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There’s a vast number of digital project management best practices out there – in fact, every PM working the digital space seems to have their own unique list! Some have broad philosophies about managing risk or stakeholder expectations. Others swear by specific tools and tactics for time management or managing people.

Knowing which best practices are a personal taste versus which ones are on your critical path to success can be a little daunting, so I’ve started to gather some of the top best practices being discussed within our global community of digitally-oriented project professionals. Below I’ve shared just a few of our favourites that have helped our members build their portfolio of project successes and advance their career.

It’s also worth noting that as you become more experienced and battle-tested as a project manager, you’ll be able to work out your own personal best practices based on what works best for you and your teams. Training and digital project management courses can also help you discover new digital project management best practices or improve existing ones.

12 Digital Project Management Best Practices

While these tips are more geared towards newer project managers (or those looking to become project managers but don't have any experience yet), more senior project managers could always benefit from a refresh.

1. Commit to Continuous Improvement

Digital projects typically have the benefit of rapid, iterative progress. While the breakneck speed and various moving parts can be overwhelming, this also provides a massive opportunity to learn and improve at that same pace.

When you’re ending a sprint or as part of the project closure process, invest the time to run a retrospective with your project team, and if possible, with your client or sponsor. This will help you understand how the sprint or project went from the various perspectives of those who were involved.

To amplify the learnings across your team, be a champion of sharing those learnings. Brainstorm and test viable processes and methods for making insights from retrospectives accessible to others who will walk a similar path on their project.

2. Choose Project Management Software That Works The Way Your Team Works

In a more analog and sequential context, the primary user of a project management tool is… well, a project manager. But when it comes to digital, project management software is often so much more than that.

Moving Gantt charts and resource schedulers, your digital toolkit allows your team to manage their own tasks, log their time, and automate and govern workflows. It also allows clients to view a real-time dashboard and get involved in the conversation, as well integrates with many other tools to provide a full picture.

Depending on the size of your team, the nature of your projects, and the methodology you’re using, the “right” project management software for you may be very different from what your PM friend at that big consultancy thinks is best. To make the best decision for you and your team, start with our list of the best project management software to find the right one for your use case.

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3. Tackle Risks Head On… Together!

New digital solutions inherently introduce new risks that can morph and change wildly as a project progresses. To give yourself the best chance of catching all the key risks, build a culture of collaborative risk management by involving your team and your stakeholders in risk management activities throughout the project.

Early on, as you’re creating your risk management plan and initial risk register, start identifying risks as a group. Use various perspectives to create strategies to deal with risks, and make sure risk owners are on board with what is expected of them.

As the project progresses, continue adding to your risk register. Make risk assessment part of your regular cadence or project ceremonies, and encourage team members and stakeholders to flag new risks as they see them so that you have enough time to avoid or minimize impact.

A little shameless plug: Our DPM School project management course covers managing risk in-depth, as well as how to recover when issues do occur. There are many more risks that come with the digital space, including new and emerging tech, more involved quality management, and the potential for scope creep due to client misunderstanding of the limits of digital.

4. Choose a Project Methodology That Fits The Work

Those working in digital can debate endlessly about whether Agile is better than Waterfall or whether a hybrid of the two is good or bad, but the fact of the matter is that the methodology needs to fit the work.

Depending on the nature of the project, the type of project deliverables, the preferences of the team, and the need to plug in to your client or sponsor’s broader organizational ways of working, certain agile project management methodologies or other methodologies will have advantages over the others. Our guide to project management methodologies can help you choose the right one.

An important factor in this decision is your team‘s preference. While the decision may ultimately be up to you as the project manager, make sure to consult your team to get agreement and input from everyone. A methodology is much less useful when no one on the team is adopting it.

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5. Build Trust Through Transparency

Your project sponsor or client may not fully understand all the technical components and risks of the project, and they may be relying on you to be a beacon of confidence, but they aren’t dumb.

While it may be tempting to use jargon and twisted versions of the truth to obfuscate issues and avoid uncomfortable situations in the short-term, the long-term wins that will truly boost your career trajectory are rooted in the relationships and the trust that you build by navigating the tough stuff together.

Whenever possible, take the time to build trust with your clients. Educate your client or sponsor and explain the complexities. If there’s an issue, do the appropriate prep to finesse your messaging, but make it a priority to communicate it sooner rather than later. And, of course, always provide viable solutions to any problem you present – don’t leave your client or sponsor empty handed for when they need to explain the situation to their bosses.

6. Set Clear KPIs

The key success factors of a digital project can often be minimized, misunderstood, or easily forgotten. Near-sightedness during a project can lead to a product being introduced to a world that no longer has a use for it. And once a digital product has launched, failing to measure its performance could limit the appetite for continuing on the product roadmap.

At the outset of every project, establish KPIs and be clear about the criteria for meeting those KPIs. Choose a small number of metrics to keep the project focused on the most important goals. Otherwise, you risk spreading yourself and your team too thin across too many KPIs, and you won’t meet any of them.

This is especially important for digital projects as there are so many KPIs to choose from. Nailing down the most relevant ones is critical for ensuring you can definitively deem a project a success and avoid tracking metrics that don’t really say much.

For example, if increasing conversions is the project goal, you’re better off tracking conversion rates than metrics like traffic or impressions.

7. Create Standard Processes That Are Viable… Then Revisit!

Without set processes and standards for project work and documentation, it doesn’t take long for things to spiral out of control.

If you create standard procedures for things like project initiation, kick-off meetings, risk management, and quality management, it saves you from having to reinvent the wheel every time.

