This simple guide will help you navigate your way through the would-be complicated world of project management. We’re always updating it and keeping things fresh so keep this handy guide at your fingertips by bookmarking it.
A project manager is someone who is responsible for the planning and execution of a project. Their job is to make sure that a project is completed on-time and on-budget. To do their job well, they must also be very good at managing people.
The role of the project manager is forever evolving. In today’s world, the skills needed to be an effective project manager are changing as we are confronted with new technology, new ways to work and new methods of communicating. In today’s world, a project manager must be not only technically inclined, but also open and willing to look for technical solutions to make their projects a success.
The skills required for project management are many, but many that most of us already have. Here are the fundamental ones:
This is the most crucial skill for any job, not just project management. Being able to express yourself clearly to your team in a positive and direct way is a skill worth perfecting.
This particular skill is important because projects are often fraught with conflicts. Conflicts over resources, conflicts between team members, conflicts with stakeholders - the list goes on. Murphy’s law comes to mind when there is a big project to be completed because of the pressure to finish on-time: everything that can go wrong, will.
That’s when you step in with your super powers and make things all better so that the project can move forward.
Being political is not a bad thing. It means saying and doing things in a way to get what you want from everyone around you. From your team, vendors and stakeholders and bosses boss, you should know how to manage all of your professional relationships.
You need to know what matters to your stakeholders so you can deliver the right information when needed. It’s important to understand their expectations and how to manage the ( ie. underpromise and over deliver) and how to communicate with them in the most effective way possible.
As a project manager, the majority of your time is not spent planning or analysing. It’s spent managing your team. If your team doesn’t see you as a leader, they won’t take you seriously. If they don’t take you seriously, you can bet they won’t take your project very seriously either.
In this section we’ll take a close look at starting and planning a project. We’ll show you how to gather the information you need, choose the right team, select the appropriate methodology and get approval from project stakeholders.
Identify the areas touched by the project and invite people to the planning meeting who represent those areas. These will not be individuals who will be directly working on the project, but they manage the departments that will.
For example, if a publisher is planning a book launch, think about who needs to be informed; the marketing team, the events team, the printing house, the media representatives etc. This is important because these are the people who will know what work will need to be completed by their respective departments.They will need to know that you will be requiring resources from them to complete the project.
Though preparation of the planning team starts with department heads, they don’t continue down the path of helping to plan the project. The planning team is a different group of people. The goal of the planning team is to help the project manager understand how each section of the project will breakdown.
Invite people who are currently in the task roles that you will require for the project. For example, the sales manager is only useful if they are also doing sales, otherwise you should opt for a sales rep.
Next, you need to hold a meeting to create the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). This is a representation of the work of the project— it’s not your schedule but you will use the information gathered here to create your schedule.
One of the advantages of creating the WBS is its brainstorming, nonlinear approach. By using this method, new ideas will pop into your mind, or the team’s mind and you’ll end with a more complete understanding of the work.
At this point, you can end the meeting. As the project manager you’ll want to validate that the groupings make sense to you since you have to manage the schedule.
Your WBS may look different, but here’s the language around the levels.
Any box without a sub box is a work package. That means someone is doing the work, all of the work packages add up to the phases.
A scope statement is a brief summary of what the intended outcome of the project is. Example: Developing a software based system to track time and budget for clients.
When you compare the WBS to the scope, you will likely find new opportunities within the project which you need to take to the sponsor for approval. Sometimes at this stage projects have grown so big and complicated that they are not worth doing. You want to make sure that everything makes sense and will be worth the investment.
The scope statement is not the only thing your should review the WBS against. You also need to review it against the planned schedule and the critical path. Doing this will help you set more realistic expectations for your stakeholders as to when the project can be completed.
Accurately estimating time is one of the hardest things to do when planning your project. Time estimates help determine a large portion of the budget.
There are two variable to take into consideration: Effort & Duration. Effort is what time the work would take if there were no interruptions and no other priorities. If you have to write an email it might take 5 minutes of effort. But if someone calls in the middle of it, then you have to go to a meeting, and then someone needs a decision…This means that the duration of writing the email could be 3 hours or all day.
