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Managing a project is a messy and complicated process, but you’re not completely at the whims of demanding clients or stakeholders. 

Whether you’re a certified Project Management Professional or a newbie, this comprehensive guide on how to manage projects like a pro will give you confidence in managing even complex and challenging projects.

From practical how-tos to tips and a resource library, you’ll be able to navigate every stage of the project management process.

How To Manage Projects Effectively

An estimated 70% of transformation efforts result in failure. Decreasing this rate means project managers must ensure they know how to manage projects more effectively. Here are eleven tips for managing projects so you can be better prepared and more confident with each new project.

1. Use Project Management Software

Managing projects can be overwhelming without the right tools. Most project management tools and apps offer these benefits that can significantly increase your efficiency and effectiveness as a project manager:

  • Better communication and team collaboration
  • Improved resource management
  • Organized and centralized project data
  • Simpler project reporting and analytics
  • Improved remote work
  • Better budget management
  • Risk identification and mitigation
  • Increased process standardization
  • Reduced risk of scope creep

There are more than enough reasons to invest in project management software, and it will pay off in the long run.

Take it from someone who’s managed enough projects to know that the end-to-end project lifecycle can be fraught with complexities. You need all the help you can get to ensure the behind-the-scenes work is automated wherever possible.

💡Tip

💡Tip

Make sure the project management software aligns with your company’s long-term needs and growth. For example, if your company is a service-based business with a limited budget but has expansion plans in the next two years, you’ll likely want the following:

 

  • Cloud-based project management software
  • Offered as a software-as-a-service model
  • Features that effectively support your industry and company size
  • Scalable to grow with your business without disruption, as it adds customers and services

2. Define Project Scope & Requirements

Before jumping into project execution, you must clearly define the project scope and requirements. The project scope should do the following:

  • Outline the boundaries of the project (what’s included and what’s not)
  • Determine what will be delivered (what the customer can expect to receive)
  • Define the goals, deliverables, and tasks 
  • Identify the stakeholders and their roles
  • Outline any assumptions

To define the project scope, start by identifying the project objectives and desired outcomes. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What problem are you trying to solve? 
  • What are the specific goals and deliverables? 

Setting the project scope involves gathering requirements and creating a scope statement to set the foundation for the entire project to ensure all stakeholders are aligned on what needs to be achieved and how.  

Requirements gathering helps you understand the project's constraints and limitations, allowing you to plan and allocate resources effectively. It involves identifying the necessary resources, constraints, and risks associated with the project. 

requirements gathering checklist screenshot
Get our requirements gathering checklist through DPM membership here. 

Once you understand the project scope and requirements, you’ll need to document them in a project scope statement. This document serves as a reference for all project stakeholders, providing a clear overview of what will be delivered and what won't be included.

💡Tip

💡Tip

Review and update the project scope statement regularly to ensure everyone is on the same page.

3. Choose The Right Methodology

Project management methodologies provide a structured approach to managing your projects. They offer frameworks, processes, and best practices. 

Choosing the right methodology is crucial for project success, as it sets the foundation for how the project will be planned, executed, and controlled. These methodologies are just two of the many methodologies used.

Waterfall

This method follows a linear, sequential process, completing each project phase before moving on to the next. 

Waterfall works well for well-defined requirements with minimal changes. However, it may not be suitable for projects that require flexibility or frequent adaptation.

Agile

Agile is an iterative and incremental approach that focuses on adaptive planning, collaboration, and continuous improvement. 

It works well for projects where requirements are likely to change, as it allows for flexibility and quick adjustments. Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, promote close collaboration between the project team and stakeholders.

Things to consider when choosing a methodology:

  • Project size
  • Complexity
  • Industry
  • Strengths and weaknesses of each methodology
  • Alignment with your project's requirements and goals
project methodology template
Get our methodology tailoring toolkit to help you decide.
💡Tip

💡Tip

Project management methodologies are not one-size-fits-all, so be open to adapting and tailoring them to suit your specific needs. Here are some examples:

 

  • Agile may be the best methodology if your company develops software requiring frequent and quick changes and iterations. Think Google and Cisco.
  • If reducing waste is the primary focus, Lean may be more suitable. Companies like Toyota and Motorola have used this methodology.
  • Methodologies like Six Sigma are used by companies like Amazon and 3M to provide higher-quality deliverables.
  • A hybrid approach may be necessary if your company has more than one type of goal.
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4. Create A Communication Plan

Effective communication is essential for successful project management. Without it, miscommunication, delays, and conflicts can arise, leading to project failure. 

