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January 2014

By: Moira Alexander, I.S.P., ITCP/IP3P, PMP, Conture—Director, IT Advisory

Project Management – 10 Tips To Help Keep Projects Under Control

Like so many other things in business these days, successfully completing projects has become far more complicated and demanding. This is due to complex internal and external factors that business owners may not be prepared for. Below are only a few of these factors that may impact the success of projects in any business.

  • Ambiguous business strategies or goals
  • Complex internal policies or practices
  • Resource shortages
  • Budget constraints
  • Human Resource issues or lack of management support
  • Technologies
  • Time constraints
  • Conflicting goals and priorities
  • Regulatory changes or hurdles
  • Operational changes
  • Ineffective communication

So what does Project management really mean? By definition for business applications it can be described in many ways, but in general it is a temporary undertaking, usually for the purpose of creating unique products or services. It involves a start and end date, and is made up of milestones and tasks embedded within five phases; initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling and closeout. Project management is not just for construction, manufacturing or systems implementations anymore, it can be applied to all industries.

How important is effective project management to a business?

Often the internal and external factors like some of the ones mentioned above can drastically reduce an owner’s ability to carefully monitor and control constraints like cost, quality and time required for successful completion. When one of these constraints is altered, it will shift the others out of balance since they are usually in direct conflict. Ultimately it can derail a project completely, leading to a very expensive loss for any business. Project managers can play an essential role in ensuring this can be avoided.

How does hiring an experienced project manager make a difference?

Project managers, sponsors and stakeholders work as a team. These teams often use various tools and technologies to ensure all activities are properly identified, vetted, tracked, monitored, and accurately documented to meet the strategic goals and objectives of a business.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting a project is to make sure the scope of a project is clearly defined and approved, measured, and monitored by all stakeholders. This should help ensure a project is kept under control, and the outcome is successful.

So what are some other ways to keep a project within scope, on time, on budget, and still maintain quality? Here are just a few tips to keep in mind.

10 Tips To Help Keep Projects Under Control

1. Ensure you have an excellent understanding of how the project fits with the overall business strategy. This will influence decisions made throughout the project. If you neglect this, you could run the risk of missing the business objectives altogether and have costly mistakes.
2. Spend most of the time on the initial planning, and ensure you identify the requirements correctly/accurately (because the devil is in the details). One of the biggest reasons for going over budget is scope creep.
3. Make sure to identify and involve all key players in the project team – get their buy-in and input from the beginning, because they bring different and relevant perspectives and experiences to the project. If you don’t, you run the risk of one of them possibly side-lining the project. Also ensure there is full owner/management support.
4. Be realistic in defining what time, cost and quality requirements look like.
5. Be truthful, transparent, and timely with project sponsors about all aspects from the beginning to the end – this is better than an unwanted surprise and frustration at the end that could have been avoided.
6. Ensure you have a good communications plan tailored to the needs of the different personality types. This will help ensure they have the information they need to keep the project moving in a timely manner and prevent cost overruns. Clear and timely communication is critical.
7. Schedule regular meetings to keep all project team members up to speed on the status of tasks, and keep things moving in the right direction. Don’t get caught in politics or personal agendas.
8. Ensure human resources are not over scheduled to avoid burn out. It is important not to over burden team members. It can cost a project precious time having to start over with new resources if one or more key players have to leave a project before completion.
9. Find a real-time accurate project management software solution to make the updating of project status easily reportable and accessible by all key participants.
10. Continuously monitor all aspects of a project throughout all phases. Don’t drop the ball on issues that arise, follow through is key.

Try to use agile project management practices, to center on continuous improvement, flexibility, and team performance, and to ensure the deliverables and final outcomes are always client-focused.

Above all, the most important thing is to ensure the majority of the work, effort and time are spent in the planning phase. Ensure goals are thoroughly planned out by involving key stakeholders from day one, through to the project end. This can help to mitigate any re-work, increased cost, time and quality issues later. Without this, a project could easily be derailed and cause huge disappointment from stakeholders.

Also consider engaging the help of a good independent project manager to ensure the project has the unbiased guidance it deserves to be a success. These tips can save any business owner much undue stress and aggravation, and free up time for them to concentrate on the things that need their attention most.

While this is not a complete list of project management tips it provides some key things that should be taken into account to increase the chances of a successful outcome – this leads to a satisfied client.

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