How to manage a project

Project management can seem overwhelming. However, if you follow the steps outlined in this article, you’ll understand that a project typically must be defined, planned, monitored & closed. Also, there is a lot of common sense that goes into successfully managing a project.

Defining & understanding your project

Scope, requirements, specifications, definitions, objectives

To understand what is expected from you, you’ll have to define the project and understand what it’s all about. Get your hands on all documents that have been exchanged so far by the stakeholders and centralize them. Clearly document all the requirements in one document– oftentimes requirements may be in several documents, emails, conference call recordings, handwritten notes, and so on.

Planning your project (aka building your project plan)

Tasks, subtasks, Work breakdown structures

Once you have an initial version of the requirements, you’ll be able to list the tasks that will be required to accomplish your project. These tasks can be grouped under activities. Examples:

Network diagraming, task sequence

Order your tasks in the sequence they should be done. Assign a duration to each task. Once you do this, you’ll determine your project’s critical path. The critical path is the longest sequence of tasks need to accomplish your project. Examples

Build your Gantt chart

A Gantt chart depicts your project schedule with the list of tasks. The Gantt chart also shows the dependencies between the tasks. It is a very useful visualization of your project schedule.

People, skillsets, resources, costs

You have all your tasks listed. You know what kind of work is required to accomplish each task. You now need to assign skillsets to each task and determine what kind of resource will be required for each task. You will now be able to refine the budget needed to complete your project.

Review, adjust, update

You now have a draft document that contains a Gantt chart, people, resources & a budget. Review all of these. Add contingency or remove fluff from tasks, schedules, people & resources need.

Assumptions, risks, mitigation

You should be able to document all the risks and assumptions of your project. For each risk, list ways that will help to deal with the risk.

Your project plan

You now have your initial project plan ready. It contains:

  • Project objectives, specifications & list of stakeholders.
  • Gantt chart showing the project schedule, task & their dependencies.
  • People, resources, skillsets & budget.
  • Risks, assumptions, and a risk mitigation strategy.

Monitoring your project

Progress, costs & project plan

Your project has now started. You will need to update & review your project plan as the project progress. You will also need to hold regular checkpoints to inform that stakeholders of the progress & get their approvals for changes against the original plan.

Closing your project

Close & review

Once you get agreement from your client for the closure of the project, hand over and review deliverables, documentation and contracts. Also, release all the people who were working on the project.

Do a formal project closure meeting. You should also do a project review and document what worked well and what didn’t.

And, don’t forget to celebrate!

If you follow the steps above, you’ll never go wrong, and you’ll have a method to manage any project.

Note: this article is a high-level overview of what a project is all about. Each and every step is detailed in this website.

  1. Define and understand your project: Gather all project documents from stakeholders and centralize them. Create a single document listing all requirements, which might be scattered across various sources like emails, notes, or recordings.
  2. Plan your project: List all tasks and group them under activities. Arrange tasks sequentially and assign durations to determine the project’s critical path – the longest sequence of tasks required for completion.
  3. Create a Gantt chart: Develop a Gantt chart to visualize the project schedule, including tasks and dependencies, helping you monitor progress and manage resources effectively.
  4. Allocate people, skillsets, resources, and costs: Assign appropriate skillsets and resources to each task and calculate the budget needed to complete the project.
  5. Review, adjust, and update: Evaluate your draft project plan, making adjustments to tasks, schedules, resources, and budgets as necessary.
  6. Identify assumptions, risks, and mitigation strategies: Document project risks and assumptions, and develop plans to minimize their potential consequences.
  7. Monitor your project: Regularly update and review your project plan, tracking progress and costs. Hold checkpoint meetings to inform stakeholders and seek approvals for any changes to the original plan.
  8. Close your project: Obtain agreement from your client, hand over deliverables, and release project resources. Hold a formal project closure meeting and review the project’s successes and challenges.

By following these steps, you’ll have a structured approach to managing any project, improving your project management skills, and contributing to your organization’s success.

