Five Tips for Effective Project Management

Project planning is critical to the success of all projects. However, many project managers struggle with it every day. In this article we discuss some of the pitfalls of project planning and how to avoid them.

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Project Management has come a long way in recent years turning a loosely-tied community of practitioners into a growing and thriving industry through governing and certifying organizations like Project Management Institute (PMI), and others. Today’s project manager can benefit from training and knowledge sharing through these organizations and their members across the industry. Project managers enter the field with much stronger preparation and training than in years past. However, as we all understand, formal training, while beneficial, cannot fully substitute for years of experience. This is true in most professional fields and project management is no exception. While there are no shortages of tricks of the trade from experienced practitioners, these tips provide both new and experienced project managers opportunities to look outside of their formal training toward more effective project management.

Tip #1 - Understand Your Team

Project Management training consists of many topics; however, one of the most difficult functions to understand is the team dynamic. Effective project managers must understand the individual characteristics of all of their team members in order to utilize them in a way that capitalizes on their strengths and helps develop their weaknesses. Team members may not be forthcoming with or completely understand their own strengths and weaknesses, so the project manager must be in tune to his/her team. The project manager must also understand the different personalities that comprise the team and the dynamics of how they work together. This is where solid interpersonal skills like communications and conflict management are beneficial.

Tip #2 – Stand Firm on Project Scope

Projects may have many different competing influences within an organization as well as externally. Effective project managers do significant amounts of work early in the project’s lifecycle to define, document, and communicate the project scope. Effective project managers also implement a strict change management process is in place in order to ensure any proposed changes to the project are within the original scope. Project managers who fail to implement such measures or are easily swayed by out of scope changes are rarely effective as projects tend to get off course and fail.

Tip #3 - Truly Understand Your Stakeholders

Much like understanding their team personalities and dynamics, effective project managers understand the influence and relationships of their stakeholders. Stakeholders will vary in number depending on the size and complexity of the project, but their influence is always present. In addition to understanding and managing stakeholder influence and relationships, effective project managers understand how each stakeholder is impacted by the project. This allows the project manager to proactively manage the project by anticipating questions and concerns various stakeholders may have as well as ensuring impacts to them are considered.

Tip #4 - Don’t Work in a Vacuum

In all aspects of project management communication is the key to success. Effective project managers understand this and know that the importance of communication permeates all knowledge areas and process groups. The effective project manager understands this and uses communication to help achieve project success. Implementing a thorough Communications Management Plan is one key to successful project communication. In order to communicate effectively, there must be a documented process for who communicates, how they communicate, when communications are needed, and what information is communicated. Informal communications outside of the plan are also necessary for the project manager to understand the pulse of the project, conflicts, morale, and team expectations.

Tip #5 - Understand and Use the Organizational Structure

Organizations and project teams may be structured in any number of different ways. Project teams may be a matrix structure wherein team members work on a project but report to different functional managers. They may be projectized in which team members report to the project manager. Effective project managers understand these structures and how to manage their pros and cons to the best possible advantage. Establishing positive relationships with functional managers and creating and communicating clear requirements and expectations are examples of how effective project managers can leverage the organizational structure to their advantage.