Creating a communication plan ensures that all project stakeholders are informed, engaged, and aligned throughout the project lifecycle. You’ll need to do the following:

  • Identify the key stakeholders involved in the project (team members, clients, suppliers, and executives)
  • Determine their communication needs, preferences, and expectations. 
  • Tailor your communication approach to accommodate different stakeholder preferences
  • Establish communication channels and protocols
  • Determine how and when information will be shared and who will be responsible for communicating with each stakeholder. 
  • Schedule project status meetings regularly to provide updates, address concerns, and gather feedback from stakeholders. 
  • Establish a mechanism for stakeholders to provide feedback or ask questions throughout the project duration.

Communication is a two-way process; actively listen to stakeholders' concerns and feedback and address them in a timely manner. You should also encourage open and transparent communication within the project team to foster a collaborative and supportive environment.

communications plan sample
Get our communications plan template through DPM membership here. 

5. Set Clear Timelines

Timelines provide a roadmap for project execution. Projects can easily fall behind schedule without well-defined timelines, leading to frustration and potential project failure. 

Setting clear timelines ensures tasks are completed on time, dependencies are identified, and project progress can be tracked effectively. Start by doing the following:

  • Break down the project into smaller tasks and activities.
  • Estimate the time required for each task, taking into account dependencies, resources, and potential risks. 
  • Use project management software or a Gantt chart to visualize the project timeline and dependencies.
  • Assign realistic deadlines to each task, considering factors such as task complexity, resource availability, and dependencies. Avoid setting overly optimistic deadlines.
  • Account for potential delays and buffers to ensure a realistic and achievable timeline.
  • Update the project timeline regularly as the project progresses. 
  • Identify any delays or bottlenecks early on and take appropriate actions to mitigate them. Communicate any changes with stakeholders, ensuring everyone is aware of the revised schedule.
💡Tip

💡Tip

Prioritize tasks based on their importance, urgency, and impact on project goals to allocate resources efficiently and ensure critical tasks are completed on time.

6. Plan For Risks

Planning for risks is essential to project management. It allows you to anticipate potential challenges and develop strategies to mitigate them or minimize their impact, increasing the chances of project success. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment. 
  • Identify potential risks and their potential impact on project objectives. 
  • Consider both internal and external factors that may affect the project, such as resource constraints, technology limitations, or regulatory changes. 
  • Engage the project team and stakeholders in the risk assessment process to gather diverse perspectives.
  • Develop a risk management plan
  • Prioritize risks based on their severity and likelihood of occurrence. 
  • Monitor and reassess risks throughout the project lifecycle.  
risk register template
Try our risk management plan template (available through DPM membership).
💡Tip

💡Tip

Effective risk management means promoting a culture of risk awareness and accountability within the project team.

7. Create a Resource Plan

A resource plan helps you identify the resources needed for the project and allocate them efficiently. Start by doing these things:

  • Identify the types of resources needed for the project like human resources, equipment, technology, and materials. 
  • Determine the quantity and quality of each resource required. 
  • Assess the availability and accessibility of resources, considering factors such as budget constraints, resource constraints, and external dependencies.
  • Develop a resource allocation plan. 
  • Assign resources to specific tasks or activities, taking into account their skills, availability, and expertise. 
  • Regularly track resource utilization throughout the project lifecycle. 
  • Identify any resource constraints or bottlenecks early on and take appropriate actions.  
💡Tip

💡Tip

Anticipate potential resource constraints, delays, and capacity of each resource to avoid overallocation or underutilization and develop backup plans.

8. Hold a Project Kickoff

A kickoff marks the project's official start and sets the tone for the entire team. It brings together all project stakeholders and establishes a shared understanding of project objectives, roles, and responsibilities. 

A well-planned project kickoff can boost team morale, foster collaboration, and create a sense of purpose. Here’s what you should do.