Understanding Your Project: Scope, Requirements, Specifications, Definitions, Objectives

Before starting your project, grasp its scope, requirements, specifications, definitions, and objectives. This understanding helps align team members and stakeholders to achieve common goals.

A. Scope: Define the project boundaries and limitations. Specify what’s included and excluded for decision-making and resource allocation.

Example: In mobile app development, the scope may cover specific features, but not website creation or marketing materials.

B. Requirements: Identify stakeholders’ expectations, needs, and desires. Base deliverables on these requirements to understand the final product’s goals.

Example: For an e-commerce website, requirements may include a user-friendly interface, secure payments, and easy inventory management.

C. Specifications: Detail descriptions of requirements, including technical aspects, performance criteria, and quality standards. Use specifications to guide the team and evaluate outcomes.

Example: In software development, specifications may cover programming languages, APIs, and data storage solutions.

D. Definitions: Clarify key terms, concepts, and processes for effective communication. Minimize confusion and misunderstandings among team members and stakeholders.

Example: In construction, definitions may cover industry terms like “load-bearing walls,” “footings,” or “floor area ratio.”

E. Objectives: Establish high-level, SMART goals for the project. Provide direction and focus for the team.

Example: In digital marketing, objectives may include a 20% website traffic increase within six months, generating 500 new leads, or achieving a 10% conversion rate on a specific landing page.

By defining and understanding your project’s scope, requirements, specifications, definitions, and objectives, you’ll be ready to plan and execute your project. This foundation ensures the project stays on track and all parties work together toward the desired outcome.

Planning Your Project: Tasks, Subtasks, Work Breakdown Structures

After understanding your project’s scope, requirements, specifications, definitions, and objectives, plan your project. Break it into tasks and subtasks, and create a work breakdown structure (WBS).

  1. Tasks: Identify specific, actionable activities required to achieve the project objectives. Assign tasks to responsible parties.

Example: In event planning, tasks may include selecting a venue, sending invitations, booking a caterer, and arranging audio-visual equipment.

  • Subtasks: Divide tasks into smaller, detailed activities for easier management.

Example: In software development, break down “Develop user interface” into subtasks like “Design navigation menu,” “Create content page layout,” and “Implement responsive design.”

  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): Develop a hierarchical representation of tasks and subtasks, organized by project phases or deliverables. Use the WBS as a visual roadmap to understand task relationships and dependencies.

Example: In a website redesign, organize the WBS into phases like “Discovery and planning,” “Design,” “Development,” and “Testing and deployment,” with relevant tasks and subtasks.

To build an effective project plan:

  1. Identify all tasks and subtasks, considering team members’ and stakeholders’ input, and using historical data if possible.
  2. Arrange tasks and subtasks hierarchically, grouped by project phases or deliverables.
  3. Assign responsibilities, ensuring team members have necessary skills and resources.
  4. Estimate task and subtask durations, factoring in complexity, dependencies, and resource availability.
  5. Determine task dependencies, constraints, and risks that may impact the schedule.

By carefully planning and creating a WBS, you establish a strong foundation for successful project execution. This organization ensures team members understand their roles and helps the project progress smoothly and efficiently.

Network Diagramming, Task Sequencing

After making a work breakdown structure (WBS) and listing tasks and subtasks, create a network diagram and determine the optimal task sequence. This helps visualize project workflow, identify dependencies, and set a timeline.

A. Network Diagram: A network diagram graphically represents tasks and dependencies, illustrating work flow from start to finish. Use methods like the Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM) or Arrow Diagramming Method (ADM) to create network diagrams.

Example: In product development, the network diagram may show task sequence from concept development to prototyping, testing, manufacturing, and marketing.

B. Task Sequencing: Arrange tasks in completion order, considering dependencies and resource availability. Proper sequencing prevents bottlenecks, minimizes delays, and maintains schedules.

Example: In software implementation, sequencing may involve installing hardware and software, configuring settings, migrating data, training end-users, and conducting user acceptance testing.

