While modern technology allows us to amplify our abilities and do more than we ever could before, the sheer amount of inputs and information has led us to somewhat of a tipping point. Today, business communication is so ubiquitous that most employees spend the majority of their time responding to emails, answering phones, and participating in meetings, not to mention the time spent on Slack and other forums for discussion—not actually, you know, working.
It’s enough to overwhelm even the most organized worker, but what about project managers who are responsible for codifying and making sense of countless bits of information for a particular project? Unless you have a system, it’s easy to spin your wheels endlessly, chasing down unimportant details and leaving yourself no time to deal with the bigger picture. After all, you’re not solely a documentarian, and an endless amount of data only serves to complicate issues further.
Even worse, each project stakeholder has a different agenda and interest at hand, and odds are no one has the holistic birds-eye view you do, which is why you’re the one shepherding the project along. But if there’s ever a problem like a missed deliverable or an expanding budget, you’ll likely get the blame, at least in part, which is why it helps to adhere to a system of project management best practices that’ll minimize the chances of things derailing.
1. Source input from all important stakeholders
Before you even start organizing and attempting to make sense of a given project, it’s essential to canvas all the important stakeholders. This includes the client, each department where work will take place, and any other integral players. The good thing is that each discussion can be just 10 or 15 minutes long, but the information is invaluable. Indeed, after building a personal knowledge base, you’ll start to develop a unique view of the entire project. When a problem comes up — and trust us, they always do — you’re in a great position to balance everyone’s interests against the needs of the project. One of the most important project management best practices is to always understand the aim of the project for everyone involved.
2. Have a contingency plan
In project management, it’s not a matter of if something goes wrong, it’s when. So after you’ve talked to all the key players, make a note of any potential problems or pain points raised, including anything you can think of after a quick analysis. If you need to call another meeting to walk through something specific, do so. A year-long project can easily be thrown upside down for any number of reasons, and the better you can anticipate and plan for these pain points, the better off you and your project will be. “What can you see that may go wrong?” is a powerful question to ask each resource in order to plan for each potential situation.
3. Determine responsibilities, handoff points, and deliverables
Once you’ve sourced feedback from important stakeholders and identified where and when the project is likely to go off track, it’s time to create a project plan that identifies each deliverable, handoff point, and the responsibilities of each participant or department. Be specific. Vague tasks, deadlines, or obligations are easily excused away, and you’ll have to clarify yourself or the project plan down the line anyway. Additionally, the more comprehensive your plan, the more likely it is that you’ll get buy-in after approval. Others will trust that you’re the right person to lead the project, and any disagreements can be easily remedied by consulting or amending the plan.
4. Don’t forget that you’re dealing with people
With all the talk of certifications and other technical competencies, most project managers wouldn’t be blamed for a strong focus on the tools that help them organize and keep track of various inputs and dependencies. But project plans, deadlines, and budgets won’t get the work done, the people do. As a project manager, you are a leader, and it pays to have empathy for the person on the other end of the line or email. Their concerns are real, and understanding where they’re coming from will help you organize and run a better project. And the next time you work with them — because there’s always a next time — you’ll be seen as a friendly face, not a taskmaster consumed by spreadsheets and budgets.
5. Project management software can help
As time is a finite resource we can’t make any more of, it’s important to make the most of the time you have, both professionally and personally. From a project management perspective, the right piece of specialist software not only makes your job easier due to increased efficiency in organization and presentation, but it frees you up to do the heavy thinking that might save your next project. Sure, software can tell you that a deadline is coming up, but the real benefit is in offloading the cumbersome bits that steal precious mindshare from your real value as a living, thinking person.
That’s why at LiquidPlanner, we created a suite of project management tools that helps you scale your efforts at a higher level across bigger and better projects. Our software uses intelligent, resource-driven scheduling technology that allows you to embrace uncertainty in an increasingly uncertain field. Your superiors want answers, and we’ll help you ascertain what they are, or at least free you up to figure it out. That’ll make you a better PM, and it just might kick your career into overdrive.