Everybody does projects: whether it’s simply going on holiday, developing a complicated new product or anywhere in between. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re particularly successful. Using some project management skills, tools and techniques can significantly increase your chances of not only achieving what you set out to achieve, but also making sure that it’s more likely to be beneficial in the long run. So here are the top ten tips for improving your management of projects:
1. Get help. Managing projects often requires knowledge or skills we don’t have. Find some people who do to help you.
2. Listen to the stakeholders. Projects can involve or affect a lot of people. Find out their views, particularly about the long-term benefits of doing the project. While you may not be able to meet everyone’s needs, you may pick up other ideas or ways to manage the project.
3. Set achievable and realistic objectives. Clarify and specify what the project will deliver. Be confident that it can be achieved by comparing what you need and what you’ve got. Ensure that it should be done by comparing the benefits (tangible as well as intangible) with the cost of doing it.
4. Manage risks. Don’t assume that anything will go the way you expect. Identify which things might get in the way and consider how likely and how damaging each one can be. Deal immediately with the ones that are high on both counts. Deal with the ones that are high on one or the other by having a ‘plan B’. Don’t worry about the rest.
5. Identify all the things that need doing and put them in order. List all the tasks that need to be done to achieve the project, who will do each one, what help they may need and when each task must be done by. Create a flow chart that shows which tasks depend on which other tasks. This will help identify missing tasks, clarify how well each task must be done and show things that can be done in parallel.
6. Estimate the time for each task. Consider the size and complexity of the task and how efficient the resources are to determine the ‘effort’ (people’s time). Divide this by the number of people who will do it to determine the ‘duration’. Increase the duration, if necessary, to allow for any working time they won’t spend on the task.
7. Determine the overall time needed for the project. Add up the duration of the tasks on each distinct path from the beginning to the end of the project. The longest path is the duration of the project. Allow for weekends and other non-working times to find the overall time. If this is longer than you’ve got, you can now identify and action other solutions.
8. Get commitment. Make sure that the people who want the project done, the people who will do it and the people who will pay for it are committed to it.
9. Stay in control. At regular intervals, check on the progress. If it’s not as you planned, take action to get it back on track. If budgets are your number one priority, you will have to renegotiate or slim them down. If time is the major factor, consider pulling in other people to help, but balance this against cost.
10. Learn. After the project is complete, look back over it to identify ideas for improving future projects. Keep a log of these ideas, organised by area, so that you can quickly refer to them the next time you have to manage a project.