No matter what industry you work in or what project management methodology you subscribe to, there are some project management best practices that all PMs can do every few weeks to enhance workflow, decrease stress, keep projects running smoothly, develop personally and professionally, and reward yourself for all of your hard work!
Think of these 10 project management best practices as little tune-ups that keep your project management machinery in tip-top shape. Each of the following tasks should take about an hour, (sometimes considerably less,) and If you do 2-3 of these tasks per week you should be able to get to pretty much all 10 every month. Of course, some you can do more or less frequently depending on your personal preference.
10 Project Management Best Practices To Keep Things In Tip-top Shape
#1. Get to Inbox Zero
I know a lot of PMs who keep their inboxes whistle-clean, and some who have hundreds of threads begging to be archived. (You know which type you are!) Generally, if I have left an email thread in my inbox it means I need to take action or respond before deleting or archiving it. If the task or response needed is low priority, I will sometimes let it sit in the inbox for days, or even weeks.
This project management practice is simply taking an hour or two once a month to go through your inbox and take action on as many threads as possible so you can “close” the conversations and archive them. Often I will find that I’ve just been putting off tiny tasks because they didn’t seem important, but once you start to see that inbox count getting closer and closer to the elusive “inbox zero,” you will have renewed motivation to get there!
#2. Take Inventory
Depending on the size of your organization and projects, you might be working on one large project at a time OR on several (or many!) small/medium size projects. Regardless, set aside some time at least once every few weeks to check in with each active project, or, if you are working on larger projects, check in with each part of the larger whole. This could mean reviewing scope statements or project outlines, or a master list of projects to consider how each one is going. Jot down some notes for yourself on troublesome areas or things that can be streamlined on each project, questions you need answered, or resourcing woes. The project management practice of bringing clarity to high-level needs on each project on an ongoing basis BEFORE problems arise will set you up for success. Also, this process will force you to consider all the components of a project, not just the ones you’re currently immersed in, to keep you fresh and familiar with where you’ve been and where you’re headed.
#3. Reflect on Lessons Learned
This task is a good one to do as or just after a project comes to a close. Without self-censorship or judgement, write down as many challenges you faced during the course of the project as you can remember. What was hard? What didn’t work? What could have been better? When you’ve recorded as much as you can about the challenges of a project, see if you can pair each hardship with a lesson you learned or a strategy you have since implemented to improve that struggle in the future. When you’re done, you will have a record of suggested solutions for your future self. As for any challenges that you were not able to learn from or propose solutions for – anything that’s still eluding you – create a separate list of these challenges…. and then see tip #4.
#4. Identify an Ongoing Problem to Work On
After task #3 you should have 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.
#5. De-Clutter Your Space
Project Managers have a reputation for being pretty organized and type A, but even the most disciplined PMs can get too bogged down with work to keep their physical and virtual space tidy all the time. Once a month, follow this project management practice and take 20-30 minutes to clean up your desk.
Throw away old post-its and notes-to-self that are no longer needed. Find a place to keep your supplies and papers – invest in a filing system if things just end up in endless stacks. Wash out that mug. Trash any broken pens or inkless highlighters. Wipe down the surface of your desk, your keyboard, phone, and monitor with an antibacterial cleanser to fend off germs. (When you’re busy and working hard, your immune system needs all the help it can get!) During your cleaning spree, don’t forget to give a little love to your virtual space as well. Clean off your computer’s desktop, organize any floating files, and delete apps and bookmarks you don’t use. Sitting down to a clean workspace will be totally rejuvenating.
#6. Check In With Your People
At least once a month, a great project management practice to follow is to 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?”
#7. Say Thank You
Another people-centric project management practice: remember to show when you’re grateful. Once a month, set aside 10 minutes to write a thank-you note to someone – a team-member, mentor, business referral, or even a client – who has done something helpful for you recently or who has simply been a pleasure to work with. This practice will not only go a long way with the recipient of your note, but it will make you feel good! It is a great way to make someone’s day and also to remind yourself of the things that you have to be grateful for. It doesn’t have to be fancy – a simple email a few sentences long will do the trick. If you love stationery, you could get a few nice cards and just keep them in your desk.
#8. Lend a Hand
Along with practices #6 and #7, #8 encourage us to remember and activate the human side of project management at least once a month by seeing if anyone on your team could use some help. Perhaps some circumstances will come to light during your monthly check-ins with your colleagues, or you can actively seek out ways that you can help make someone’s day, job, or life easier by helping solve a work-related problem, assisting with research, giving advice or feedback, or simply listening.
It’s so easy to get bogged down with budget reports and timesheets and SoW’s that sometimes we forget that project managers are often the nucleus of a working team and our personal connections with the people around us can really elevate the quality of a job and a project. As an added bonus, once you start lending help on a regular basis, you’ll rack up karma, goodwill, and favors that you can call upon others for down the road.
#9. Consider the Future
In tasks 2, 3, and, 4, you’ll be focusing on the past and the present, but it’s equally important to look to the future. During this monthly project management practice, try to take a step back from everything that’s happened or is happening and envision a time in the near or distant future where you are increasingly professionally fulfilled – what does that look like?
What do you need to be doing to get there? It’s probably a combination of many things you’ll consider during these exercises – new skills and lessons learned, personal connections made, and overcoming challenges on the job – that will create your path forward. What must you do to stay on track and get where you want to go? Spend 15 minutes jotting down or doodling some thoughts about the future. Notice how your vision changes over time and how much closer you are getting to your goals.
#10. Treat Yo’ Self
PMs work really, really hard. We do a million jobs often all at one time, answer to various stakeholders constantly, and have to remain cool in an ever-changing environment. So, it’s really important to recognize success and growth and reward yourself for it. It could be something simple like a few extra hours of sleep on the weekend or your favorite candy bar, or something you save up for like a trip or a shopping spree. The important thing is that you are proud of how hard you’ve worked and how great you’re doing. You got this!
What Do You Think?
Does your monthly routine sound similar? What are your project management practices? Let us know. We’d love to have you in the conversation.