  • Prepare a project kickoff agenda. Include an introduction to the project, its objectives, and expected outcomes. 
  • Present the project scope, requirements, and timeline to ensure everyone is aligned. Introduce the project team members and their roles and responsibilities. 
  • Discuss any specific project guidelines, communication protocols, and expectations.
  • Encourage open discussion and provide a platform for stakeholders to voice their concerns or suggestions.  
  • Set clear expectations for project deliverables, quality standards, and performance metrics during the project kickoff. 
  • Establish key milestones and review the project timeline.  

9. Engage Stakeholders

Stakeholder engagement is crucial for project success. Engaged stakeholders are more likely to support the project, provide valuable input, and contribute to its success. 

Actively involving stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle ensures their needs are met, expectations are managed, and potential conflicts are addressed. Start with the following:

  • Identify the key stakeholders involved in the project. This may include clients, sponsors, team members, suppliers, and end-users. 
  • Determine their level of influence, interest, and potential impact on the project. 
  • Categorize stakeholders based on their level of involvement and develop tailored engagement strategies for each group.
  • Frequently communicate with stakeholders to keep them informed about project progress, milestones, and any changes. 
  • Use various communication channels, such as project status meetings, progress reports, newsletters, and stakeholder workshops. 
  • Tailor your communication approach to each stakeholder's preferences to maximize engagement.
  • Actively seek stakeholder input and feedback throughout the project duration.
  • Encourage stakeholders to share their concerns, suggestions, and expectations.
  • Consider their input when making project decisions and adjustments. Doing so demonstrates your commitment to stakeholder engagement and builds trust and credibility.
💡Best Practice

💡Best Practice

Promptly and respectfully address any conflicts or differences of opinion among stakeholders.

10. Motivate The Team

Motivated team members are more likely to be productive, proactive, and committed to project success. By understanding stakeholders and your team members' needs and aspirations, you can effectively motivate and empower them to deliver their best work. Here’s what you should do.

  • Get to know their strengths, weaknesses, and career aspirations.
  • Understand team members' personal and professional goals and align project tasks and responsibilities accordingly. 
  • Recognize and reward team members for their contributions and achievements.
  • Celebrate milestones, project successes, and individual accomplishments. 
  • Provide regular feedback and performance evaluations to help team members improve and grow. 
  • Offer constructive criticism, highlighting areas for improvement and providing guidance on how to achieve higher performance.

Remain open to receiving feedback from team members, creating a culture of continuous improvement and mutual respect. It’s also important for project managers to create opportunities for team members to collaborate on tasks, solve problems together, and learn from each other's experiences.

11. Monitor Progress

Projects can quickly change direction without proper tracking, leading to delays, project budget overruns, and unsatisfactory outcomes, making project tracking vital.

You should be able to answer questions about all project aspects at any moment. Effective and timely project tracking requires the use of project-tracking software and tools.

Here’s why it’s so important:

  • It allows project managers to isolate where deviations exist from the project plan
  • It keeps stakeholders informed about the project's status. 
  • It keeps everyone working towards a common goal.
  • It helps identify potential risks and issues early on, allowing for timely mitigation and resolution. 

Your success in this regard will require learning how to track projects and leveraging the tools needed to become more efficient.

Where To Start Learning More About How To Manage Projects

Maybe you’re a project management newbie looking to learn what it's all about, a somewhat experienced project manager looking for best practices, or a pro wanting to kick your project management into high gear. These resources are bound to help boost your performance so that you can excel in your next projects.

If You’re A Total Beginner

If you want to make immediate contributions, these resources will help you quickly advance your project management skills, knowledge, and value.

  • Take our DPM School course (available through DPM membership): The Digital Project Manager offers project management certificate programs, mini-courses, and project management training for agencies.
  • Guide to resource management: This guide introduces effective resource management techniques and shares resource management software and best practices to help you put your best foot forward.
  • Guide to becoming a project manager: If you’re looking to land your first project manager role, this complete guide offers actionable advice to kickstart your project management career path.
  • Get our project management templates: These 16 easy-to-use templates will help you manage more effectively and streamline your processes for the best project outcomes.
  • Guide to project kickoffs: This guide covers everything you need to know about project kickoffs, including their purpose, what you should cover, and how to do them from start to finish.  

