8 essential ingredients for project success

Experts in project management discuss the steps necessary for completing projects on time and on budget – and what good PMs do when projects threaten to go off track.

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No two projects are the same. But all successful projects share a similar set of processes and procedures, or methodology, for keeping on track and on budget. Here are eight elements of a successful project.

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1. Scope and deadlines are defined up front. “During complex projects, it’s easy for team members to miss seeing the forest through the trees,” says Catherine Roy, senior manager, PMO, HOSTING, a managed cloud services provider. “Before kicking off any project, make sure that the client, stakeholders and team members know the exact scope [and] that they aware of all critical dates.”

2. Project lead and sponsor are established on Day 1. “Have the client clearly identify the project lead (day in and out point of contact) and project sponsor at the initial implementation meeting,” says Ellen Craig, vice president, consulting services group, Unanet, a provider of project and resource management software. “By identifying these roles, the client understands who will be responsible for day in and out activities and who owns the engagement. Also, if the sponsor leaves, the client must identify a new sponsor.”

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3. Team members have the right skill sets and work well together. “One key to delivering a successful project is identifying a project team that meshes well with that of the client, both professionally and personally,” says Thalia Ortiz, director, project management for Omnigon, a digital consulting firm. “Given the time spent together, both in person and remotely, it is critical these teams not only collaborate well but enjoy working together, which is especially key in crunch times,” she says. “In post-project client feedback surveys, our clients often tell us how much they enjoy working and spending time with us.”

“On more complex implementations or engagements, I’ll specifically request certain resources whose skills and expertise I have leveraged on past projects,” says Roy. “I also tap resources I know I can count on to deliver results within the project scope when the going gets tough.”

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4. The project schedule is realistic. “Mistakes are often made when you or your team are tired and overworked; [so] be realistic about [the] schedule,” says Roy. “It’s also important to let clients and stakeholders know in advance when a project will require additional budget or resources in order to meet their completion date,” she says. “On many occasions, executives set completion dates without realizing the overall impact on resources. I’ve often had to push back (oh so nicely) at the beginning of the project and manage their expectations.”

5. Has a (software) system for keeping everything and everyone on track. “Research has shown that project management software substantially increases the likelihood that projects are completed on time and on budget,” says Rachel Burger, project management software expert, Capterra, which helps companies find the right software. “For example, Capterra found that project management software significantly improves final product quality, the number of products on budget and the number of projects completed on time. There is even industry-specific project management software, like construction management software,” she notes.

The key is to “use tools [software] that make administration and reporting simple,” says Scott Bales, senior director of customer success at Replicon, a provider of timesheet software. A good project management system should be “easy to run [and provide] real-time reports. Setting up projects and tasks should be easy and obvious by pointing and clicking.”

In addition, a good project management software solution should “have built-in intelligence that anticipates what you need to get the work done” and allow you to “see team productivity, compare actual costs versus original budget, quickly understand overall status, and process and approve expenses immediately,” he says. “And as you proceed with new projects, historical data is readily available to help you make more accurate forecasts.”

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