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The Secrets to Successful Project Management

Ten pieces of advice that will help you achieve your goals effectively and on time
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Към текста на български.

If you want that new website for your business, you get the money, make a plan and find the people to work on it. Simple, right? Well, if only it could really be so simple.

In real life, projects encounter changes in the budget, a lack of resources or additional requests to the initial project scope. As a matter of fact chances a project goes exactly as planned are close to zero. And the more time projects take and the more complex they are, the more likely it is they do not end on time and go over budget.

Extensive research has been done to tell us where the problem lies. Let’s have a look at the 4 main reasons why projects fail. 31% of projects fail, because of:

- Incomplete requirements (13.1%)

- Lack of user involvement (12.4%)

- Lack of resources (10.6%)

- Unrealistic expectations (9.9%)

Source: The Standish group Project Leadership Conference Chicago Presentation June 1995 

The good news is that we can plan and design projects for a successful outcome and lasting benefits. Here are ten insights.

#1 Change is the driver of your project

The first question to ask is why are we doing this project? What justifies the time, the money and the resources we are about to invest? A project is set up to bring about a change. The justification of a project is in the change the project brings about.

According to PM4SD® (Project Management for Sustainable Development) projects are driven by the deliverable(s) they are meant to produce. As a consequence all the project management activities (including planning) should be product focused rather than work based, since it should be the required product that dictates the necessary activity and not vice versa. The change will come from the deliverables. For example: setting up a mailing list is an activity, but the end product is the emailing that goes out to influence stakeholders. 

#2 Projects are temporary and unique
Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI) holds that all organizations perform two kinds of work: operational work and projects. Due to the repetitive nature of operational work, it is easier to systematize processes.

Because projects have finite start and end dates, are unique in nature, and involve mixed team players, they are more difficult to systematize and to develop sound methodologies and processes for. But all projects do have repetitive elements for which methodologies have been developed.

For a better understanding we will have a look at the definition of a project. A project is a temporary (group) endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It is temporary because there is a defined beginning and end (lifecycle).  It is unique because it consists of a specific set of actions designed to accomplish a singular goal.

Furthermore project management is about stating the obvious. Seeing the number of projects that are challenged, the obvious isn’t always so obvious. 

#3 Focus on the benefits
According to PM4SD® a benefit is a measurable improvement made. When the project is finalised, the results are delivered. While focus during a project is aimed at delivering the products, it is of crucial importance to ensure that the project also delivers actual benefits. The justification of the time, budget and resources needed for a project are in the benefits the project will entail.

For example: a new expo pavilion, meant to attract thousands of tourists, is finished in time and within scope and budget but the actual tourist turnover is below expectations.

This kind of situation is sometimes due to the fact that there is no clear understanding of what the projects is meant to deliver in terms of improvements derived from the change.

#4 Good briefing
Remember: garbage in, garbage out. To end up with a quality output clear requirements are needed. A briefing serves to define what is in scope, but also to define what is out of scope. This is done to get rid of assumptions.

Typically the briefing for a communication project consists of the following elements:  objective, background, audiences, key messages, actions, timings, budget, evaluation criteria.

Do not shy away from a high level of detail in the briefing, as details help decrease the risk of misunderstandings. Another tip is: take time to take or give the briefing.

#5 Communicate

The client briefing lays the foundations. In addition, good communication among the project team members is crucial. Good communication is like the oil in a machine, it keeps the engine going.

In fact the number one skill a good project manager should have is to be a good communicator.

A reason for this is that a project will have progressive elaboration. Progressive elaboration means that during the execution or implementation of the project the project manager will receive new information and will have to adapt.

How does the communication happen? It should happen in both a formal and in an informal way without overdoing it. Formal: planned communication moments such as follow-up meetings, circulation of meeting reports, progress documents.

Informal: talk to each other and exchange information if needed in between the planned meetings and check-up moments.

Beware of the curse of knowledge. Something might be clear in your head, but is not necessarily so in the head of someone else. Be sure to explain yourself thoroughly and ask the right question to make sure everybody involved in the project has the same level of understanding. This is valid between team members as well as between the project member and the team members.


 Автор: Михаил Вълканов

#6 Juggling time, cost and scope
Project management is of course more than communicating. Project management involves all activities needed to achieve the project objectives within the expected targets for time, cost and scope. These activities are the planning, delegation, monitoring and control of all aspects of the project, and the motivation of those involved.

The triangle of time, cost and scope, also called the devil’s triangle is very insightful. A change in one aspect of the triangle influences the two others. Understanding how the three aspects are related helps you make the right decisions on your project.

For example, if there is a cut in the budget you will probably not be able to deliver the same amount of quality as before the budget cut.

7. Roles and responsibilities
The delegation of work refers to the organisation of the work; defining who does what and clarifying roles and responsibilities. It is quite a challenge to manage roles and responsibilities well.

If for example responsibilities are not well defined there might be an overlap in work, two people doing the same thing or even worse there might be a gap, a situation where part of the work is not done.

For example: if it wasn’t clear who had to get the final confirmation of the key note speaker, than maybe nobody confirmed him or her and the project ends up with the second best speaker.

#8 Keep track
Monitoring is keeping a constant eye on the status of achievement of objectives and is an important part of the implementation phase of the project. Progress is measured against the planned objectives. And quality is measured against the planned quality.

Tools that help you keeping track are for example a progress report and a quality log. While monitoring it is advisable to also keep a log of lessons learnt. This allows for gathering important information that will be useful in future projects.

A project should also be monitored pro-actively by doing a bit of risk assessment.

#9 Planning for success is planning for quality
What is quality? According to PM4SD® quality is the ability of a product to meet its requirements. The definition is short and simple, but to actually obtain quality is not so easy. In reality it is rare that quality is described and that there is a quality plan.

It is crucial there is a common understanding of what quality is as delivery of quality products is where a project is headed.  The curse of knowledge where things are assumed but not made explicit, should be avoided.

For example: online advertising must appear to this profile of user 4 times a week when he or she visits this and that webpage.

#10 Respect the phases of the project
There are four phases in a project; the offer and briefing phase, the launch phase, the implementation phase and the reporting phase.  The offer and briefing phase lay the foundations. The launch phase consists of one or more kick-off meetings. It is the moment to get the whole project team on board. Questions such as why, when, how, where, how much and who should be answered.

The implementation phase is the phase that produces by following the briefing and the planning. Finally the reporting phase involves the final delivery, the report as well as the lessons learnt. Last but not least, success should be celebrated. 

These are ten valuable insights explaining us how to plan and design more successful projects. In addition to these valuable insights let’s look at the key ingredients for success:

- Ownership of a project – who is it for and what will it deliver?

- Support of main stakeholders

- Clear and feasible planning

- Communication – clear hierarchy

- Motivated team

In conclusion, good communication is the most crucial factor for success;  a project manager must be a good communicator throughout all the phases.

Elizabeth Van Den Bergh is a freelance project manager and communication consultant in Brussels, Belgium who also gives trainings on these topics. In recent years she has worked on a variety of communication and event projects for the European Commission and other clients and still does so. You can find more info on her website montisonline.be where you can also read more articles from her on her blog montisonline.be/blog

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