If you’re going through a project and hitting some bumps in the road, it may be time to change course a bit. Where are your problems occurring? Software design? Testing? Project administration? Could it be how the project is being managed? I know this is a tough pill to swallow, but you have to step back and ask yourself this – even if it’s just to rule it out.
But what if you are looking at it closely and at least some of it points to organization and management of the project itself? Are you using best practices? Repeatable processes that have worked for you in the past and possibly for others? It may be time to consider some best practices to get you through the project engagement and get everything back on track. Let’s consider some of those best practices.
I could give you 20 or 30 I’m certain, but what would you consider the top best project management practices that you should consistently stick to in order to get your successfully through a project with as few issues as possible? There is no wrong or right answer, of course. Because if it’s working for you (more than once) then it probably isn’t luck and you should probably stick with them and keep adding consistency and repetition to the project process. Keep doing what works and throw out what just doesn’t seem to be working. I will get to what works for me – as the 6 top best practices that I recommend – in a moment.
One size fits all status reporting.
This may not sound like a best practice to some of you, but in my opinion it definitely is. Finding a one-size-fits all status reporting process and structure means the project manager can get the info to every stakeholder who needs it and wants it in a shorter period of time with less effort. What does that mean? It certainly means that even on those weeks when the PM is swamped, they can still get the status reporting done. And with the use of a good dashboard at the beginning, those who just want a quick project health update can still get it easily. And the key players, the customer and team, will always have the right and accurate information weekly.
Reuse project schedules that work.
Never re-invent the wheel when you don’t have to. If you have a project schedule that worked before and it is similar to the project you are about to undertake, then use it again as a getting started template or shell for the new project. You will be less likely to miss a small, but important task in setting up the new project or put in a odd or inaccurate estimation of duration or effort for a task you’ve led on a project 30 times before. If you already have it…use it.
Start every meeting with an agenda.
Meetings are critical communication undertakings on project engagements. You call them for regular dissemination of information or to get info for decision making or to review status or issues on a project. They may be formal, informal or impromptu, but they are – or at least should be – always important. The best meetings happen with planning, not by luck. Plan out an agenda so you know what you want and need to accomplish and so that you can come across as a very organized meeting facilitator. The goal is to get the best attendance and participation as possible and to keep getting that at future meetings because you have gained the reputation as a great meeting facilitator. Having a great agenda – and sending it out in advance to all participants and then following it – is how you get there. Oh, and stay on time…nobody likes meetings that drag on longer than planned or start late.
Follow up after project meetings.
Always, always, always followup after meetings with notes. Update your agenda with notes and outcomes from the meeting and send to all participants asking them to confirm or reply with changes within 24 hours. The goal is to ensure that everyone is on the same page with the same understanding post-meeting. Followup like this is how you ensure that.
Touch base with the full team daily.
Weekly full team meetings are advised – I always do them 1-2 days in advance of the weekly formal customer project status meeting. That way I always have my team’s most up to date status for the status report and revised project schedule. But a daily touch base – it can even just be a brief email every day mid-day to all team members – is a good way to give a quick status update to the team and ask if they have any feedback or status updates.
Touch base with the customer at least weekly.
Finally, the customer needs a formal weekly status call. But a daily touch base in the form of an email is a great way to keep the customer engaged and to keep them confident in your team’s forward progress on the project. Some customers are easy going, and some get nervous if they haven’t heard from you in a day or two. If you are communicating with them too much, they will tell you. And that’s far better than too little.
What’s worked for you?
That’s six of my top best practices. What about you – what do you consider to be some of your key practices and routines you go through to help ensure project success? Please share and discuss.
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