6 Project Management Tips

Managing the project seemed so simple at first. Your boss gave you an objective, you gathered your team, and the road to completion looked to be a straight line. But as you’ve learned time and again, project management is rarely so simple as that.

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Now, the project is a mess. Deadlines are fast approaching, key deliverables are well behind schedule, and the client has set up a conference call tomorrow, where you just know Dave will throw out some newfangled idea that will add yet another requirement to the project. Ugh, why is there always a Dave?

If you’re a project manager who got a serious sense of déjà vu from the description above, then these project management tips are for you.

1.  Listen Before You Leap

All projects present unique challenges, but if we had to pick a key source of misery for most project managers, it would be when the various parts of a project contend with one another. Stakeholder expectations must be tempered with the realities of the situation; schedules must stay on track, even as one deliverable spins out of control; and costs must be balanced with managing project failure.

The source of this misery is a project manager who launched a project without a concrete vision of what the project’s timeline, deliverables, and scope should be. Instead, take a step back and begin every project with a phase of active listening. Engage with the stakeholders to see what their goals are. Speak with your team and get feedback on what they think is possible. And pay close attention to restrictions, especially ones that may remain unspoken.

Active listening and asking questions will properly equip you to analyze the project and determine the best path forward. You won’t be able to accommodate everyone’s desires and opinions, but an open mind will help you plot a course that works to everyone’s advantage.

2.  Communicate Clearly

Now that you've developed a plan, you need to communicate it to your team and stakeholders. Let them know what the project’s goals and expectations are, as well as any potential obstacles or setbacks. Tell them in clear, concise language, and try to keep the message uniform for all parties. Also, document everything for future reference, and make sure people know where to find this information.

You may feel the need to hedge your language, especially to soften bad news. Don’t fall into this trap. It's better to be upfront about setbacks immediately, rather than set unrealistic goals that won’t come to fruition.

3.  Recognize Knowledge Gaps

Projects require expertise in a variety of fields to succeed: writing, programming, accounting, you name it. This daunting fact can lead project managers to think they need expertise in every area of a project. But you don’t have to be a polymath for your project to succeed. Instead, remember you've gathered a team of experts, and your job is to combine their top talent with yours to ensure success.

When you don’t know the answer to a question, find the appropriate person and ask. No one will think less of your leadership abilities. In fact, they'll be happy to have someone engaging them in their interests.

4.  Limit Scope Creep

A project’s scope will change. Aspects you thought were fundamental will become ancillary, and deliverables you couldn’t imagine will suddenly be necessary. Scope creep, however, happens when additional requests and requirements balloon beyond the initial project parameters. Limiting scope creep can be tricky, especially when the request comes from a higher-up.

An excellent preventative measure is clear communication during the early stages. Make sure everyone agrees on the scope before major work is started. Keeping meticulous records will help, too. That way, you’ll have a defense if someone tries to sneak in an extra deliverable that wasn’t agreed upon originally.

You may need to be assertive, and just say no, suggesting the additional requests be spun off as a new project.

5.  Know Your Tools

Your tools will help you organize your documents, communicate effectively, and connect you to the various stakeholders. Given their importance, you should learn everything you can about them.

If you use a project management software, such as Trello or LiquidPlanner, explore online tutorials and forums to pick up some handy tricks. Don’t forget to keep learning about those unassuming tools, too. Your calendar, issue log, and note-taking software may house lesser-known features that could greatly limit busywork.

6.  Celebrate Success

It’s not all about the big finish — although definitely celebrate that. Small successes on the path to a completed project are important, too. Remember to congratulate your team and recognize their performance. Take small moments with stakeholders to enjoy progress. And treat yourself to an expensive coffee after a grueling task is checked off the to-do list. You’ve earned it.

Above all, remember that project management is about getting everyone to move in the same direction. Use your emotional intelligence to understand your stakeholders, and lead by example to create a team dynamic of support and workmanship. With that motivation and these project management tips, your project will still present challenges, but at least everyone will be moving toward the same goal.

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