10 Golden Rules of Project Management
I have been involved in managing projects and portfolios of projects for over 25 years and there are a few golden rules I have learned from all these projects that are standard across any type of project. In this article, I want to share some of these with you.
If you apply these rules to any project you undertake, you will in all likelihood have a successful and stress-free project on your hands!
1. Understand the Scope
This might seem like I'm stating the obvious but it is vital that you know what the project is about. What are you trying to build or achieve? Is there a written specification for the project that you must adhere to? What are the business goals that are driving the project?
Talk to the people involved in the decision to move forward with the project. This might be a salesperson in your organization (if you are doing the project as a vendor for another company), or a senior management person in your organization if it is an internal project.
Find out what your client's expectations are (whether an internal client or an external client). Have they done anything similar before and how do they feel that project went - what was good and what could have been done better?
Make sure that you understand any technical requirements for the project - if required, talk with a technical person on your team or your IT manager/dept.
2. Understand the Goals of the Stakeholders
Before you start a project, try to find out who all the stakeholders are. For example, if you are doing a project for an external client you could have the following stakeholders:
- The Business Sponsor - this is the person who is putting their hand into their pocket and spending the money with you or your organization. They are going to want an on-time quality delivery without additional charges to those agreed.
- The Client Project Manager - this is the person in your client organization that you will liaise most with during the project. They will want a stress and hassle-free project. They will want to look good in the eyes of their boss and you may find that their remuneration or bonus will be tied to the success of the project.
- The Client Expert - you will perhaps have to engage with a client expert at some point in the project. They will want to have an input and say in the design and will want to feel their expertise is heard and heeded. They will also generally be short of time (given that they are an expert in their field)
- Other vendors - sometimes you will find that either you will be depending on input from another vendor of your client, or they will be waiting for input from you. You will have to work (generally through your client Project Manager) with this vendor and keep them happy.
- Your own boss - your boss will want reports on how your project is going (to ensure that you are keeping this client happy and making a profit for your organization).
Be sure to understand from each of the project sponsors what will make this a successful project from their point of view.
Now I can't emphasize this enough - plan, plan, plan. List the tasks involved in the project and the resources (people and things) required. Look at the interdependencies of tasks - what can't start before something else starts or completes, etc.
Use tools like MS Project, or even a simple Excel spreadsheet to assist your planning. Organize the people and things you will need ahead of time and plan to do some early prototyping and QA to iron out early issues.
No matter how good your plan, things won't go as expected. Life will intervene. Make sure to add some contingency into your plan. This might be extra resources or extra time in your schedule, but this will make the difference between a calm delivery and a frantic 2am late night to get it to final for delivery.
If your project is for an external client, encourage them at the start to build in some contingency into the budget (perhaps 10%). This will allow them some room to move within the scope and will mean that it will be easier to get the project to completion without having to go back through Procurement for every little change.
5. Communicate with the Team
Chances are you will not be completing this project alone. Don't forget that your team can't read minds and you will need to communicate with them to get them on board, solicit ideas, brainstorm, and let them know what the deadlines are. Be honest and listen to their thoughts on how to get things done.
If your project spans multiple weeks or months (or even years), set up a regular meeting time with the team. If your team is globally dispersed, you can hold this meeting at a convenient time for all via a conference call or session such as a Webex session.
Make sure that each member of the team understands the bigger picture and that they all understand the effect of them doing a good (or bad) job will have on the other members of the team.
Write up a project brief to help new members get on board quickly and get up to speed.
6. Test Early/Prototype
No matter what you are building, don't get too far into production without testing how you are doing. If possible, build an early prototype and get that out to the decision makers for their input. The earlier you get this input, the less re-working you will need to do later.
The early testing or prototypes should try to test all aspects of the product. Get IT, end users, stakeholders and others involved in this early testing.
Once you have gotten sign off on the early prototype and testing, you can move into full-scale development. Here is where the bulk of the effort will be spent.
It is vital to monitor your project throughout this stage. Set interim goals and deadlines and don't miss these - treat each as a client deadline.
Keep checking back in with the team and the client/stakeholders to ensure that the expectations are still the same and that you are on target to meet these.
8 Report to the Client/Manage Expectations
Clients like to know what is going on. They don't like to be left in the dark without reports as to how things are going. And they DON'T like surprises.
Be sure to report regularly to your client and let them know how things are going with their project - it is their money after all!
If they are not holding up their side of the deal (providing feedback, providing anything!), be sure to let them know and to let them know how their delay will affect the timeline or budget.
D-day has arrived. Tell the client before delivery when to expect the delivery - should they expect it first thing in the morning their time, last thing that night, noon, etc? A client can get angsty if they thought the delivery would be with them first thing that morning, and you actually meant to deliver it sometime before midnight!
When you have delivered, be sure to tell the client that the delivery has been made and to let them know what the next steps are. Are they to sign off, provide feedback, inform other reviewers, etc?
If your delivery is software and you are delivering it electronically, be sure to test that what you uploaded (e.g. to an FTP site), can, in fact, be successfully downloaded, unzipped and run.
Be wary of the technical team member who assumes that just because they uploaded it, it must be fully there and intact!
10. Hold a Wrap up/Lessons Learned Meeting
Once all has been signed off and the project is closed, plan to hold a review meeting. This meeting will allow you the opportunity to solicit good feedback (presuming you have done a good job!), give your client feedback on the part they played.
Hold an internal meeting with your team before any post-project review meeting with your client.
Be honest but diplomatic. Give praise where praise is due, and give constructive feedback where you feel it will improve the process the next time.
Document the findings.