Vic Passion & Jennifer Riebli, TechProse

Every project is different, but there are several tried and true project-management practices that have a place in every toolbox. Every project manager (PM) is different too; there are PMs who manage the project and do the work, PMs with internal clients, and PMs with clients who are external to their companies. Regardless of the type of PM you are or the project you are leading, practice the following tips the next time you manage a project.

1. Get everyone on the same page from Day One: When the client and team clearly understand the scope and assumptions from the beginning, you eliminate the ambiguity that can derail a project. Everyone should interpret the scope and assumptions in the same way, so make sure that they are documented and communicated to the team. Whether you’re working with an internal or external client, invite the project team and the client to a project kick-off meeting, where you’ll discuss the scope and each assumption in detail.

2. Always hold a formal kick-off meeting for your project: Kick-off meetings bring the client and the team together to set expectations and discuss the project in detail. These meetings should be productive and fun. You can hold two kick-off meetings if you’d like, one for your project team and one for the client. Remember, the kick-off meeting does more than bring everyone together; it formalizes the project and helps ensure a smooth start.

3. If your project team has to work within a budget, keep a secret stash of hours. You’ll be glad you did. Chances are you’ll need to hand out these hours when your team is nearing a deadline and needs more time to complete a deliverable.

4. Again, for project teams on a budget, allot hours to team members per deliverable. Avoid handing out a big pile of hours for team members to use throughout the project. Instead, have your team track their hours to deliverables. This practice helps them see the big picture and stay efficient. It also motivates them to proactively warn you when they see trouble ahead.

5. Turn in frequent deliverables to the client. Plan to give your client interim deliverables at least every three weeks. This keeps the client in touch with your team’s progress and prevents unpleasant surprises. If your final deliverable is huge, give the client an early representative sample from the larger deliverable, such as the first lesson, a short newsletter, or a typical chapter. If it’s not possible to present an early representative sample deliverable, show the client a similar sample from another project. You may also want to pilot the deliverable.

6. It takes a village to plan a project. While it may be difficult to involve team members before a project gets the green light, it’s a good idea to include as many people as possible in your planning effort. Here are some examples of how you can bring people together:

  • If a salesperson sold the contract, review the contract with the project team before the client signs it. This will help you validate the time and effort being proposed.
  • Schedule a work breakdown structure (WBS) session with your project team. Discuss the various work elements and the level of effort they will require. If you’re lucky enough to hold this session before the contract is signed, have one person serve as Assumptions Sheriff to document the assumptions your team discusses. Make sure these assumptions find their way into future conversations with the client—or into the contract. If you can meet in person, capture comments on large sticky notes and transcribe later. If you’re meeting virtually, consider using an online tool to capture the WBS with the team.

When you involve team members in this way, you promote buy-in and camaraderie and make everyone feel they are part of the solution. With the team’s buy-in, you’ll have a stronger plan and more committed workers.

7. Communicate often. Schedule weekly or daily meetings with your project team, and then with the client, to review status and discuss any issues. The frequency of your meetings will depend on the size of the team and the length of the project.

8. Learn and improve. Over the course of a large project or at the end of a small project, hold a lessons learned meeting with the entire team to gather and give feedback to improve people and processes. Don’t forget to include your client in these conversations: their feedback is critical. Click here to learn more about how to plan and conduct a lessons learned meeting:

9. Do sweat the small stuff. Bring up risks when they are still small and easier to mitigate. And don’t hesitate to bring up risks with the team and the client. It’s better to mention a risk now than to admit later that you saw it coming but failed to act. Have a plan for mitigating risks, even if your plan is simply to keep an eye on them. Click here to learn more about managing risk:

10. Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s tempting to want to impress your client and promise them the moon and the stars. But your client will be less than impressed if you don’t meet your commitments. It’s better to say “maybe, and here’s why” than “definitely” for requests that fall outside your project’s scope.

About the Author(s)
Vic Passion, Director of Consulting Services Vic Passion has over 20 years of experience delivering project management, instructional design, communications, and change management solutions to customers. She brings extensive background from needs analysis to evaluation to all TechProse projects. Clients have included San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, and Gap.

Jennifer Riebli, Director of Learning Solutions Jennifer Riebli brings over a decade of training development expertise to the TechProse team’s private and public-sector clients. Since 1997, she has managed, developed, and delivered training solutions for TechProse clients including Cisco, Yahoo!, New York City Transit, and Logitech. From traditional Instructor-led Training to cutting-edge virtual, collaborative learning technologies, Jennifer has helped companies assess their needs and develop solutions that work for their audiences.