Project-based work often has many moving parts and managing them can be difficult. Luckily, there is a great deal of accumulated wisdom from the business world and defined project management best practices. In this article, we’ll walk you through the top project management best practices. By following these reliable tips, you can ensure that your projects run smoothly from inception through inevitable obstacles and deviations to a successful conclusion.
10 Best Practices for Successful Project Management
We’ve condensed the collective wisdom into these 10 best practices for project management. These consensus project management best practices have been gathered from international standards and formal project management methodologies. However, their implementation is always shaped by the unique circumstances of an organization. Contact us if you want a recommendation how to best apply these for your organization.
Create Well Defined Life Cycles and Milestones
The biggest difficulty when it comes to project management is creating the proper boundaries around the work you’ll be doing. It might seem self-explanatory to know where a project should begin and end, but it really isn’t. And even once you’ve defined those boundaries, you’ll still need to erect formal milestones along the life of the project to measure progress.
As you define the project, you should map the key phases, deliverables, milestones, and success criteria for each sub-group working on the project. These should amount to a thorough delineation of the four key phases of the project life cycle: concept, planning, implementation, and completion. The specific details of your project and your organization will shape how you plan these four phases.
Communicate with All Stakeholders
This step is often overlooked. However, it is perhaps the most important of the best practices for project management. Of course, it’s natural to consider the company’s and its clients’ perspectives. But stakeholders will also include local citizens, the eventual consumers of the product or service, and whatever parts of the broader public are impacted by the project.
Projects often meet resistance because of a failure to communicate with stakeholders and to consider their needs & desires. It’s vital to ensure stakeholders understand everything about a project that will affect them, including the eventual deliverables, the project’s goals and benefits, its metrics for success & quality, the risks & obstacles, as well as information pertaining to budgeting, time, and resources.
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Define Manageable Requirements and Scope
This stage of project management should come early in the overall process. This is where you establish what exactly the team is going to do or make, what the goals & benefits of the project are, how success will be evaluated, what standards of performance must be considered, and what constraints or obstacles the project is likely to confront.
Define the Project’s Organization, Roles, and Systemic Procedures
Projects are ultimately created by people, but as the number of people involved grows, it becomes ever more important to manage that complexity. This is done by clearly defining the ways the participants will work with and relate to each other. The unique details of your project, organization, and personnel will determine the appropriate way to structure your team/s. The most important thing is to make sure the relevant expectations and accountabilities for each role are clearly defined.
Many projects create a hierarchical team structure organized under one or several project managers. These project managers direct human resources by planning, staffing, organizing, evaluating, and managing a project. Project managers are usually skilled in leadership, people skills, and political acumen.
Teams and sub-operations may also be organized under functional managers. The role of the functional manager is more technical. They help create policy and procedural standards, acquire and manage the skilled personnel, oversee quality assurance, and create estimates when it comes to budgeting time and capital. These budgeting estimates factor into the decisions project managers make.
Create Quality Assurance
It’s easy to overlook the need to be specific about issues of quality control. Projects inevitably involve multiple steps, teams, and sites—each layer of complexity increases the possibility of failure or inefficiency. Further, unspecified standards for each component of a project will inevitably lead to miscommunications and mistakes. Each phase of the project’s life cycle should have specific standards as well as specific criteria for meeting and measuring those standards.
One of the essential struggles any project goes through is balancing ambition and reality. It is surprisingly easy to fall into the trap of wishful thinking. Formally planning a project in terms of its concrete commitments helps to avoid the pitfall of wishful thinking. The various kinds of commitments are likely to include scheduling a project, staffing the team/s, acquiring and allocating necessary resources, and maintaining a budget.
Track and Analyze Project Variance
No matter how detailed you are in planning your project, you will inevitably confront unexpected obstacles and constraints along the way. Worse, these can easily lead to quality failures, missed deadlines, and budget shortages. Projects must involve procedures for tracking and reporting variation from a project’s plan. Regular meetings will likely be necessary to ensure issues are dealt with as soon as possible.
Some of the relevant figures most companies use to track and analyze variance include Actual Cost of Work (ACWP), Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS), Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP), and Estimated Cost of Completion (ECC). Baseline figures for each of these must be established early to measure progress.
Provide for Corrective Action
Staying on top of project variance will inevitably mean improvising to respond to newly arising problems. But if an organization has not set up clear procedures for responding to issues as they arise, the problems are doomed to fester. Problem-solving often involves making trade-offs, such as spending more to avoid delays. Guidelines for dealing with these issues should be established early on.
Provide for Issue Escalation and Management
There’s a kind of natural law to the ways information moves through hierarchical organizations. Good news quickly rises to the top as people take credit for it, while bad news stays on the bottom as people try to avoid blame. But if bad news is not escalated, it cannot be resolved. Organizations must establish protocols to ensure inevitable problems will be dealt with as efficiently as possible. Issues should be dealt with at the lowest possible level that can appropriately deal with them. If a level cannot deal with an issue, the issue must be escalated until it can be dealt with.
Establish Procedures for Work Authorization & Change
As projects adapt to the inevitable unknowns every project must deal with, they can be subject to “scope creep.” This involves the undetectable bloating of a project’s scope as it tries to encompass every arising issue. This leads to inefficiencies, spending overages, and resource shortages. Organizations must set up some procedure for overseeing the changes in a project’s operations. Project managers must be kept in the loop as they oversee the adaptations of the various employees and teams working underneath them.
Every project is different, and each will require its own procedures in order to reach successful completion. But projects have enough things in common that there is a broad consensus in the best practices for project management success, that organizations should follow. Adhering to these practices will help organizations adapt to the inevitable and unpredictable obstacles that will arise. Creating procedures for dealing with the unpredictable will ensure that projects reach their defined metrics for success!
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