Whether it’s in your job title or not, chances are you and your teams engage in project management. Project management is the leadership, planning, and oversight associated with the creation of a unique product or outcome. Unlike recurring business processes, such as carrying out sweeping or paving services, a project is a one-time endeavor with a specific goal. It might be the development of a new product, a market research report needed for expansion, or the redesign of employee policies. These big picture projects take up time and resources, and they are often overshadowed by day-to-day demands and problems. But we can all think of projects that, if completed, would improve our companies and further our goals.
A well-planned and overseen project fulfills objectives, stays under budget, and comes in on time. But this is easier said than done. There are many great project management resources online, but in this article we give a brief overview of the five components or “process groups” in the life of a project. These groups are not so much linear steps as they are key elements of any project; understanding the purpose of each will help you map out your project from start to finish and ensure success.
The key to successfully starting any project is communication. Imagine you are assembling a team to design a new employee incentive program. Who are the key stakeholders in such a project? Obviously the employees themselves will be affected, but so will the managers who have to oversee new programs. Perhaps, your HR person will have input regarding company policy and your controller understands how the project will impact the budget. Talking with all of these people will clarify the possibilities and constraints of this project. Either through individual conversations or a group brainstorming meeting, together you can develop a shared and achievable vision for this new program.
If project initiation tells you what direction you’re going, planning gives you the map. Some aspects of planning are intuitive, such as assessing total costs and developing a timeline. But even more importantly, the project planning phase is an exercise in risk management, where you consider everything that might go wrong with a project and then try to mitigate those risks. What might go wrong in the development of an incentive program? Perhaps the worst possibility for any new initiative is that it completely fails: what if employees do not like or utilize the incentive program, making the entire project a waste? Brainstorm with your stakeholders what could be done to mitigate this. Perhaps you could survey employees about which rewards would most incentivize them. You might come up with a small scale reward opportunity and see how many employees participate. Gathering such information ensures your project delivers an outcome which meets expectations and makes a meaningful contribution to the company.
Once the resources are in place, the schedules set, and everyone’s roles and objectives clearly defined, the project can begin. And in the Execution phase, the name of the game becomes accountability. As Project Manager (officially or unofficially) it is your responsibility to make sure your team is on task. Depending on the project scope, this may require weekly group or individual meetings. For more long-term projects, monthly check-ins may suffice. Whatever the case, your most important job is to support your team in their tasks and continually reinforce how their piece of the project contributes to the big picture. Our next article will go more in-depth about the leadership component of project management. For now, remember that everyone wants to know their work matters, that however small their project piece, it is nonetheless essential. This mindset will help keep your team on task and on time.
Monitor and Control
This is more an ongoing principle than a step in the process. As Project Manager, one of your key roles is to keep the project within the scope originally set forth. It is not uncommon for new things to be added in or suggested in the middle of a project, a phenomenon called “scope creep.” Many people fall prey to “sunk cost” bias: “We’ve already spent this much. What’s another thousand dollars?” This attitude kills projects, expanding them beyond what is feasible given time and resources. Once again, good communication is essential: check in with team members often and talk through their ideas and concerns. In the example of the employee incentive program, perhaps one of your team members is running with an idea far too big for the project, like a trip to Hawaii for the top selling employee. Without discouraging creativity, a habit of careful monitoring and controlling can keep all team members on board with the original plan and avoid any major pitfalls.
Closing your project is an exercise in revisiting the original goals and assessing if and how successfully they have been met. In our previous outcome, ideally, you will have created an employee incentive program that boosts morale and increases productivity. But regardless of the outcome, carefully summarize and document how the project went. You may want to give evaluations for individual members, identifying strengths and weaknesses and helping them understand how they can be more effective on future teams. Facilitate concluding conversations with the original stakeholders, ensuring the project has met everyone’s expectations. Ideally, you will have achieved an outcome that benefits your company, and what you’ve learned will enhance the success of future projects.
In next month’s article, we’ll cover the essential leadership qualities needed to direct a project team. From all of us here at NiteHawk…
Kogon, Kory, Suzette Blakemore, and James Wood. (2015) Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager. Dallas: BenBella Books, Inc.