspects of the project, while the business expert may need to define project requirements.
Detailed Project Schedule
Do not make the mistake of conflating a project plan with a project schedule. They have distinct, and uniquely valuable uses. During a project schedule, you need to analyze the estimated time required to finish each task and the overall project. This implies that you have to align each subtask with the given timeline. Consequently, you know exactly when each task needs to get done and by whom.
However, moving a project along in a manner that satisfies benchmarks in the project schedule is no piece of cake—that is why project managers often utilize project management tools such as the Qualitative Risk Analysis Tool and Quantitative Risk Analysis Tool.
It's worth repeating: any project is prone to be affected by a host of external factors. Risk assessment tools help project managers predict the anticipated risks and have a backup plan beforehand. They allow the project manager to understand if the project is within the budget and remaining faithful to the planned schedule.
The project manager can establish intervals at which they may incorporate the risk assessment tools into the project. That way, they will understand the project's conditions and work to deliver it while avoiding any added complications.
In several important ways, the 'communication plan' overlaps somewhat with the stakeholder's plan. However, the communication plan focuses on a broader audience, including teammates and clients. On the other hand, the stakeholder’s plan narrows it down to the sponsors and beneficiaries of the project only. You need a communication plan to streamline the communication process among teammates and others.
A communication plan outlines how often and when the project manager will consult with external stakeholders, clients, and teammates. It also defines which updates and reports to communicate with them.
Apart from increasing productivity and feasibility, a communication plan provides written documentation that any project member can ask for clarification. It is the duty of the project manager must consult with everyone to determine the most productive way to communicate.
An open discussion with teammates and external stakeholders helps the project manager understand each other’s perspectives. Lastly, the project manager can document the effective communication process and use it later in other project management tasks.
Monitoring the Progress
The responsibilities of being a project manager include monitoring if the project is running along with the planned schedule and within the allocated budget. However, some factors might potentially interfere the swift delivery of the project. So, following this project management step, the project manager meticulously looks over all the tasks throughout the run-time.
Many project managers make use of different software and digital tools such as earned value management, which helps you measure the project’s performance. Another way to get a head start is to incorporate a 'run chart' in the project's initial stages.
Quality Assurance Plan
This step of project management ensures that the delivered project meets all the agreed-upon expectations. One of the many responsibilities of a project manager includes handing over a project that meets the quality standards of the various clients and stakeholders.
Creating a quality assurance plan helps you set project standards and acceptance criteria. To this end, there are tools that every project manager utilizes, such as source code audits.
The functions of this project management step include running the project through test criteria and documenting the results. Based on the documented outcomes, the project manager can assure and improve project quality and improve their plans for future work.
Deviations occur during the planning, execution, and controlling phase of the project, and having a contingency plan helps you tackle just that. In other words, a contingency plan consists of all the backup processes and protocols that the team can follow if anything goes wrong, which helps you remain prepared at all times.
Success in any professional endeavor is only achievable through consistently honing one's project planning and execution skills. No matter perfectly designed one's plan is, there's no guarantee that it will ensure total success. However, planning the entire process helps you remain a step ahead of your game, and these 10 key elements aim to ensure just that.