Project management is a broad discipline, utilized in all aspects of a business. In its most basic form, there are two focuses: planning the work and working the plan. The definitive Project Management Institute guide currently describes 47 unique processes that make up the best practices for successful project management. Some organizations may define even more steps to ensure a project reaches completion within the “Iron Triangle”—On Time, In Scope, and On Budget.
Whether you are an experienced project manager or working your first project, using the appropriate level of rigor is crucial. Small organizations without project management experience may bog down in the time required to plan, document, and revise a detailed execution strategy. At the same time, too little monitoring risks a project’s scope spiraling out of control.
How can you apply the right level of control for your new project? Start with the basics and build from there:
Experience: organizational and personal
Even the most rigorous project management plan begins with reviewing previous projects to prepare for the challenges ahead. Organizational experience equals the outcomes of previous projects, documented and stored for future projects. Gather the knowledge available to you and review it to reinforce the project plan. Never jump into planning your project without first learning from history. In the absence of available documentation, tribal knowledge is helpful: ask around the office!
Identify your stakeholders
Anyone who influences or is influenced by a project is a stakeholder. Mapping your stakeholders allows you to plan for their needs and reactions to the project outcomes. This can be a very fast process; do not skip it due to the potential impact of a negative influencer.
Plan for risks
The definition of a risk is “an unknown outcome.” It can be positive or negative (the latter is usually more expected). Identifying risks allows you to mitigate or avoid negative ones. It also sets you up to take advantage of positive risks (such as regulatory changes). Highly structured projects will go so far as to assign a mitigation budget to each risk item.
Breakdown the steps to completion
One commonly used project asset is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which outlines the steps needed to reach project completion. A detailed WBS includes dependencies so when you begin scheduling the project, you can line the stages up in a collapsed and efficient manner. In its most basic form, the WBS represents your to-do list to complete the project.
The final process that you must implement is communication planning. This begins during stakeholder identification. Once your WBS is complete, you have everything needed to plan who gets which communication about the project and at which stages. With this plan in place, you enable accountability throughout the project lifecycle.
Each one of these five project management building blocks requires a different amount of detail, depending on your organization and the project in question. As you and your business gain experience, you will identify the areas where you need increased focus. Every new project you participate in or lead is an opportunity to improve the management of future endeavors. Be sure to document the lessons you learn!
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