10 Critical Components of Successful Project Management
Quick, what’s the first thought that pops into your head when you hear, “Project Management Professional?” If the answer wasn’t: business value, streamlined processes, resource preservation, enhanced communications, decision-data generator, or something similar, then you probably haven’t had the right project manager.
In this post, we’ll share some of the most important aspects of top-tier project management employed by individuals with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, as defined by the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Whew, that was a lot of acronyms!
Before you begin working with a project manager, be sure they subscribe to these critical components of project management.
The project plan may be the star of the show in this knowledge area, but don’t forget about the project charter. You could run a great project—on-time, under budget, all requirements delivered—but were you running it for the right reasons, and at the right time? The project charter helps to make sure the answer is “yes!”
This document doesn’t have to be long or complex. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You want something short and sweet for your team to reference regularly. If you start to veer away from the objectives laid out in the charter, it may be time to re-evaluate your project.
If your first scope statement is, “Create an AI-powered device that will predict when my kids want pancakes and automatically make them,” it may be time to utilize a Work Breakdown Structure or WBS.
The WBS may start with a big vision but encourages you to break it down as many times as needed until you have chunks of work that are easier to understand and estimate. This could be calendar time or story points, depending on your process, like “Research potential automated pancake making machine partners,” and “Discuss the ethical issues raised by such a device.”
Also, don’t forget to document dependencies between scope items as you’re building the WBS. This will help when you’re scheduling.
Do we love making big, complex, Microsoft Project Gantt charts? Yes, yes we do. But, we also recognize that it often isn’t necessary. Sometimes a 10 line spreadsheet will do (remember those dependencies from the WBS?).
We’ve found that schedules can even be useful when using Agile techniques. You don’t want to ask your developers to estimate the next three months of features down to the day, but having an Agile release plan based on your team(s) velocity(ies) can help you to plan the non-technical deliverables of a product (Marketing, Finance, etc.) to parallel the software.
Most of your organizations probably don’t have loads of cash in the bank, so this may sound a little strange. But you need to have a little flexibility in your project budget. That doesn’t mean ballooning your budget by a ton. Just be prepared to move money around between WBS items or departments during the project. Getting a budget just right is never easy, and you can’t get stuck in a cycle of refining it until it’s perfect (or you’ll never get the real work started).
Track your spending and be wary of potential overruns. Then discuss with the project team to see where adjustments need to be made. Build a team and culture that understands and believes in the project outcomes and therefore is willing to quickly make course corrections for the good of the team.
One last tip: Take advantage of early discussions around the risk register to identify and plan for these potential budget issues so the team has advance notice of what may come. Don’t get bogged down with trying to plan for every possible eventuality—focus on the high probability risks and opportunities.
OK, quality experts, please take it easy on us here (Have you ever had a conversation with a person with “quality” in their title? They are usually VERY passionate about quality.) The ISO 9000:2015 definition of quality is, “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics of an object fulfills requirements.”
That’s great, but what does it really mean? You need to work with your team to figure out what quality means to this project and its deliverables. Maybe you’re in the healthcare field and quality is the difference between life and death (in which case you’ll need a lot of team members with the word “quality” in their title). Maybe you’re delivering a Minimum Viable Product gaming app and you’re going to subjectively assess quality based on feedback from your Beta users.
Whatever the case may be, make sure your team understands the project definition. Or you may end up with one of two things: 1) a product of poor quality, or 2) a product that is late and/or over-budget because it’s too high quality.
Don’t underestimate the value of a small but high-performing team! Finding the right combination of personnel is a daunting task, especially when the team changes. Every project requires a unique combination of skill sets, but knowledge will only get you so far without the right tools to succeed. Give a well-assembled team ample resources and they'll meet and exceed their goals every time.
This tip is extra important for software teams. As Allan Kelly points out in his companion books, “Project Myopia” and “Continuous Digital,” software development exhibits diseconomies of scale until development is complete (Yes, it’s a little ironic that we’re referencing the creator of the #noprojects hashtag in a series about project management, but we like to keep an open mind). And you may then find that your projects turn into a continuous stream of delivery.
No one can dispute the importance of a solid communications plan, but few people realize the importance of the project manager also acting as translator. Ever been in a meeting where everyone was nodding their heads at the end but walked out with a different understanding? Sending out minutes at the end of a meeting is a helpful way to curb these miscommunications, but the real goal is to prevent them from happening at all (because who wants a follow-up meeting to rehash everything and come to an agreement AGAIN).
Be on the lookout for visual cues of misunderstanding or disagreement and vague language. Don’t be afraid to speak up after a decision and say, “What I’m hearing is that we’re agreeing to…,” and be as specific as possible. Sometimes the team may look at you and say, “Duh, we all knew that,” or “What meeting have you been in?” Practice makes perfect and the more you do this, the better you’ll get at identifying whether or not consensus has truly been reached.
Startups are risky. In fact, 90% of businesses with fewer than 500 employees fail. You don’t want to be in that group. Prevent failure by managing your risks (getting early customer input, hiring the right team, etc.). Consider using a risk register for your business as a whole or an important project.
Our risk register template (there are a lot of good templates out there, we just felt like Goldilocks and had to make one that was JUST right for us and our clients) qualitatively combines the probability of the risk and the impact of the risk to create a color-coded risk score. The result is an easily understood risk register that’s simple to visually digest. No matter what format you use, just make sure you customize the relative values for probability and impact. Going $10k over-budget may be insignificant for some projects and life-threatening for others.
Don’t forget about opportunities, otherwise known as positive risks! Project managers can be so negative, always thinking about what could go wrong. What if things go really well and your marketing campaign goes viral? Is there a partnership opportunity that could reduce your development costs? Think about how you’ll prepare to take advantage of those opportunities.
When dealing with procurement, a project manager’s two best friends are a good supply chain lead and a good lawyer. Both know how to work with suppliers to come to an agreement that helps both parties, while of course keeping your interests at the forefront. But small teams don’t always allow for those roles, which is why project managers need to be familiar with every line of the contract (assuming we’re dealing with an important aspect of your project, and not just ordering next year’s paper clip supply).
You can’t just assume your suppliers will deliver as planned. Even if the contracts protect you from financial liability, how would a supply failure impact your project or product? Do you need a backup supplier? Should you allow some extra slack in the schedule? These are all questions you should consider during the risk review.
When you’re looking for stakeholders, cast a wide net. Don’t forget the list should include people or groups who perceive themselves to be stakeholders, or larger stakeholders than you and the team believe. Maybe there’s a board member who’s taken a special interest because of their background, or a community group that’s been watching your organization. Whoever the stakeholders are, keep an open mind and identify people willing to contribute to your objectives.
Once you’ve identified the initial stakeholders, think about the communication channels that exist between those stakeholders and the best way for you to communicate with them. Different stakeholders require different types and amounts of communication, but a backdoor channel can throw your carefully laid communication plans out the window.
The components of project management we’ve covered here are truly critical. And you need a project management team dedicated to providing all these things and more. Greenshaw Consulting is here for you. Contact us today to learn more about how we can make your next project a success.