There are many ways to manage projects today. If you’ve been a project manager for a long time, you may have seen trends in project management come and go. But what remains core to the role and profession is that project managers have a big job.
It takes a lot of planning and coordination to align project team members, stakeholders, and, if you work in an agency setting, clients.
Whether you’re using waterfall methodologies to plan and run your projects or you’ve adopted agile project management, Kanban, or something else, these project management strategies will help support you in your quest to execute great projects.
What Are Project Management Strategies?
Project management strategies are techniques and processes that you can combine to run a successful project.
For the purpose of this article, we’re looking at proven strategies that have stood the test of time and have been endorsed by many successful PMs around the world. So, when you use these strategies to run your projects, know that you’re following in the footsteps of industry leaders around the globe!
Why Is Project Management Important?
Project management isn’t just note-taking and checking off tasks; it’s a critical function within a project team. Project managers lead the project, manage client expectations, ensure the project timeline is realistic, and monitor progress and project expenses. Without a single person taking responsibility for this large body of work, projects can easily be derailed and fail (more about why projects fail here).
Why Use Project Management Strategies?
It’s simple, as project managers, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time we start a new project or move to a new company or project team. Using these strategies will give you a framework and free up your time for other functions of the role—namely, ensuring the success of your project and leading the team.
6 Project Management Strategies For Project Success
When you implement these six strategies into your project management practice, you’ll be confident that you’re making good decisions for your work and supporting your team and stakeholders in the best way possible.
1. Choosing the right methodology
There are many project management methodologies to choose from. Considering the overall project’s goals, stakeholder involvement, and scope of work will inform the methodology you ultimately choose (if this is not dictated by your company or agency).
Waterfall, agile, Scrum, Kanban, lean, and eXtreme programming are all popular methodologies used to manage projects today. When thinking about the right project methodology, you will want to also take into consideration the following:
- The project team’s roles and skill sets
- The team’s experience working together and working on this type of project
- The expectations of your clients, stakeholders, and executive sponsors
- The timeline and budget for the project
- What the team knows at kickoff and what still needs to be defined or refined
- Any workflows within the organization that are already in place
- What technology is available to the team for project management and execution (project management software, design and development tools, other software)
- The project’s goals
Assessing all of these will help you to determine which methodology you use. While there aren’t many hard and fast roles, you might consider waterfall for a project that has some naturally defined phases. If your project has a lot of unknowns, an agile methodology might be preferred, as it's naturally more iterative and you can determine the body of work sprint by sprint.
2. Holding a proper kickoff
Successful project management requires that the project have an official kickoff. Believe it or not, a good kickoff meeting can make or break a project. This is the opportunity to get the project team and all the stakeholders aligned.
It’s the place in the project where you can discuss the overall plan and how you’ll communicate and mitigate risks. It’s also a chance to gain clarity on aspects of the project that may not be well fleshed out, as well as where the most critical milestones are along the critical path.
While there are a lot of business objectives that need to be accomplished in a kickoff, it’s also a time to start forming team culture and norms. You might want to add a quick icebreaker if people have not had the opportunity to meet or do a short exercise to outline some working agreements.
If you’ve never established working agreements before, these are promises that everyone on the team will make to each other to keep the project moving forward. This could include things like promising to ask questions when things aren’t clear, treating everyone with respect, and sharing administrative responsibilities like note-taking and scheduling.
3. Selecting the right software
There are many choices out there when it comes to project management software. This is why one of the most important project management strategies is choosing the right one for your project.
In order to do this, the first step would be to define your requirements. Do you need Kanban boards, Gantt charts, a formal work breakdown structure (WBS), project templates, or the ability to develop a backlog and plan sprints as you would in an agile project? Should your software help with project scheduling and resource management or have integrations to support communication and time tracking?
Is there value in having automation in your project management tool? The answers to all of these questions as well as your budget and the cost of the software you’re considering will help guide you to make the right choice in software for your organization or as a one-off for a specific project.
If you’re looking to use a new software for your project, don’t forget to factor a change management and adoption plan into your overall project planning. Your team will need time to set up a new tool and learn how to use it. If this is not something you have a lot of time for, consider something more user friendly or keeping the same tool your team already has experience using.
4. Creating a project plan
Creating a project plan isn’t just an exercise in administrative documentation. It helps break down big projects into individual tasks and gives team members and stakeholders an idea of what will happen and when.
This can be critical when working on multiple projects like you would in an agency setting. This way, you can see when specific team members are busy and when they have capacity.
For example, if you’re responsible for software development, once your design and UX teams have handed off their designs, they can take on a new project while the developers work—as long as they have some time to answer any questions and perform QA as scheduled!
Remember that creating a strategic project plan is not a one-time activity during the life cycle of a project. It’s an iterative process, and you might need to update the plan after a sprint, specific milestone, or even weekly if things are constantly changing in your project.
5. Providing status updates
Status updates aren’t just a way to cover your... you know what. They’re great places to celebrate wins, highlight project needs and share project details with stakeholders who aren’t as involved in the day-to-day tasks.
Clear communication is only part of providing a status update. Knowing who to send an update to and when they need an update is part of effective project management. And, to tie some of these project management strategies together, it’s something you might want to review in your project kickoff.
You can use that time to align on who needs the status update, what the cadence for status updates will be, and how the updates will be provided. Are there project dashboards that will be updated in real-time with a weekly written report on project progress? Or is there a better way to communicate with your stakeholders? There’s no right or wrong answer here, just what’s best for your project team.
6. Closing a project the right way
Getting to the end of a project is a big deal. In fact, research shows us that as much as 70% of all projects end in failure. So, what does that mean for you, the completer of a successful project? A lot of things. First, it means it’s time to celebrate a little. Go ahead and give yourself and your team a little pat on the back. You did some great strategic planning, had some awesome teamwork, and then executed the project scope well. Now it’s time to start the closing process.
One of the first things you should do before you head off to the next project is to hold a retrospective or post-mortem. This meeting should focus on two areas.
First, the hard data around completing the project, including how the project requirements were met, the budget utilization, task management and completion, and any other data you may have gathered throughout the entire project.
Compiling and analyzing all of this data won’t be the most fun or glamorous part of the job, but the insights you’ll then be able to produce can be really helpful for future projects.
The second part of this meeting is looking at how the project felt:
- Was it fun to work on, or did tight deadlines and a small budget make it more stressful?
- Was the team the right one, or were there other roles that would have been nice to have?
- How was the communication with the team and other stakeholders?
- What skills do people on the team feel they want to continue to work on?
- What lessons did we learn that we as a team want to take into our next project?
As the project manager, you’ll want to document all of this and file it away with any other project artifacts like the project plan, deliverables, and final budget. This is the final step in the project's completion!
Putting Project Management Strategies Into Practice
Even as an experienced project manager, some of these project management techniques might be new to you. So if you want more resources, check out our latest how-to guides. Is there something specific on this list you want to learn more about? Shout it out in the comments, and you just may see an article on that topic in the future!
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