To create an effective network diagram and task sequence:

  1. List tasks and subtasks from the WBS.
  2. Determine task dependencies, considering resource requirements, technical constraints, and milestones.
  3. Create a network diagram, either manually or with project management software. Represent tasks as nodes or arrows, using lines for dependencies.
  4. Assign durations to tasks based on complexity, resource availability, and constraints.
  5. Identify the critical path, the longest task sequence necessary for on-time project completion. The critical path determines project duration and highlights tasks with no delay allowance.
  6. Analyze the network diagram and sequence to identify bottlenecks or risks, and develop contingency plans.

By creating a network diagram and sequencing tasks, you establish a clear execution roadmap. This ensures team members understand project workflow, dependencies, and timeline, leading to a more efficient and successful project outcome.

Gantt Chart

A Gantt chart is a popular project management tool that visually displays tasks, durations, and dependencies over time. It helps track progress, identify delays or bottlenecks, and make informed decisions about resource allocation and scheduling.

A. Creating a Gantt Chart: Gantt charts use horizontal bars to represent tasks on a timeline. The bar length shows task duration, and the position indicates start and end dates. Vertical lines or arrows depict task dependencies.

Example: In a website redesign project, a Gantt chart might display tasks like “Design homepage,” “Develop site navigation,” and “Test user experience” with their start and end dates and dependencies.

To create a Gantt chart:

  1. List tasks and subtasks from the WBS, including durations and dependencies.
  2. Determine the project’s start date and create a timeline, using a calendar format or continuous timescale.
  3. Plot tasks on the timeline, positioning bars based on start and end dates. Ensure dependencies are accurately reflected.
  4. Add milestones or key events, such as project reviews or deadlines.
  5. Use color-coding or visual cues to differentiate between task types, project phases, or resources.

B. Using a Gantt Chart for Project Management: Gantt charts help track progress, communicate with stakeholders, and make data-driven decisions throughout the project’s lifecycle.

  • Monitor progress: Compare planned schedules with actual progress to identify delays, slippages, or deviations.
  • Adjust resources and scheduling: Make informed decisions about reallocating resources, rescheduling tasks, or revising deadlines based on the Gantt chart.
  • Communicate with stakeholders: Share the Gantt chart to provide a clear project status, progress, and milestone overview.
  • Identify and manage risks: Spot potential risks, like resource conflicts or tight deadlines, and develop mitigation strategies.

By creating and using a Gantt chart, you gain a powerful tool for guiding your project from start to finish. This enables better communication, planning, and proactive decision-making, ultimately leading to a more successful project outcome.

People, Skillsets, Resources, Costs

A successful project depends on the right people, appropriate skillsets, adequate resources, and a well-managed budget. Proper identification and allocation of these elements are crucial for keeping your project on track and ensuring success.

A. People: Form a team with the necessary skills, experience, and expertise for the project tasks. Consider both internal team members and external consultants or contractors.

Example: In a software development project, the team may consist of software engineers, UI/UX designers, quality assurance specialists, and project managers.

B. Skillsets: Evaluate the required skills for each task and match them with suitable team members. Ensure each person has the necessary competencies for their assigned tasks.

Example: In a marketing campaign project, skillsets may include graphic design, copywriting, social media management, and data analysis.

C. Resources: Identify the physical, technological, and informational resources needed for the project, such as equipment, software, office space, or proprietary data access.

Example: In a construction project, resources may include construction materials, heavy machinery, permits, and architectural plans.

D. Costs: Estimate the costs for each task and resource, and develop a project budget. Consider labor costs, material expenses, equipment rental or purchase, and other financial requirements.

Example: In an event planning project, costs may include venue rental, catering, audio-visual equipment, and promotional materials.

To allocate people, skillsets, resources, and costs effectively:

  1. Review the project’s WBS and its tasks and subtasks.
  2. Identify the required skills and expertise for each task and select team members accordingly.
  3. Determine the resources needed for each task, ensuring availability and compatibility with the project timeline.
  4. Estimate the costs for each task and resource, and develop a detailed project budget, including contingencies for unexpected expenses or scope changes.
  5. Monitor and adjust the allocation of people, skillsets, resources, and costs throughout the project. Address resource constraints, skill gaps, or budget overruns promptly.

By carefully allocating people, skillsets, resources, and costs, you’ll manage your project effectively and achieve a successful outcome. This proactive approach helps minimize risks, prevent delays, and maintain focus on project objectives.

Review, Adjust, Update

Throughout the project lifecycle, it’s vital to consistently review, adjust, and update your project plan. This ensures relevance, accuracy, and alignment with your objectives. Regular reviews help identify potential issues, optimize resource allocation, and make informed decisions on necessary adjustments.

A. Review: Regularly review the project’s progress by comparing actual results to the planned schedule, resource allocation, and budget. Involve team members and stakeholders in the review process for valuable insights and feedback.

Example: In a product launch project, review meetings may discuss prototype development status, production schedules, marketing plans, and sales projections.

B. Adjust: Based on review findings, make necessary adjustments to the project plan, such as revising deadlines, reallocating resources, or modifying tasks. Communicate these adjustments clearly to all relevant parties and document them for future reference.

Example: In a software development project, adjustments might include extending testing timelines, reallocating developers to address critical bugs, or changing the scope to accommodate new feature requests.

C. Update: Revise the project plan, incorporating adjustments made during the review process. Update the work breakdown structure (WBS), Gantt chart, network diagram, and other project management tools to reflect the latest information and decisions.

Example: In a website redesign project, updates may involve modifying the Gantt chart to show revised task durations, updating the network diagram for new dependencies, or adjusting the project budget for additional expenses.

To effectively review, adjust, and update your project plan:

  1. Set a regular schedule for project reviews, such as weekly or monthly meetings, involving key team members and stakeholders.
  2. Compare actual project progress to the plan, identifying deviations in schedule, resource allocation, or budget.
  3. Analyze deviations’ root causes and determine appropriate adjustments, such as rescheduling tasks, reallocating resources, or revising project scope.
  4. Clearly and promptly communicate adjustments to all relevant parties, ensuring they understand the implications and their role in implementing changes.
  5. Update the project plan and associated project management tools to reflect the latest information, decisions, and adjustments.

By regularly reviewing, adjusting, and updating your project plan, you’ll maintain better control over your project’s progress and outcomes. This proactive approach helps minimize risks, optimize resource usage, and ensure successful project completion.

Assumptions, Risks, Mitigation

Effective project management requires identifying and addressing assumptions, risks, and potential mitigation strategies. Proactively considering these factors helps minimize unforeseen events’ impact, reduce project uncertainty, and increase the likelihood of success.

A. Assumptions: Assumptions are statements or beliefs about uncertain project-related factors, accepted as true without concrete evidence. These assumptions impact project planning, execution, and decision-making. Document, validate, and regularly review project assumptions.

Example: In a software development project, an assumption might be timely hardware component availability or specific end-user technical expertise.

B. Risks: Risks are potential events or situations that may negatively impact your project’s objectives, such as delays, cost overruns, or quality issues. Identifying and assessing risks enables proactive strategy development to minimize impact and ensure project success.

Example: In a construction project, risks may include adverse weather conditions, unexpected site conditions, or regulatory changes that could delay work or increase costs.

C. Mitigation: Risk mitigation strategies are proactive measures to reduce the likelihood or impact of identified risks. Developing and implementing mitigation plans help keep your project on track, even when faced with challenges or uncertainties.

Example: In an event planning project, mitigation strategies might involve booking backup venues, securing alternative suppliers, or developing contingency plans for potential emergencies.

To effectively address assumptions, risks, and mitigation:

  1. Document and validate project assumptions with stakeholders, experts, or historical data, if possible. Regularly review and update these assumptions as new information emerges.
  2. Identify and assess potential risks by considering their likelihood, impact, and potential consequences on the project’s objectives. Use tools such as risk matrices or risk registers to prioritize risks and track their status.
  3. Develop risk mitigation strategies for high-priority risks, including transferring risk (e.g., through insurance), avoiding risk (e.g., by changing project scope), reducing risk (e.g., through improved processes), or accepting risk (e.g., by allocating contingency funds).
  4. Implement risk mitigation strategies and monitor their effectiveness throughout the project lifecycle. Adjust the strategies as needed based on the changing risk landscape.
  5. Communicate assumptions, risks, and mitigation plans to stakeholders and team members, ensuring awareness of potential issues and preparedness to respond appropriately.

By proactively addressing assumptions, risks, and mitigation, you can better prepare for and manage project uncertainties. This approach helps minimize potential challenges’ impact, enhance project resilience, and increase the likelihood of achieving project objectives.

Your Project Plan

A comprehensive project plan is crucial for successful project management. It acts as a roadmap, guiding your project from start to finish while providing a clear overview of objectives, tasks, timelines, resources, and risks. A well-structured plan ensures stakeholder alignment, facilitates communication, and enables effective decision-making.

A complete project plan should include:

A. Project Objectives, Specifications & Stakeholders: Define the project’s goals, deliverables, and success criteria. Identify stakeholders, including sponsors, team members, and external parties.

Example: In a mobile app development project, objectives may include creating an intuitive interface, ensuring compatibility with multiple devices, and achieving a specific number of downloads within six months.

B. Gantt Chart: Create a Gantt chart to visually represent the project schedule, including tasks, durations, dependencies, and milestones. This chart helps monitor progress, identify potential bottlenecks, and manage resources.

Example: In an office relocation project, the Gantt chart might show tasks like “Sign lease agreement,” “Coordinate moving services,” and “Install IT infrastructure,” with their respective start and end dates and dependencies.

C. People, Resources, Skillsets & Budget: Allocate necessary human resources, equipment, and materials for each task. Ensure team members have appropriate skillsets for their tasks. Estimate costs and develop a detailed budget.

Example: In a marketing campaign project, resource allocation may include assigning graphic designers, copywriters, and social media managers to specific tasks, determining equipment or software requirements, and setting an advertising budget.

D. Risks, Assumptions, and Risk Mitigation Strategy: Identify and document project risks, assumptions, and potential mitigation strategies. Assess likelihood and impact of risks, prioritize them, and develop plans to minimize potential consequences.

Example: In a product development project, risks might include manufacturing delays, cost overruns, or negative customer feedback. Mitigation strategies could involve securing backup suppliers, implementing quality control measures, or conducting market research to validate customer preferences.

To create and maintain an effective project plan:

  1. Involve stakeholders and team members in the planning process, gathering input and ensuring alignment with project objectives.
  2. Use project management tools and methodologies, such as work breakdown structures (WBS), network diagrams, and Gantt charts, to organize and visualize tasks, timelines, and dependencies.
  3. Review and update the project plan regularly, making adjustments to accommodate changes in scope, resources, or priorities.
  4. Communicate the project plan and updates to stakeholders and team members, ensuring clarity on roles and responsibilities.
  5. Monitor project performance against the plan, proactively addressing deviations or issues and making data-driven decisions to keep the project on track.

By developing and maintaining a comprehensive project plan, you’ll have a valuable tool to guide your project from start to finish. This helps manage resources effectively, anticipate challenges, and achieve a successful project outcome.

Monitoring Your Project

Project monitoring is crucial in project management, as it helps track progress, measure performance, and make informed decisions to keep your project on track. Regular monitoring identifies potential issues or deviations, allowing proactive adjustments and ensuring alignment with project objectives.

Key aspects of monitoring your project include:

A. Progress Tracking: Track task progress, milestones, and deliverables regularly, comparing actual results to the planned schedule. This helps identify delays, bottlenecks, or other issues requiring intervention or adjustments.

Example: In a software development project, progress tracking might involve monitoring coding task completion, testing phases, or user feedback sessions.

B. Cost Monitoring: Closely monitor project expenses, comparing actual costs to the budget. Identify cost overruns, analyze root causes, and determine if corrective action is necessary.

Example: In an event planning project, cost monitoring might include tracking venue rental, catering, and promotional material expenses, ensuring they remain within budget.

C. Project Plan Updates: Review and update the project plan regularly, incorporating changes, adjustments, or new information arising during project execution. Inform stakeholders and team members of these updates and their implications.

Example: In a website redesign project, updates might include revised task durations, changes in resource allocation, or adjustments to the project scope based on client feedback.

D. Regular Checkpoints: Conduct regular checkpoint meetings or status updates with stakeholders and team members to review progress, discuss issues or concerns, and seek approval for changes or adjustments to the original plan.

Example: In a construction project, checkpoint meetings might involve reviewing progress on workstreams like site preparation, permitting, and material procurement, and discussing potential delays or challenges.

To effectively monitor your project:

  1. Establish a consistent schedule and process for monitoring progress, costs, and key performance indicators (KPIs). This might include weekly status reports, monthly budget reviews, or quarterly milestone assessments.
  2. Use project management tools, such as dashboards or progress tracking software, to streamline monitoring and provide real-time visibility into project performance.
  3. Engage stakeholders and team members in monitoring, encouraging open communication and collaboration to address issues or concerns.
  4. Proactively identify and address deviations from the plan, adjusting tasks, resources, or timelines to keep the project on track.
  5. Document and communicate changes or updates to the project plan, ensuring all relevant parties are informed and understand their roles in implementing adjustments.

By effectively monitoring your project, you’ll maintain better control over progress and outcomes. This enables you to proactively address issues, optimize resource usage, and ensure the project stays on track for a successful completion.

Closing Your Project

Closing your project is a vital step in project management, ensuring all deliverables are met, stakeholders are satisfied, and resources are freed for future projects. The closure phase allows for reviewing lessons learned and improving future project performance.

Key aspects of closing your project include:

A. Close & Review: Obtain agreement from clients or stakeholders that the project is completed to their satisfaction. Review all deliverables, documentation, and contracts, ensuring all requirements are met and outstanding issues resolved.

Example: In a website development project, the close and review process might involve a final walkthrough with the client to confirm design elements, functionality, and content align with agreed-upon specifications.

B. Handover: Transfer all deliverables, documentation, and assets to clients or stakeholders. Provide any necessary training or support for successful handover and ongoing management of project outcomes.

Example: In a software implementation project, handover might include providing user training, delivering user manuals, and transferring access credentials to the client’s IT team.

C. Release Resources: Release team members, contractors, and other resources allocated to the project. This may involve reassigning them to other projects, updating their availability status, or providing performance feedback.

Example: In a marketing campaign project, releasing resources might involve reassigning graphic designers, copywriters, or social media managers to new projects or giving performance feedback.

D. Formal Project Closure Meeting: Hold a formal project closure meeting with stakeholders and team members to discuss outcomes, successes, and challenges. Celebrate the project’s completion and acknowledge everyone’s efforts and contributions.

Example: In a product launch project, the project closure meeting might involve summarizing the product’s market performance, reviewing key milestones, and discussing lessons learned for future product launches.

E. Project Review & Lessons Learned: Conduct a thorough project review, identifying what worked well, what didn’t, and areas for improvement. Document lessons learned to inform future projects and enhance project management practices.

Example: In a construction project, the project review might involve analyzing cost estimate accuracy, communication effectiveness, and construction process efficiency to identify improvement areas for future projects.

To successfully close your project:

  1. Review all project deliverables and documentation, ensuring they meet agreed-upon requirements and specifications.
  2. Obtain formal approval or sign-off from clients or stakeholders, confirming satisfaction with project outcomes.
  3. Transfer all deliverables, documentation, and assets to relevant parties, providing any necessary training or support for ongoing management.
  4. Release project resources, updating their availability status, reassigning them to new projects, or providing performance feedback as needed.
  5. Conduct a formal project closure meeting and project review, documenting lessons learned to inform and improve future projects.

By effectively closing your project, you’ll ensure objectives are met, resources are released, and valuable lessons are learned for future projects. This contributes to ongoing improvement in project management practices and ultimately leads to greater project success.

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