Think about how you estimate your own work. Do you underestimate? Overestimate? Do you come in pretty close? The truth is, you will never achieve 100% accuracy. No matter how good the plan is, things will happen along the way. You are trying to find the best estimate, not a guarantee.
Some project managers tend to dismiss the importance of accurate time estimates. They think "hey, there's no way I can get it right, so why bother?", whereas others think "instead of wasting time creating estimates, I might as well get started on the project and finish it that much quicker." Based on our experience, both of these approaches are wrong and they ignore the main benefits of proper time estimation:
The benefits don't end here either. There are many more, like the positive impression people will have of you when your estimates, even for complicated and lengthy projects, prove to be right time and time again. Or, the appreciation your team will have for your ability to assign them only as much work as they can realistically handle.
One pitfall that we see time and time again is the adoption of time slots that are way too big to be precise enough.
"Create marketing plan: 24 hours" is not an acceptable time budgeting practice. True, you can probably be this general and still use it for payroll, but you can't really gain any actionable insight from such a vague task description. If you were to instead break that down as:
You would have a much easier time using the same time blocks to estimate what commitment may be required for similar tasks in the future.
Creating the schedule involves talking to your team members, getting their ideas on what work needs to be done first, how long it will take them and asking again if there is anything missing.
Your best approach here is to talk to the people who will do the work since they know the most about how long it will take. There are a lot of techniques to gather an estimate of the time it takes to do a project task, but you only need to know enough about it to feel confident that the timeline is accurate.
Learn more: Project scheduling
The question that remains before you schedule your project, is how will you get the right team members to be available for the exact timeline that you need?
Easy Projects has a built-in resource loading simulator. This feature allows you to:
When you put all the information into a schedule you’ll see something like the graphic below. It’s called a Gantt chart. The bars are timelines for individual tasks; the linking lines show logical order called dependencies. After reviewing the information, it’s time to confirm any new scope items with your Sponsor to make sure everything is good to go.
There is one more step before you get the sponsor to sign off on the project. You need to take it back to the team and make sure you’ve captured what they meant when they gave you the information. It’s still surprising to me that when people see the whole plan put together, there’s usually a small (or sometimes large) gap left between their assumptions.
For example, the sales team might have assumed that training will take place in a one hour meeting on Monday. Based on that assumption, they estimated that they would be ready to start selling by Tuesday afternoon at the latest. However, when the training team looked at the amount of information that needed to be delivered, they estimated three one hour training sessions over three days. If the training starts on Monday, it will be Thursday before sales can start.
By returning with the plan to the team, you can capture most of the assumption gaps. I like to do this with the whole team if possible. In our example, if training and sales people are in the same room when they notice the gap, they can find a resolution to the problem and you don’t have to head back into a planning session.
When you have the project scheduled, the next step is to go back to your sponsor and get them to sign off on the plan. Once they do that, you are ready to execute.
RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed. A RACI matrix is a chart that outlines the roles of each contributor to a particular task or deliverable. This chart can be useful because it is very clear on what is expected from everyone involved. For example, a writer is responsible for writing a blog post, while the marketing manager is accountable for it. To write the post, the writer consults with the Sales team, and the VP of Marketing would like to be informed. This chart is useful for cross departmental activities in large organization.
The one thing we know for sure in life is that things can and will go wrong. Having this information imbedded in our DNA, it would be irresponsible to set up a contingency plan. Projects are no different; no matter how much you plan, you can rarely get a perfect execution and outcome. Fortunately, there are things we can do about it.
Risk management is an art and a science in the world of project planning because to be able to foresee problems, you need to have the insight and know when to react. Using project management software is a great risk mitigation tactic to start with because after you set up a project the way you anticipate, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture and data points like dependencies, the critical path, budget, resources etc.
Like a story, projects have a beginning, middle and end. Understanding this is important to planning out a successful project. One particular area that is often confusing for new project managers is choosing the right project management methodology. Projects come in all shapes and sizes so when it comes to choosing a methodology for success, it’s important to know your options. In this section we’ll cover the most popular project management methodologies with the pros and cons of each type.
Sequential methodologies are applied to projects like building an airplane, construction of a building, or building a bridge. These are huge projects that are planned down to the tiniest details and there is no going back. They are planned in phases and each phase be completed before another begins.
