When your team handles projects on a routine basis, it’s tempting to just plug the information on the latest effort into your software, add in a bunch of time and budget estimates based on previous projects, and start working on the first set of tasks. Stop! This approach sets you up to repeat mistakes you’ve made in the past, leaving your team unlikely to reach its full potential.
If you want to improve your project management performance—greater efficiency, less waste, and fewer delays and other setbacks, then consider some ways you can make your next project better.
1 – Confirm your project portfolio priorities.
Deploying your resources most effectively means working on those projects that will deliver the most value to the organization. Rather than automatically launching the next project on the list, take the time to review the entire portfolio (and your company’s strategic goals) to make sure this is still the right place to direct your resources.
2 – Identify your project’s critical paths.
There are probably a few critical paths shaping your project’s scope, timeline, and deliverables. Before you start assigning tasks and earmarking funds, it’s wise to confirm the critical paths with the senior leadership team and your project’s sponsors. You’ll be able to ensure everyone is on the same page and that expectations are aligned across the board. Though there may still be a lot of setup that needs to be done, don’t wait on this step. You don’t want to find out mid-project that you aren’t focusing on the right paths and that you must scramble to quickly resequence tasks and try to get back on track.
3 – Know your target completion date.
It may seem surprising, but it’s not uncommon for executives to want to get things going immediately, even before vital details—the expected completion date among them—are known or approved. You’ll be setting your team up for headaches if you get too far into the process without a firm timeline in mind, so don’t cave to the pressure from above. Improve your success rate and nail down your important milestones up front.
4 – Rally your champions.
Your longer-term efforts to engage key stakeholders and sponsors will be more successful if you’re enthusiastic about ensuring their support in the early days. Schedule a brief meeting to review the project and confirm where you’ll need assistance and who will be there to provide it. This gets the project going on the right foot and will establish a good foundation as the initiative moves forward.
5 – Look at your communication strategy.
Your stakeholders—staff, end users, vendors, business partners, etc.—may change from one project to the next. Look at how this project’s groups will interact and what will be needed to keep their participation levels high. Are people dispersed across multiple regions? Will time zone differences make it difficult to bring everyone together? Technology tools such as web conferencing or group chat can be a huge asset, so set them up early and put them through their paces to be sure they’re ready to go when you are.
6 – Acknowledge where you don’t have much leverage.
Projects rely on cross-functional teams, bringing people from across the organization into the effort. While highly effective, this structure can cause issues later when project tasks vie for the same pool of time and energy as employees’ non-project work, particularly when they don’t report to you. By knowing ahead of time where accountability could be an issue, you can focus on those areas and ensure people are engaged and fully committed.