At some point over the course of your career, you’re likely to have to perform the duties of a project manager. You might be a marketing professional managing a new product launch for the first time, or an engineer managing the development of a piece of software, or even a construction foreman taking on the management of a big build that involves several contractors.
If you find yourself in this situation, congratulations! We hope you have taken a moment to appreciate the fact that your company obviously trusts and sees potential in you.
If you’re like most new project managers, you’re probably also feeling quite nervous. You’re suddenly the person responsible for ensuring that this project is completed to spec, budget and deadline. No pressure, right.
At Viewpath, we often chat to new and ‘accidental’ project managers like yourself - and we value you - so we wanted to make your life a little easier by sharing advice that will give you a head start. In this article we introduce the fundamentals of project management.
#1 Don’t let bureaucracy distract you from the goal
Google “project management process” and you’ll quickly see just how many processes, forms, and delays can be introduced when you get too carried away. Overly detailed and complicated project plans will only frustrate and alienate the people you need to work with.
When things start to get complicated, it’s important to remind yourself that your goal is to meet project objectives as efficiently and quickly as possible - and that your project management process needs to support that goal, not distract from it.
#2 Clearly define business objectives and success criteria
Few things lead to unmet expectations as fast as poorly communicated objectives. If you’re new to project management, you might not be as wary as you should be. Unfortunately, the value of a clear Project Charter (the document that defines objectives and success criteria) is often only realized once a project flounders and is stopped. We hope to spare you this experience.
The Project Charter ensures that your project is creating value for the organization. It’s designed to make sure that management doesn’t suddenly realize that the business case for the project is weak and pull the plug on it, wasting a lot of time and money. According to research from the PMI, this can result in 44% of strategic initiatives being reported as unsuccessful.
What is a Project Charter?
The Project Management Institute defines a Project Charter as a concise document of one to a few pages, that may have some attachments such as a business case analysis and/or a feasibility study. Two key inputs needed to prepare the Project Charter are the business need for the project and the project alignment with the organization's strategic plan.
#3 Gather all project requirements upfront
Once you understand and have framed the business imperatives behind your project, you need to list all the requirements - i.e. exactly what the project needs to achieve. These are the deliverables of your project.
It’s important to make sure that you give all key stakeholders the opportunity to communicate their requirements (in writing) so that you can plan how you will achieve them.
As the manager of this project, you are ultimately responsible for its success, so you need to be asking the right questions and do your due diligence to identify who or what is needed to make the project a success.
In the real world, your requirements may change once the project is already underway. In this case it’s vital that you can identify them fast and clearly communicate the consequences to the right people.
If you are taking an agile approach, your project requirements and scope will evolve as the project team works with the product owner, so you might not have a requirements document or WBS.
#4 Define the project scope in a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
According the PMI, “The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) defines the project scope in terms of deliverables, which are any unique and verifiable product, result or capability to perform a service that is required to be produced to complete a process, phase or project.”
This is essentially where you document the deliverables throughout a project. These can be project-related or product-related. For example, a WBS for the deployment of new software might include things like migration, integration, user onboarding, and user training.
The WBS is a key part of your project as it will form the basis of your project schedule, budget, and resource requirements. It is also an important baseline for change management and for project status and progress reporting.
The PMI warns that a poorly constructed or incomplete WBS results in scope creep, unclear work assignments, schedule dates slippage, and cost overruns.
#5 Create your project plan
Now, finally, you are ready to formulate an informed, realistic project plan.
The level of detail in your project plan will be unique to your business but, when in doubt, it’s always better to keep it as simple as possible. And remember to base your schedule and budget on the WBS you created.
In some cases a simple Excel spreadsheet may suffice, but there’s a lot to be said for investing in project management tools like Viewpath. These are available on a flexible, per-user monthly plan starting at $4, and automate many of the time-consuming elements of project management, including generating a WBS, setting up project dependencies, scheduling and organizing, notifying and reminding people of their tasks.
#6 Communicate your plan - and any changes - clearly
Your communication skills can make or break a project. It may sound obvious, but you must communicate clearly and often. And while it may be better to take a less-is-more approach, it’s important to note that people get confused and annoyed by too much communication.
Take the time to understand what various stakeholders want and need to know. You can use this to form a basic communications plan as to who receives what, and through which channels. For example, a senior stakeholder might need full progress reports delivered by email, while other resources might only need task reminders that are automatically triggered in your software.