The most common way to organize the execution of a project is in order of when tasks should be completed. ‘A’ leads to ‘B’ which leads to ‘C’. At the end they all add up to the final deliverable. Pretty simple.
The critical path method is similar to the the waterfall method, however it recognizes dependencies. A dependency is a task that must be completed before another task can move forward. One task is dependent on another. This creates a critical path.
The PMBOK method is the overall process of a project. It has been accepted as an industry standard because of its roots with PMI (Project Management Institute). This method is also sequential in nature and is focused around planning a project in five steps: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Controlling and Closing.
Pros: It’s great if you are a big planner and like all of the research and strategy to be set-in-stone before starting. You’ll know exactly what to expect as the project moves along.
Cons: Sequential doesn’t exactly allow any room for error or changes in plan. You can’t introduce any new ideas without derailing the project completely.
Agile was first introduced to the world in 2001 via the Agile Manifesto of Agile Development. As you may have guessed, it’s the go to framework for software developers. There are four main rules of Agile:
The one that really differentiates the agile approach is responding to change rather than following a set path. Agile is adaptive in nature, just like the world of software development.
Scrum is an agile process used most often by development teams because it is really easy to implement. One individual, called the Scrum Master, is responsible for making sure that any bottlenecks or obstacles are cleared for the team for smooth project sailing. Scrum works in two week sprints and allows for the team to be flexible with priorities.
Kanban is a Japanese framework for agile. It started in the late 40’s by the car manufacturer, Toyota, as a way to make production much more efficient. Kanban is a visual representation of a project, making it easy for teams to know when something is ready for them to work on.
The adaptive framework does not differ that much from the overall goal of the agile methodology. The main difference is the fact that during the planning stage the project is broken down into project goals based on features, functions and requirements of the product. The project is then broken down further by iterative stages which allow for project managers to change the scope at the beginning of each stage. This allows for flexibility and creativity as the project progresses.
Pros: Agile is great for software projects or any projects that are considered creative and evolving, like a house (up to a certain point), a song, a book. It allows you to work in small iterations making adjustments as you go.
Cons: Sometimes, the iterations and edits make you end up with something completely different than what you were intending. That’s why agile requires heavy communication on all fronts so that a) your team is fully aware of the changes and b) they’re still focused on the overall outcome.
Lean is a project process that reduces “waste” from within the project lifecycle by focusing on delivering value. Waste refers to reducing costs, reducing the time to completion, completing the project on-budget and improving the quality of the final product.
Six Sigma was created by Bill Smith of Motorola back in 1995. The purpose of the process was to reduce product defects, by focusing on feature defects. The Six Sigma process allows for only 3.4 defects per million.
Learn more: What is a PICK Chart? | Projects Management Software | Easy Projects
Pros: If you have a project that requires you to stick to a very strict budget and timeline , this is the best option for you. Examples of projects that require lean processes include manufacturing cars, technology products, and anything that requires the physical output of a product. (Consumer products)
Cons: Lean processes tend to treat every part of the project as the same. This means that if there are/is a part (s) that doesn’t require oversight, you could end up in a mess. What we mean by this is every single person involved must be informed that the project is lean. If anyone slips up, there will be deficiencies.
This is another methodology that you may come across quite often because it is is the most commonly used around the world as it is designed to be suited to any project in any industry. Created by the Uk Government in 1989, it is also the most strict project management methodology out there. PRINCE2 emphasises working in sprints, but instead of breaking down a project into small sprints, it break it down into a few large parts and treats every part as a sprint.
Pros: If you can guarantee that absolutely nothing will go wrong with a project and have the staff to oversee it , PRINCE2 is the right choice.
Cons: This method will have you treating your teams like robots with constant oversight and processes. It also does not bode well with marketing and creative teams because of how restrictive it is.
When you’ve established your team and the project plan, it’s a good time to look at the tools that your team will need to be successful. Working across spreadsheets and email is not an efficient way to spend your time. The right tools will enable your team to save time, be productive, and achieve their goals.
The most important tool you can get your team to use is project management software. The kind of software you choose depends on the types of projects that your team works on, the methodologies you like to use and the size of your team (s). There is a lot to think about so we've put together some resources that can help.
