Planning notes

Project Management Skills for Everyone (Part 5)

In project management, some of the most important work comes at the beginning.  That’s why we’ve spent the last several weeks covering all the groundwork that goes into creating a good project plan — whether you’re a seasoned project manager or a brand new project leader.

You’ve learned:

  How to lay strong foundations with a project charter

 How to fill in gaps, identify assumptions, and get crystal clear on the project’s requirements, so you don’t get blindsided by new information partway through the project

  And how to create a rock-solid project plan that steers your term to success.

All that’s left is to execute!

With right prep work and a good project plan, your team will have the information and guidance they’ll need to succeed. But to bring the project home, you and your team will need to remain focused on the big picture, attentive to the details, and in constant communication with each other and with your stakeholders.

Better Communication → Better Results

The best planning in the world can’t save your project if goals, timelines, decisions, tasks, and other details are not communicated to the right people at the right times.

Good communication begins with your team and your project plan — but it doesn’t end there. You’ll also need to convey information and progress reports to other stakeholders and set appropriate expectations about timelines, deliverables, and other key aspects of the project.

Project leaders should:

  • Ensure that everyone can read and understand the project plan
  • Ensure that the project plan contains all necessary tasks, timelines, and dependencies
  • Hold regular status meetings
  • Be sure to include all team members and vendors in communications and discussions
  • Encourage open communication
  • Set the expectation that team members will ask questions and flag potential issues proactively
  • Distribute regular status reports to stakeholders

An informed team and engaged stakeholders will possess the information and knowledge they need to prioritize work appropriately, make good decisions, and maintain consistent progress toward the project goals. 

Get Proactive About Problem-Solving

Consistent, proactive communication can also help you avoid a great many problems. But even great communication doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free project rollout. You’ll also want to create structures and systems that help your team identify, prevent, and solve problems before they threaten the project’s success. 

Here are few guidelines for managing problems proactively:

  • Update your project plan regularly — at LEAST 1x per week.  Project plans are living documents, and they should reflect both progress on the project and changes in priorities, requirements, or goals. 
  • Review risks regularly and develop contingency plans. Problems that your team has anticipated and solved for in advance aren’t really even problems — they’re just an occasion to update your project plan. 
  • Confirm that you have the right resources on your team. Lack of time, skills, or bandwidth amongst members of your project team can wreak havoc on your project — but this is one of the easiest problems to identify and solve in advance.
  • Provide space for your team to collaborate to solve problems. As the project leader, your job is to support your team — not to solve all their problems or make all their decisions. Ask your team to work together to find and present solutions, so responsibility for managing issues is shared by everyone.
  • Don’t become a decision-making bottleneck. You never want project progress to grind to a halt because your team is waiting on you for feedback. Be clear on what decisions require your input, and prioritize those decisions in your daily work. Empower your team to move ahead independently with everything else. 
  • Manage scope creep aggressively. Even requests for minor features and additions can throw off your budget, derail your timelines, and pull focus from key priorities. Unchecked scope creep can even create a situation where the project you deliver doesn’t fulfill its main goals. 

Refer back to your project charter frequently to ensure that you’re keeping the strategic goals and desired outcomes firmly in mind. And work closely with those requesting new features to reaffirm the primary project goals and outline how requests will impact those goals.

Every project is unique, and your project’s particular problems will also be unique. But you can control how your team prepares for and responds to the issues that do arise. The more proactive you are about managing risks and resolving issues, the fewer negative repercussions those problems will produce.

As you move into the execution stage of your project, you’ll need to enlist help from others to ensure that the project remains on track and delivers the desired results. By communicating clearly and consistently with your stakeholders and prioritizing proactive problem-solving amongst your team, you’ll be well-positioned to lead your project through to success.

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