Good project management practices increase your chance that your project will be successful. Here are 9 project management steps out of my practice. I would like to share them with you.
9 Project Management Steps to Your Success
Step 1: Define Your Objectives
Of all project management steps, I consider defining your objectives as the essential one. If the objectives are not clearly defined, a project will fail. Documented and harmonized objectives help you and your team to focus – especially in critical situations when you need to react.
Start with defining a global objective. This will be the criteria for your project success. Derive a hierarchy of objectives e.g. concerning cost, performance and schedule. Create smart objectives. Prioritize. Find out which objectives support or oppose each other.
With a precise and complete set of objectives, you know what you have to aim for in the following project management steps.
Read more about why objectives are so important.
Step 2: Know Your Environment
Your project is never isolated. You can influence your environment, and your environment can influence you. Knowing your environment and your stakeholders will give you an advantage.
Identify internal (e.g. company rules, superiors) and external (e.g. laws and regulations, customers) factors that can influence your project. Define interfaces (relevant persons) to all factors. Understand their expectations and fears. Describe and understand the impact each environmental influence can have.
Take the initiative and plan how you can actively influence your environment rather than being influenced.
Read here how you can perform effective stakeholder management.
Step 3: Manage Your Risks
Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.
Murphy’s Law is one of the environmental factors that will influence your project. If things have gone wrong, you will be better off if you have options prepared rather than trying to find them while you are under pressure. I consider risk management one of the major project management steps.
Take your time to identify what can possibly go wrong. Use all support you can get (e.g. your team) to identify risks. Find out the cause(s) for each risk. Evaluate the possible damage each risk can create. Develop measures to prevent the causes and to reduce the damage. Decide, which risks you can accept and which risks you have to reduce.
Keep in mind: Risks cannot be eliminated. With risk management you can reduce the probability that things go wrong. And if they still go wrong (as they will according to Murphy), you can reduce the impact.
Read here what is important to understand about risk management.
Step 4: Communicate effectively
Information is only valuable, if it is available to the right people at the right time. How can you assure that?
Personally I like to work with a communication matrix. It gives me an overview about the communication I have to perform in my project. You can easily create your own communication matrix:
If you have performed the stakeholder analysis (step 2), you already know who you need to consider about. Think about what kind of information each person needs. Define at what time this information is required (frequently or event-triggered?). Decide which platform is the best to provide the information (e.g. email, phone call, personal meeting). Assign who is responsible for communicating.
Step 5: Build Your Team
In the previous project management steps a project foundation was created and a road map was defined. Now make sure that your team will follow this direction.
With a focus on the goals (step 1) and project requirements define the roles you need in your project (e.g. project manager, design engineer, systems engineer). Decide, who you need to succeed and form your team. Ensure each team member understands the project, and his/her role(s) and his/her responsibilities. Make sure that each team member is entitled to perform the required work.
Your team is a key factor for success. Be a good leader. Keep your team informed and motivated. Develop your team and its members.
Step 6: Structure Your Work
The project management steps above result in a clear picture of how a project is organized. Now it is time to organize the work that is necessary to reach the project goals. In many projects that work will be quite complex. I have experienced, that a work breakdown structure (WBS) reduces this complexity.
For each item of your WBS, clearly describe the objective, task descriptions and expected results. Outline the preconditions (e.g. completion of other tasks). Define inputs, outputs and interfaces to other items. Estimate work efforts and other costs.
A reasonable WBS simplifies your life as project manager. It reduces the risks related to the work complexity. And it will support you in the following project management steps. Be aware that too many breakdown items increase your coordination efforts and issue new risks. Find your own balance you are confident with.
Step 7: Maintain a Realistic Schedule
Using your WBS work efforts estimations (step 6) you can establish a project schedule. Quite often it appears that these work efforts tend to finish the project later than the contractual date. What can you do?
Optimize your WBS and schedule. Re-arrange tasks from one item to another to create the synergies you need. Parallelize tasks. Add resources. Some tasks can be finished quicker when more people work on it.
Whatever you do to optimize your schedule: be realistic. Taking unrealistic assumptions just to make the planning fit in the beginning, will give a big headache at the end of a project.
Step 8: Track Your Budget
There is not much more annoying than exceeding the budget. No matter whether it is the bank or the boss, It is a big pain to ask for more money. How can you prevent or ease the pain?
Track your project cost (I track my project cost using the Cost-Trend-Analysis method). Identify deviations as soon as possible. React immediately. Perform corrective measures as defined in the risk analysis (step 3). Find ways for additional savings in your project planning.
What if you cannot keep your budget despite all these efforts? Prepare a realistic forecast and be transparent to your sponsors as soon as possible. If people can trust you, they will try to help you.
Step 9: Be In Control
- Check whether your project activities focus on your objectives at any time
- Make sure you react to changes in the project environment
- Regularly update your risk assessment and perform the actions you defined
- Make sure the information you provide is correctly understood
- Make sure you correctly understand the information you receive
- Lead and develop your project team, keep it informed and motivated
- Monitor your work progress: Perform Milestone-Trend-Analysis
- Track your budget: Perform Cost-Trend-Analysis
- React to any deviations immediately
- Permanently re-iterate the project management steps
What are your best practice project management steps? Feel free to share them in the comments.