Before your project gets going, you want to let your team know what channels will be used for communication. The reason for this is because you don't want things to be missed. A missed message about something that needs to be done or is ready to be passed on the the next team could temporarily derail your project.This is especially important if you have remote teams like we do and need to have video conferences often . For basic real-time communication for teams, we like to use Slack. For real-time access to project info, we use, as expected, Easy Projects. You'll need to choose reliable tools and lucky for you, the options are endless.
It's also important think about where your team is storing all of their documents. You want something that is secure and reliable. At Easy Projects, we like to use Google Drive for all of the big stuff. Each team has their respective folder with everything organized in an easily searchable way. You can also use tools like DropBox Paper, Quip, Evernote , Microsoft 365 for sharing files across departments and teams.
Now that we've taken a look at and you've chosen the tools that your team will need to be productive, it's time to take a deeper dive into collaboration and how it can help you succeed. When people work together, they are more productive. In a 2015 study conducted by the New York Times, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. When you collaborate with your external stakeholders, you'll find that your team's creativity and problem solving abilities increase. Many minds are better than one. 7 Studies that Prove that People Work better in Teams
Team work makes the dream work, but it can also the most challenging part of your job as a project manager. Setting up communication guidelines is a good place to start. Communication guidelines should include things like:
It would be useful if you put all of the guidelines and info in an accessible folder so your team can refer back to them as needed.
Working with people from all over the world is common practice for businesses these days. At Easy Projects, we've been working with remote teams since we got started and we've become experts at working with team members who are thousands of kilometers away. This does not mean that we don't face challenges. Juggling time-zones and work expectations requires strict communication practices as well as choosing communication tools that everyone is comfortable with.
Since organizing your inbox can sometimes become a task in itself, Easy Projects' message boards allow everyone to keep track of all relevant conversations-be it comments, requests, or changes-under each task or project. Click a project and receive up-to-the-minute conversation information, without searching through thousands of emails. Additionally, all messages are stamped with the correct time, date and name you know the "who", "what", and "when" of all correspondence instantly.
With Easy Projects, clients can access project message boards as well, giving them an avenue to quickly ask the project team whatever questions they have and receive responses in-real time. This easy access to the project team assures clients that their project is progressing well, and that their wants are being answered by the team.Learn more:
Sometimes, our tendency may be to avoid confrontation, overlook issues in the hopes that they will go away, or delay tasks that seem unpleasant or stressful to us. This practice is the exact opposite of what is productive in project management. It is a big mistake to wait until the last moment to find out that the project you thought was going well is actually suffering from a critical problem. Therefore, you should encourage your team to report any and all issues and delays to you as soon as they become aware of them.
delays to you as soon as they become aware of them. Now you might be thinking " how can I convince my employees/teammates to basically blow the whistle on themselves?" This is a valid concern; rarely do people consciously make the decision to admit weakness or problems when it comes to their own performance. What you can do to overcome this issue is to encourage a team culture that rewards timely updates, and doesn't punish for delays/problems if they are reported early.
At Easy Projects we have spent a significant amount of time pondering how we could make status updates as effortless as possible, and came up with the three small buttons you see on the "My Assignments" page, next to each task. With one click, each employee can update a task as being a-okay, raise a non-critical issue for discussion, or suggest a new end date if the issue is a serious one.
Conflicts within teams can happen, and when they do, it’s your job to quickly resolve them and get everyone focused on the end goal again. Conflicts are also not always a bad thing. If you look at them as positive experiences for your team to grow from, everyone can come out of them stronger and more focused than before.
Accountability is crucially important for the success of your project. But sometimes a lack of accountability isn't the fault of your team members or your clients but the methods of task management. Read on to learn the best practices to avoid potential conflicts and those "I don't remember saying that..." responses sometimes heard from project team members or clients.
The first, and most important, piece of accountability advice is to never accept or assign verbal requests. Document any tasks assignments that you are delegating, or that you've received, to eliminate any confusion or forgetfulness on the part of either party regarding what needs to be done.
Stop assigning tasks in casual conversation. Always email assignments to team members. Documentation, at least in the form of email, provides a formal outline of the task that can be referred back to by all involved parties. If there are any questions regarding a deadline or expectations, a written document can quickly end all "he-said, she-said" debates.