If You’ve Managed A Few Projects & You’re Still Getting The Hang Of It

If you've already managed a few projects but still feel like you have room for improvement, stay informed and updated on best practices with access to The Digital Project Manager’s incredible library of resources. 

  • Guide to project management methodologies: Learn about the most popular project management methodologies and some handy, lesser-known options, including when and how to use them to achieve project success.
  • List of project management skills you need: This article will help you develop the PM skills required in 2024 to lead better teams and deliver more successful projects.
  • Sign up for DPM membership: The Digital Project Manager’s membership offers a wealth of information and resources for ongoing professional development and a community of project management professionals to help you go further and faster.
  • Read these project management books: This is a list of the 24 best project management books to help newbies or more experienced project managers succeed.  
  • Listen to these project management podcasts: Here are 12 of the best project management podcasts, curated by Galen Low, co-founder of The Digital Project Manager and host of The DPM Podcast.
  • Guide to agile project management: This article provides everything you need to know about agile, including what it isn't and how you can use it to get results.

You’re Confident In Your Abilities & You’re Ready For The Next Step

If you're a project manager who already has a strong foundation in project management and is confident in your abilities, it's important to continue expanding your knowledge and skills to stay ahead in your career. These resources can take your knowledge and career to the next level.

  • Guide to project management certifications: This is a list of the top 9 certification programs currently available and how to get each one. In the long run, one of the best ways for a project manager to increase their value and career path is to get one of the Project Management Institute (PMI) certifications. 
  • How to become a senior project manager: This guide covers what to do (and what NOT to do) along your journey toward a senior level in the project management field.

Tools For Managing Projects

It’s no secret that we’re in a digital age, and project management tools have become indispensable for achieving project goals and getting projects completed on time and on budget. 

Project management software should offer flexible functionality and include Gantt charts, Kanban boards, project roadmaps, task management, project schedules, time tracking, work management, and integration with other systems, all in real time.

6 Mistakes To Avoid

Project management is complex and challenging; even experienced project managers can make mistakes. Being aware of common project management pitfalls can help you avoid them and ensure the success of your projects. Here are some mistakes to watch out for.

1. Scope Creep

Poorly defined project objectives and scope are still commonplace. Failing to define clear project objectives and scope can lead to confusion, scope creep, and project delays. Make sure you spend time upfront identifying project goals, deliverables, and constraints and communicating them to all stakeholders.

2. Inadequate Project Planning

Insufficient planning will lead to missed deadlines, resource constraints, and poor-quality deliverables. Make sure to invest enough time upfront in creating a detailed project plan, including task breakdowns, timelines, stakeholder identification, risk identification, and resource allocations.

💡Hint

💡Hint

Use this project checklist (available through DPM membership).

project plan screenshot
Here's a preview of our project plan checklist.

3. Infrequent Or Ineffective Communication

Communication breakdowns result in misunderstandings, delays, and conflicts within the project team and with stakeholders.

Involve all stakeholders throughout the project to gather feedback, address concerns, and ensure their satisfaction. Communicate progress regularly and seek their input to maintain their engagement and support.

4. Unrealistic Deadlines

Sometimes, the information provided can be murky, making it difficult to set realistic timelines or final project deadlines.

It’s better to slow things down initially and clarify details instead of running full steam ahead and making costly mistakes. Clearly define project timelines and communicate them to all stakeholders. This ensures that everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals.

5. Skill & Capability Gaps

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone will excel if their assigned role doesn’t match their strengths and capabilities.

It’s vital that you assemble a team with the right skills and expertise to achieve project objectives. Promote a collaborative and supportive team culture to encourage creativity and innovation.

Following this essential how-to project management guide and accessing the expansive library of project management resources will ensure you’re a well-prepared and more confident project manager today and throughout your project management journey.

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Moira Alexander
By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is a recognized thought leader and the founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, a digital content marketing agency where she helps companies create, market, and lead with engaging digital content. With over 25 years of business, information technology, and project management experience, she's been named one of the top global female thought leaders and influencers on project management, SaaS, and the future of work.