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As experts in enterprise resource management, we’re always impressed by highly skilled project managers. Program management is no easy feat. Getting advice from others in your industry can help hone your skills and provide you with new ideas and ways of doing things. To get some insider, expert knowledge, we asked women leaders in the industry to share their best tips for successful project management.
Create a Project Charter
Before a project can get started, you need to create a project charter. A project charter is “the document that turns the project from an idea into an actual program of work, with allocated owners (and agreement on funding),” says Elizabeth Harrin, Director of GirlsGuideToPM.
A basic project charter can include your project objectives, project scope and timeline, authorization for the project manager to start the project and use resources, and risk identification. Overlooking this document can lead to disorganization and a lack of clarity on your project’s goals. By laying out all of the basics of a project in one document and getting agreement from stakeholders, you’re starting out the project in alignment. This sets you and your team up for success.
A To-Do List Is Not a Project Plan
Once your team is aligned on what the project encompasses and has created a project charter, it’s time to lay out the steps to complete the project. “If you do not have a viable project plan, I guarantee you the project will fail,” shares Cerila Gailliard, Project Management Professional Consultant and Trainer at Orchestrating Your Success (OYS) LLC. “You cannot skip this important step because the project plan will tell you where you are going and how to get there.”
Gailliard also shares a common mistake she sees project managers make: “If you are managing your project by a daily to-do list, you are in trouble.” A project plan should give you a bird’s-eye view of the project from start to finish. But, it should also make the project achievable. “If it feels too general and big, chip it down into specific, actionable tasks,” says Lauren LeMunyan at Spitfire Coach. “Every item should start with a verb.”
When a project is broken down into small steps, it becomes less nebulous and intimidating.
Have Clear Goals, But Remain Flexible
As you’re building your project charter and project plan, it’s important to clearly state the goals of the project. As Harrin states: “Your job is to get to a point of clarity (at least, as far as is possible) as fast as you can. Meet with stakeholders and work out what they think the project will deliver. Hopefully everyone will have similar views on the goals and objectives for the work, but it’s better to find out early if there are conflicting expectations. Then you can work with the people concerned to unpick what they want from the project and make sure everyone gets on the same page.”
Despite all these efforts, even if you’ve created the perfect project plan, there are going to be road bumps and changes along the way. Be prepared to be flexible and nimble enough to address missed deadlines and last-minute client requests, while keeping the end goal in mind. “The goal of the project is to deliver something of value to the business, not to adhere to and abide by a document written back before you actually did any of the work,” says Harrin of GirlsGuideToPM.
Build In Time Cushions
Part of the job of a project manager is to set expectations for when a project will be completed. Underestimating how long a project will take can be demoralizing for program management and the team. It can also undermine the project by increasing costs and pushing the project over budget. Adding a time buffer on top of your estimate will make sure you still have time to handle any bumps along the road. LeMunyan of Spitfire Coach suggests overestimating how long a project will take you to complete. “…if you use less time, it becomes found time and will boost motivation and morale when you feel ahead of schedule,” she shares.
Another strong approach is basing your estimate on historical data from previous, similar projects. This will help you to build a precise schedule. If you use top-tier project management tools for your time tracking, gathering this info can be easy.
Act, Don’t React
For those working in program management, planning ahead and managing expectations is one of the biggest roles they play within an organization. Staying one step ahead of the project and its potential problems means being ready to act.
“Know what — and when — tasks need to be done to meet target milestones,” Leigh Espy, Founder of Project Bliss, says. “This way you can plan accordingly and act, rather than spending time reacting.” Planning ahead means you can respond to issues before they become problems. Your project charter and your project management tools can be your first line of defense in knowing what your next move should be for any scenario.
Don’t Assume, and Document Everything
Program management is a lot about designing a plan and then helping the team with time management. But, there are two key things every project manager should keep in mind. LeMunyan of Spitfire Coach says, “If it’s not documented, it’s not being managed. Just because it’s clear to you in your head, doesn’t mean it is to others.”
An easy pitfall that many stakeholders and project managers fall into is assuming something is understood by all. This leads to LeMunyan’s other piece of critical advice: “Avoid assumptions at all costs. Clarify, clarify, and then verify. Priorities and timelines need to be agreed upon.” By making sure everyone is in agreement and all changes to the project plan are documented in writing, a good project manager makes sure the project stays on track and there aren’t any misunderstandings.
Not only must project managers document everything, they must also make sure that the information is readily available to everyone on the project. With this in mind, Harrin suggests putting documentation into cloud-based software. “Having that data available in a cloud-based system is helpful as people can access it from anywhere, which is even more important these days.”
Communicate for Clarity
The most important aspect of a project is resource management. Managing resources is the key to meeting time, cost, and profit targets. Without clear, regular communication, resources aren’t being properly managed and a project is doomed to fail. Communication “helps you not only better understand your project needs and interdependencies. It also ensures that you and your team are in alignment on who needs to carry out actions to meet project goals and deadlines,” says Espy of Project Bliss.
Communication ensures that the project can move forward without misunderstandings, but it has another benefit too, according to Espy. “If people have clarity about their tasks, they can do them faster [and] you are chased less for clarification, so it takes you less time to shepherd the work through to completion.” This time savings can lead to cost savings for your team and your client — a win-win.
Project management is a key component for enterprise resource management. These expert tips encompass advice for every aspect of project management and ensuring that your project is a success. Implement these project management tips from women leaders to take your skills to the next level and add hours back to your day.