The same intolerance for verbal assignments applies when you receive a project from a client. Request that your client document all project requirements by writing out project expectations in full. Keep a copy for yourself, and get your client to do the same.
After meetings, send an email to the client or team with the discussion summarized. Ask for confirmation that your interpretation of the meeting was factual. Email confirmation removes any potential for uncertainty regarding the agreed upon assignment. Furthermore, it provides approved original project plan for reference, if the need arises.
Easy Projects helps you with team accountability by sending out automatic notifications that alert the appropriate person on a team as soon as a request or assignment is reported. These instant notifications allow for timely transfers of information, to ensure all team members are informed of new requests as soon as they happen.
Easy Projects also encourages accountability between the client and the project team by allowing the client to enter his/her requests right into the project database itself. This allows all requests to be recorded exactly as the client envisioned it, and there is unity across formats if there are multiple requests from the same client.
Additionally, Easy Projects' audit trail keeps a record of everything that is happening in a project. It helps improve accountability by providing a point of reference in case someone forgets something, and establishes evidence in case things go off-rail in a project. Needless to say, both sides benefit from an audit trail, so that relationships are not strained by someone forgetting to record a critical piece of information down, or requests being slightly altered due to incomplete memory.
In successful projects, the project team works effectively to their full capacity-but not further. Monitoring team workload ensures you don't overburden members of your team with more work than they can handle. Since an overworked employee may feel too demotivated to complete the extra tasks assigned, it's important to be aware of everyone's current assignments.
Encourage Monday morning Goal Setting & Review (GSR) updates from all team members. Employees write a quick document that reminds project managers what they have to do in the coming weeks, and gives them a chance to flag concerns about the size of their workload, if necessary. By holding the GSRs on Monday morning, team accommodations can be made quickly in the week. Visibility of tasks is a very important step in accountability, and GSRs go a long way in doing that.
Keep a white board for your team in the office with a list of the weekly or monthly project tasks. Ask each team member to write their name beside what task they are working on. Displaying who is accountable for what in a public form does two good things. First, it acts as a reminder for everyone to know the project's current tasks and who is undertaking them. Second, it encourages each team member to do his/her share on-time and to the best of his/her ability.
Promises made in public (like writing your name next to a task) strengthen task commitment and encourage action. This is evident in all aspects of life. Have you ever felt embarrassed about failing your new diet after you told your friends you were committed to losing weight? Did you ever feel an extra surge in motivation to quit smoking after telling your spouse you could do it? Don't hide away team to-do lists, post them prominently in common staff areas so the big picture goal in always in sight.
All projects start out with a plan and a budget. But sticking to either is usually one of the biggest challenges and the cause of most failed projects. But, that doesn't mean it's impossible. We just have to go about it the right way. Here are the key items that you need to keep a close eye on to be able to detect problems early.
That means month end processing could be a project, but sales wouldn’t be one. Another example is marketing campaigns, they are often seen as projects, but selling the products is not.
Earned Value Analysis (EVA) is a "technique for measuring project performance and progress in an objective manner", as defined by Wikipedia. What this means is that through EVA, you can integrate the project scope, schedule and cost into your evaluation of the project performance, and accurately forecast project performance issues so that they can be dealt with in a timely manner.
EVA deals with a project's estimated cost, estimated time of completion, as well as the actualized cost and completion rate as the project progresses.
Now as a busy project manager, you might not have the time to manually go through these lengthy and involved calculations (especially when you consider the fact that you will have to do these for not only each project, but potentially for each task as well). This is not only a time-intensive process, but also one that is prone to calculation errors due to the sheer number of figures involved. This is where Easy Projects' automated EVA suite may come in handy.
Since Easy Projects calculates SPI and CPI at the task level, it can show you the EVA figures for each individual task, as well as each project. You do not need to lift a finger to be always on top of the performance of your projects. As long as you estimate your hours at the beginning of a project and stay on top of updating your actual time spent, you will have an accurate measure of the health of your projects.
Every delay in a project is unfortunate and also has a cost attached to it. However, not every delay is created equal. Some delays are more equal than others. This is where critical path planning comes into play.
