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How to manage projects properly

How to manage projects properly is one of the most important things new project managers and students of project management should learn.

Like most other disciplines, you become proficient as a project manager by practice and not just studying.

It is nice to get a certificate from PMI or a degree from an Ivy school, but it is not enough.   

Another mistake by new project managers is their reliance on project management tools.

Project management tools can help you to save time and organize better, but can’t make you a better project manager.

In the paragraphs below I have created a road map for you on how to manage projects better as you grow.

Roadmap on how to manage projects

I have listed 12 rules for managing a project. It does not matter which project management method you use, these rules are universal and always apply.

1-Understand the problem

Projects exist to solve a problem.

As a project manager, it is your job to understand the problem better than anybody in your organization.managing problem

What is your project’s ultimate goal? Why the problem you are solving is important? Who will benefit from your project and how?

It might not be popular in management schools, but to understand a problem you need some expertise in the technology that will be used to solve the problem.

If you are working on a software project, you better have a firm grip on software engineering discipline.

If you managing a marketing project, you better be familiar with marketing and PR.

In short, without a firm grasp of the problem domain, your chances of completing a project successfully diminishes greatly.        

2-Understand people

Except for small projects, you need people to plan, execute, and complete projects.manage people

Understanding people‘s needs and how they work in a group is vital in your success as a project manager.

You need to understand what motivates people who work on your project.

You need to instill passion and sense of purpose to your teammates.

Harvard business review has a good article about this subject which I do highly recommend.          

3-Define Scope

You need to define and document precisely the following list to have a well-rounded scope definition for your project:project scope

3.1-Goals: What is the ultimate goal of the project? Think of it as your project specification.

3.2-Project needs: Everything you need in terms of resources to complete the project.

3.3-Deliverable: What you would deliver to the customer

3.4-Features: A list of all features the product will have at completion

3.5-Functions: What functionality the product will have when delivered. How people will interact with the product.

3.6-Tasks: All things that are needed to be done to deliver the product.

3.7-Milestones and deadline: Define all milestones including the product’s delivery date.

3.8-Cost: How much it cost to produce the product and how much will it cost the customer to use it.    

4-Define outcome

define outcome of the projectYou need to define clearly what would be the final outcome or goal of the project.

The better you define the outcome the better your project will proceed and complete.

To arrive at a good definition of the goal, the process should be a collaborative one.

You need to make sure all stakeholders in the project have their input in defining the goal and agree to it 100%.

Have a kick-off meeting to start formulating and defining the project goal.

Document everything and share it among the stakeholders. Review with your team the document and refine it.

Have a final meeting to approve the goal and get permission to start the development. Work breakdown structure demo 

5-Align all  stakeholders

As I mentioned in the above paragraph, you need to make sure all stakeholders agree on the goal of the project.

It sounds easier than done, but your job as the project manager is to have a single vision and one source of truth for the project.

To do so you need to get the stakeholders in one room and make sure all parties are willing to contribute and debate the outcome as thoroughly possible.

It is never easy to have 100% agreement between a group of people.

But, you need to make sure after a goal is defined and agreed to, everybody supports it and sticks with it.

It is not an overstatement to say this step is the hardest step in how to manage projects.           

6-Plan and plan more

Now that you have a goal defined for the project, you need to start planning.

Planning should be a collaborative effort and you need to make sure your team is involved.

To plan your project start with creating a simple work breakdown structure (WBS) plan.

Even if you decide to use the Agile method, a simple WBS plan goes a long way to make your project a success.

Review and update your project plan as often as possible.

One of the biggest issues with project planning is the fact that plans are not updated and kept up to date as needed. 

Using a good project management app goes a long way to make the project planning more structured and keep the plan up to date.    

7-Track everything

project stakeholdersPlanning is good, but without tracking, planning does not add much value!

You need to keep track of the status of your project daily and have a weekly review as to how the project is progressing.

Project tracking is time-consuming and takes a lot of effort, but it needs to be done.

A good project management software can help you with tracking.

It is a great idea to have short status meetings every morning and ask each member of your team what they are working on? What they do next?  If they are facing any issues or challenges?

Ask the team to update the project plan daily based on the above questions.      

8-Collaborate often

Sometimes people mistake communication with collaboration. You need to communicate for collaboration, but it goes further than that.

If I tell you to do something, without telling you why and how it should be done, it is just communication.

But if I tell you I have a problem that I want you to fix it and explain the problem and what I need to fix and ask you to brainstorm as to how to fix it, it is called collaboration.

A lot of meetings are a total waste of time since they are used as a vehicle to gather information.

Gathering information does not need a meeting. Use any collaboration tool to get and send updates.

A meeting is useful only if it helps to discuss issues and the solutions for them.

Throughout your project’s life cycle have short daily meetings to not only get status reports but inspire your team to do better.     

9-Prepare for change

In projects like life, change is inevitable! You need to anticipate and plan for it.

Your client changes her mind, the part you were planning to use is not available anymore, the competition has something new which will make your product not as useful without some changes.

Most new project managers fail at anticipating change and dealing with it.

It is OK to kill a project if external or internal factors merit so.    

10-Manage risks

Managing risk is another area were new project managers have difficulty. 

Like managing change, you have to identify and plan for issues that might arise during the project.

What if a member of the team leaves the project for any reason?

What if the research we are doing on a subject fails to satisfy our requirements?

What if a key vendor fails to deliver a key part on time?  

As a project manager, it is your job to document these issues and have a contingency plan for them  

11-Adjust and improve

One thing that both good army generals and good project managers know is that plans change when you start working on them.

As the project progresses, you gain more insight. Use this insight to update and improve the original plan.

Updating the project plan is one of the key elements of how to manage projects properly.

Using project management software can help make the updating of the project plans easier and less time-consuming.  

12-Celebrate often

To keep your team motivated, make sure to celebrate every small and big win/success.

Having fun has an amazing effect on productivity and reducing fatigue.

It also improves the camaraderie in your team and helps people to know each other better.

When you reach a milestone, pause and celebrate the occasion with your team.

When important milestones are reached, it is a good idea to set aside one day or two for having fun outdoors.

Remember your teammates have lives outside work. Include their loved ones in celebrations that take a day or longer.

While you are learning how to manage projects or when managing project, it is important to have fun too.     

Summary

I hope this guide on how to manage projects help new project managers and students of project management learn the practical aspects of project management.

Most universities and professional certificate programs teach students about basic elements of projects like creating a plan, writing reports, getting status reports, etc.

But they fail in providing students with practical steps on how to manage real-world projects.

If you are passionate about the art of project management or considering to pursue project management as a career leave a comment below.

I read all comments and will reply to those that are on the subject, if needed I will contact you directly via email.

I wrote the art of project management and not the science of project management. Project management is managing people and human interaction could never be summarized in formulas.   

I will be updating this guide on how to manage projects as I receive comments from our readers.   

    

David Robins

CEO

David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.

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