The key is to create processes that your team will actually adopt and sustain, then continue to revisit and adapt as your organization changes and grows.

A risk management process for a highly-visible, large-scale implementation of a government finance system probably isn’t the right process to follow if you’re a team of four, Kanban-ing your way to a new feature release for your photo sharing app.

Likewise, the process you used when you were a team of 15 working in a single office probably won’t work once you’ve grown to 130 employees spread across 3 different continents.

8. Overcommunicate Effectively

The phrase “overcommunicate effectively” may sound like an oxymoron to some, but when it comes to the world of digital projects, it can be make or break.

With the tumult of cross-functional teams swarming towards a sprint goal while using various tools that have communication capabilities (yet never checking their email), making sure your message is landing and that you have the right information for your client or sponsor is critical.

Add to that the fact that your team might be working remotely across 3 time zones-none of which are the client’s time zone-and you’ve got motive for effective overcommunication.

My top best practices?

First, build a communication plan that everyone can agree to, even if it’s just a cadence of project ceremonies and agreement on what tools are for what type of communication.

Then update your team and your clients regularly on project status, timeline, and budget.

Give your team the opportunity to ask questions and make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to updates from the client and new project information. This will bring up questions and issues before they arise and help team members confirm their assumptions before they proceed with an incorrect one.

Regular check-ins with clients will increase transparency and trust, and give clients the opportunity to ask questions as well.

Most of all, enforce the communication plan. If it stops working due to shifts in the project, then rebuild it so that it can be adhered to. The Wild West is no way to communicate when you’re dealing with the complexities of a digital project.

9. Nail The Briefing Process

The digital world helped forge many of the best practices we have for working in hybrid configurations of remote and on-site teams. But even still, any team‘s effectiveness is only as good as its ability to communicate abstract ideas clearly to one another. That’s why briefing is so important.

A good project brief contains enough information to give clear direction without having so much information that it’s stiflingly prescriptive for its audience. The trick is that there are different kinds of briefs for different purposes.

For example, a project brief may start from the overall project context and then dive as deep as key milestones and budget. Meanwhile, a task brief may include the reason why something needs to be done (e.g., a User Story) as well as the project requirements and constraints.

Our DPM School course covers how to create a project plan and includes in-depth instructions on how to execute them properly for project success.

10. Be Open To Getting Involved Early

Often, digital project managers are brought into a project just before (or maybe even after) kick-off. This could mean you’re inheriting a less than ideal scope of work or can leave you feeling like you’re constantly playing catch up on all the details that were discussed before the contract was signed.

While the sales process may not agree with your nature, it can be very useful to try to get involved in the project as the project scope is being shaped. Not only will you have more background when the project does get started, but you can also influence the approach, showcase the value of your PM skills in a business development context, and maybe even advance your career while you’re at it.

11. Identify an Ongoing Problem to Work On

Keep a running list of challenges or questions that you’ve been facing during projects that you’re not quite sure how to approach. These could be simply lacking the right tool or vendor i.e. “everyone hates our current time-tracking software!” or “I need a better list of photographers!” It could be a personal struggle – “I’m having a hard time planning project kickoffs and my clients are in the dark.”

Once a month, pull out this “List o’ Struggles” and identify one issue to spend an hour working on. Some of the items on the list might have a quick fix – like researching new time-tracking software to see what other options might be an improvement, or gathering a list of go-to vendors. Some of the issues might require some multi-faceted troubleshooting.

For example, if you are consistently having trouble planning project kickoffs, do some research to see if anyone has written advice on the subject, or see if you can set up a meeting with your manager or mentor to discuss potential solutions. Over time, you will continue to add to this list, but you will also begin to cross things off as you gain new skills and tools for the job.

12. Check In With Your People

At least once a month, make a point of checking in with each person on your team. If you work on a small project management team and you’re feeling ambitious, you could grab lunch with each person once a month. If you work on a large team with members working remotely, this check-in could be as simple as a conversation by the coffee machine or a DM in slack.

You don’t need to give everyone the third degree or demand to know their deepest feelings, but it will go a long way with your colleagues, and help you manage projects efficiently, if you know how the work is affecting your team.

Of course you can also keep things light and find out what shows they’re watching, what podcasts they’re listening to, and where they’re planning to go on their next vacation. Feel out when might be a good time to start a casual conversation and then let the chat evolve naturally. You never know when these conversations could lead to more in-depth connections or collaborations, or to uncovering some detail that will be helpful in your project planning moving forward.

Some questions I like to ask during these monthly check-ins:

  • “What have you been working on lately that you are really enjoying or really disliking?”
  • “How do you feel the management of this project is going, what could be improved?”
  • “Do you have the resources you need?”
  • “What are you excited about?”

What Are Your Digital Project Management Best Practices?

Have you used any of the best practices we’ve listed above? If so, how did they work out for you? Feel free to leave any digital project management best practices we’ve missed in the comments below. As we mentioned, everyone has their own tips and tricks, and we don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to learn from each other.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our DPM newsletter for more tips and best practices!

For even more information on what being a DPM is all about, check this out: What Is Digital Project Management? [Ultimate Guide] or listen to our podcast episode on this topic: Is Digital PMing Really A Thing?

Nuala Turner
By Nuala Turner

Nuala is the Editor of The Digital Project Manager. Her background is in content strategy, content production, and managing projects. She brings a strong editorial eye and a passion for connecting with experts in the field and teasing out their stories, as well as ensuring digital project managers are winning at work and smashing projects out of the park.