Critical path is a concept in project management and planning where the sequence of project activities add up to the longest overall duration. This path determines the shortest time possible to complete the project, as all of the activities on this path are necessary for successful completion. Any delay of an activity on the critical path directly impacts the planned project completion date, and therefore costs the project previous resources. This is why the tasks in the critical path need to be monitored very closely for any signs of a problem.
How do you know which activities are part of this all-important group? Despite its power as a project management tool, the critical path is relatively simple to calculate: as a rule of thumb, if a delay in a task is going to cause the whole project to be delayed, it is said to be on the critical path of that project. This is determined by the established dependencies in a project, namely, the relationships that exist between task that affect whether a task can be started (or completed) before the previous task is done.
Easy Projects incorporates the critical path methodology to its project management toolset and allows you to set any task as critical within its Interactive Gantt Chart. This way, you will easily visualize which tasks are critical for your all-important deadline, and never be caught off-guard with unexpected delays due to forgotten dependencies.
Everything we have discussed in the previous section, and everything we will discuss in the coming paragraphs, will center around one key rule: you have to keep track of your hours accurately, and in a timely manner. We mean "your hours" in the broadest possible sense: if you are a team member, this means the hours you personally work. If you are a project manager, it means the aggregate hours of your project, which involves making sure your team members accurately input their hours as well. If you are an executive, this encompasses your time (if it factors into cost calculations), the time of your project managers, and each and every project they have under them. Time is the one unifying metric in project management, and if you slack off in tracking it, or if there are some small errors along the way, it can compound into a large problem that derails your whole budget.
The best thing you can do for your time tracking efforts is to enforce a strict "daily submission" rule for time logs. This not only helps your time tracking to be up to date, but it also increases accuracy as team members will be filling in the time sheets when the hours worked are still fresh in mind, rather than on Friday afternoon, when the details of Monday might be fading away to mist.
Once you have the accurate time logs under your belt, your first reaction should be to compare it to the estimated hours for that time frame (be it the day, the week, or the month) and see how much you have deviated from it (and trust me, you will have deviation, either over or under budgeted hours, because no one gets estimation 100% right, especially for lengthier projects). This timely check-ins with the project estimates will give you the data you need to action on to either push your team harder, or to use the extra hours (if you are under the budgeted hours) to pay close attention to parts you feel might be currently lacking.
One of Easy Projects' most lauded features is its time tracking module. Not only can your team easily input time and get hours spent reports, you can even use the built-in timer to track your hours in real-time. This way, you click one button when you start working on a task to start the timer, click it again when you are done, and never worry about having to go back and remember the exact hours you spent for any given task.
As your project progresses, depending on the time-frame, you’ll find that it may become difficult to keep everything on track. When a project begins to morph into something else, it’s called scope creep. It often occurs when your stakeholders begin to add more tasks, components etc that were not originally agreed upon. Scope creep happens for many reasons, but there are ways to prevent it.
Nothing makes a client angrier than when they ask for something and don't get it. But to the defense of every project team, sometimes we just miss the memo! And sometimes the memo wasn't even sent: a client thinks they asked for one thing, but formally requested another.
In order to protect the sanity of both your client and project team make sure to track scope changes separate from the original scope. This eliminates confusion regarding the most current tasks. Additionally, ask for all new scope requests to be formalized in writing-get a copy of the new project plan for yourself, your team, and your client. All too often, verbal requests turn into a game of telephone, where the original gets so twisted by the time the last person hears it, it doesn't even resemble what the client requested.
Easy Projects project tracking feature automatically organizes new change requests separate from a project's original scope. clients can submit change requests directly in the database, and your company can track it separate from the original scope. Win-win! This leads to happiness for everyone, as the client is assured their request is being submitted directly as they envision it, and the project team keeps all changes separate from the original so there's no confusion.
If you are an agency or work in an environment where hourly billing is your organizations’ life-blood, there is really no room for error when it comes to getting it right. Accurate billing and budgeting is key to making your project a success.
Once your project is finished, there are a few things you need to do.
A post mortem report is what you write after the completion of a project. The report doesn’t necessarily have to be written only if a project fails. It’s very rare for a project to go perfectly and a post-mortem report will allow you and your team to figure out how to make things better next time. The PMBOK method calls this part of the project as “Lessons Learned”. One of the best ways to get the information you need to write the report is to have a meeting with your team. Talk about: