Project Management Practical Guide — Part 1
Congratulations! You are assigned the job to manage your own project.
You can find yourself in the role of a project manager with little or no prior experience. This article is intended to help you get started in managing your project. Big or small, well managed projects have better end results. Whether you’re leading a product development initiative or working on a complex presentation at work, the same basic steps for project management apply.
Managing your projects and keeping them all on track and managing resources is most of the work that a project manager handles. It involves a whole set of techniques to be applied, tools to be used and a varied skillset to understand team, business and technology. Let’s look at how you should get started with your project:
Know your project
Just having an idea of what needs to be done is not enough. “Need a new software system to manage employees” is a broad description. Being a project manager, you need to understand the business needs and problem(s) the project will address. Who will be the end users of this system? What all features are expected?
Having an overview will help you throughout the project. And knowing the end goal will help streamline and track project in better ways.
1. Define the scope
A clear scope of work helps you plan better and estimate the risks and costs involved.
A simple technique is to start with the end goal and then drill down to features which can help accomplish the goal.
With this breakdown, clear goals and objectives are identified. A well written scope answers questions such as, “What is it that you are trying to accomplish with this project?”, “Who will be benefited by this?”, “How does it align with the business vision and needs?”, “What could be an estimated cost for this project?”. It is also equally important to define what is not included in the scope to set the exact expectations. Usually a project charter is prepared for detailing all the information.
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small thoughts brought together”
— Vincent Van Gogh
Ultimately, a project is a series of well-planned tasks brought together.
2. Agree with stakeholders on project plan
The project charter/scope document that we prepare must be agreed upon by all the involved stakeholders.
It serves as a roadmap for everyone involved and is therefore important that everyone involved must be on the same page.
At the end stage of the project, the stakeholders can also validate the set expectations with the actual deliverables and you, being a project manager, can manage changes, measure success criteria and ensure timely sign-off of the project.
Once the expectations are set and agreed upon, the next step comes to plan the project.
Plan your project
1. Decide on project management methodology & tools
There are a lot of project management methodologies and in some cases even hybrid approaches. A methodology is basically a set of guidelines and processes to manage the project efficiently and help project teams work better. Few top project management methodologies are Waterfall, CPM (critical path method), Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Hybrid, Extreme Programming (XP), Lean, Prince2 and Prism.
You can check this article to understand these project management methodologies in detail.
With so many options available, the biggest challenge is to choose which technique would fit best for your project. How to decide? There are several factors that help determine the right methodology. Few important parameters are timeline, complexity of the project, budget, project type and industry, team size and skillset. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
a. Evaluate the project needs. Look at the requirements, resources required and the end goals and objectives.
- If the requirements suggest that a large and diverse team is needed, you should choose a methodology that supports flexibility.
- If you have a clear idea on the end requirements such as building a house, choose waterfall approach or CPM
- If it’s a software product and app that is not in stone yet, maybe Agile or Scrum methodology is what you should choose
- Is rapid development of a minimum viable product the most important thing? Then look at one of the process-based methodologies such as Lean or Lean Six Sigma
b. Assess what’s already working for your organization
Every organization works in a different manner. Some principles which work well for one organization might not fit in properly in another organization.
c. Evaluate your team
If you have a team who thrives on collaboration, Agile would best suit the needs. If the team is highly motivated, experienced and aware about project management processes, SCRUM would be a preferred choice. If your team is not familiar with these processes, choosing a complex methodology would not work.
To support productivity and collaboration you need to use tools. Tools to manage project tasks, team, documents, meetings, brainstorming etc.
Here is a list of tools that might be of great use for your project. You need to analyze which tool(s) would be best fit for your project needs.
2. Put together the right team
This is right time to bring in the team you need to achieve the end goals. It is very important to have the people with the right skillset in the team. It is beneficial in the long run when it comes to matching stakeholder expectations. Important points to consider here:
- How much individual’s skillset is matching with the required work expectations?
- If required, will they be able to work together on a task?
- In case of remote work collaboration, cultural differences often become a big hurdle. It is important to consider their personality opinions in terms of empathy, learnings and respect towards others
- How much are they willing to learn?
With a right team assembled, half the work is already done for you! Now, all you need is to keep the team motivated in a good spirit.
3. Detail the tasks
The first question that comes with every project is “What needs to be done exactly?”. Now that you have understood and visualized the end goal of the project, it becomes easy to create a to-do list.
Tip: View the overall project as a sequence of logical smaller tasks
Bring in your team together at this point and they will help to break the tasks into smaller stories or individual tasks.
Structure these tasks using a proper task management tool. Mind mapping is a good way to visualize, structure and brainstorm on the tasks.
With Scrum, people create Epics, user stories, tasks and sub-tasks. There are various tools available such as JIRA, ASANA, WRIKE to help you organize and manage the work.
New tasks will always keep on coming and you must ensure how to accommodate them in the work backlog whilst estimating cost and time.
4. Plan schedule & set milestones
One of the most risky and challenging work is to estimate the time. Why risky? Because if the estimate goes wrong, it creates a huge impact on many aspects of the project! What can come at your rescue being a first-time manager?
- Organization’s past learning based on the previous projects
- Involve your business analyst, team lead, technical lead/architect, QA lead and design lead to help you plan the tasks and make you aware of the challenges that might come in the way
- Your experience and learning on what you’ve done before, what you have idea about and where you need the research
- Talk to a consultant or other project manager friend
With tasks planned and estimated, the next step is to prioritize and set milestones to measure progress. There are many techniques to prioritize tasks such as weighted average technique, review them against SMART principle, CPM to identify most time-consuming tasks and their inter-dependencies. Gantt charts are one of my favorites to visualize the schedule of resources and tasks at given point of time.
A good project management tool would help you visualize your schedule and keep track of progress and reporting.
5. Kick off the project
With all this work done, you are ready to kick-off your first project. Setup a kickoff meeting. It’s crucial as it sets the expectations and work tone.
Establish clear vision and deliverables, share the project plan, arrange short intro for team members, explain the expectations set for them and any conduct or processes to follow during this project.
Happy project management!