Project Managers (PMs) will tell you that you only have three variables to work with when managing a project: time, people and money. The biggest problem PMs face is “scope creep.” This happens when new requirements are added to the original project plan—for example, additional features or functionality to a new website. Scope creep threatens deadlines because it ultimately requires more time, added resources, or even additional funding.
PMs must constantly measure and report on progress, identify risks and offer mitigation strategies. Staying on track requires focus, patience and diplomacy. PMs are often in a unique position, managing not only the individuals on their project team, but also managing the expectations of senior management and other key stakeholders. If you’ve seen the official “Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge” or “PMBOK” you know there’s no way to simplify this process. Here are some basic rules every PM should follow.
Take time with requirements – There are a number of documents involved in managing a project. The Project Definition document literally defines requirements. This is a critical document and it deserves as much time as can be allowed. All stakeholders should participate in developing a detailed specification that describes the finished product. If you don’t capture all the requirements you’ll put your project at risk from the start.
Invite stakeholder participation whenever possible – Projects almost always have multiple stakeholders, internal users, external customers, and others who may be impacted. Generally, at least one of these stakeholders will serve as a sponsor for the project. You’ll want multiple stakeholders involved in both the requirements gathering of the project as well as the design phase. Doing so will help prevent scope creep later and avoid surprises during testing.
Establish realistic milestones – Better to under promise and over deliver. As you map out the project—assigning timeframes and resource allocation—be sure to build in extra time where possible.
Build an A Team – You want the best resources on your team that you can possibly get.
Identify risks up front – Knowing what the risks are at the outset alerts team members and stakeholders to what problems may arise and what mitigation strategies may be required.
Be flexible – A rigid PM who is constantly asking members of his or her team “are you done yet” can quickly lose the urgency and commitment of those involved. A good PM knows their Project inside out and should be willing to listen and engage individuals on their team in a helpful manner. Progress reports should be scheduled and individuals should be expected to report. Emergency updates should be provided if anyone on the teams identifies a risk.
Keep everyone informed – Schedule regular Project Update meetings with the team, the stakeholders and senior management as appropriate. The last thing anyone wants is a surprise.
While some PMs may disagree, project management is two parts science and one part art. The project is one thing, the management another. Know your strengths and weakness and enlist colleagues for support and guidance. You can’t prevent things from going wrong, but when they do, you and your team should respond with the urgency that each milestone requires. To do so effectively requires mutual respect, open communication and shared goals.