If you’re a project manager, chances are your daily calendar is already filled from the moment you sit down at your desk to whatever time of day – or evening, most likely – you clock out. Many people at all levels of the enterprise rely heavily on you to have a solid grasp on all aspects of project management, including timing, status and direction of projects, at all times.
Since your time is limited and valuable, here are some specific areas where things have the potential to go drastically wrong if not sufficiently addressed, as well as some concrete, actionable ideas to ensure quality outcomes.
Plan for strategic alignment
In “How to align project management with your business strategy,” I emphasized the significance of ensuring that projects align with overall business goals, and why this is so important. If organizations are to spend substantial amounts of money, time, human resources and effort on a project, it should always support the forward-facing strategy of the business. Strategy should drive business activities, including projects, and not the other way around…otherwise the project is simply a pointless exercise. By ensuring strategic alignment, project managers can help organizations avoid ambiguous PMO direction, underutilized PMO resources, low company performance at a high cost, and declining project success rates. Alignment helps to establish a shared vision.
Tip 1. Project, program and portfolio managers hold powerful knowledge, skills and experience, and should discuss the benefits of setting up an EPMO (Enterprise Project Management Office) within the organization for the purpose of ensuring all areas of the business only initiate projects that provide the organization with benefits. These activities should be mapped directly to companywide strategic objectives.
[Related: The 7 best project management mobile apps of 2015]
Tip 2. Work with management to establish key performance indicators to communicate and measure what matters to the company.
Tip 3. At the end of each project for PMOs and senior executives should quantify the success rates of projects in relation to companywide objectives, and determine what changes may be required for future projects to keep the business moving in the right direction.
Plan to do appropriate and adequate project planning
The process of planning is by no means exciting or sexy, but it’s the most important part of project management. It takes a significant amount of time and energy to work through all the details and requirements in order to reduce the risk of rework and possible trouble later after a project has commenced. For this reason, it is said as much as 70 percent of a project manager’s time should be spent on the planning phase.
Tip 4. Make a request to management to be involved in companywide planning sessions in order to transform the traditional PMO into a high-performing team that can deliver significant value. Highlight how this will help to establish a shared vision, as well as reduce the risk of missed objectives and misunderstandings, while increasing the projects chance of success. According to PMI research, the success rates of higher-performing PMOs also align with a company’s financial performance.
Plan effective communications
Ineffective communication may seem harmless, but when it comes to projects it can be one of those areas where a single word or gesture can set up a chain of events so disastrous it can completely derail an entire project. How? When people are the primary resource in a project, we all bring personal biases, experiences, our own objectives, cultural norms, work ethics and sometimes even personal lives to work. All that baggage creates at least the possibility of hearing – or saying – things incorrectly. Frequent and effective communication becomes an extremely important aspect in project management, especially for the project manager.
Tip 5. Work on being trustworthy, transparent, objective, focused, energetic and motivational, consistent and flexible, accessible, clear, respectful, confident and lead by example.
Tip 6. If the project team is too large, break it down into smaller focused groups to make communications easier to manage, and then send out formal communications on updates to the entire project team or as applicable.
“We were having trouble growing the development team. Once we were over 10 people, the development team had trouble with communication, and we were slow and inefficient” says Aytekin Tank, founder of JotForm, a leading online form builder.
Tank says they split groups into cross-functional teams, that each focused on one single issue. “Our teams became much more focused and agile again. We got work done faster and better again.” Aytekin explains.
Plan how you will get and keep stakeholder engagement
In order to gain stakeholder buy-in and keep them engaged in a project from start to finish, they’ll want to know they can trust you as a project manager. Moreover, they’re not likely to fully support or contribute to a project if they don’t understand why the project is necessary, how it benefits them and what their role is.
Tip 7. As a PM, before you can expect stakeholder engagement, you must also be fully engaged. Remain transparent, provide timely communications, clarify team members roles, areas of responsibility and expectations.
Tip 8. Address conflict immediately and directly, determine the root cause, and whenever possible, allow opportunities for stakeholders to take part in the resolution. People are much more willing to move on in a positive manner if they can be part of a solution instead of only perceived as the problem.
[Related: 11 communication skills of effective project leaders]
Plan how you will monitor and measure performance
The only way to know if a project is managed successfully is if you can at least measure the performance in terms of time, cost and quality. The only way you can measure performance is if you regularly and actively monitor it. Without the ability to effectively do this, it’s impossible to know if a project is on schedule, on budget or meeting any other objectives/deliverables identified by the organization.
Tip 9. Determine the techniques and methods you will use to monitor and measure activities, budgets and timelines,and make sure it’s done frequently. Regularly communicate the results and the required corrective actions with the project team, stakeholders and management, delegating responsibilities to the appropriate parties. Then follow up to ensure action was taken. This should be a repeatable process throughout the project.
Plan to have the necessary tools/techniques/methodologies
“Having the right tools for the job” may sound like a cliché, but project management is complex enough without having to manually perform tasks that can be automated in some way to reduce unnecessary workarounds.
Tip 10. In the initial stage of a project, check with the appropriate parties in the organization that all the required internal or external tools are available to successfully execute the project. Waiting till you are deep into the project to find out important resources aren’t available could change the outcome of a phase or even the entire project.