15 Best Practices to Keep Your Project on the Right Path

Project management best practices. What does that even mean? Is it objective, subjective or somewhere in the middle? Is there a real list somewhere or is it just everyone’s interpretation of what works well logically or what works well for them?

I think it basically comes down to what works well logically and for each individual PM. So you may have your own list…that’s fine…I don’t see an all encompassing list in the PMBOK. But I have mine and I’m sharing it with you here. If I make sure that I’m doing these things when they should occur and – for those that are ongoing – throughout the project, then I usually have a fighting chance to drive home a successful project, save for those things that simply are out of my control. But, by sticking to this list, there are fewer and fewer of those “beyond my control” things because I’m informed, on top of it, and ahead of the game most of the time. Here’s my top 15…

Formal project kickoff. Whether it’s a 15-minute phone call or a two-day dog and pony show at the customer’s site, always conduct some sort of formal project kickoff session. It gives everybody involved a starting point and a chance to start the project on the same page with proper expectations set for the management of the project and their role in it. For larger, complex projects this needs to be a detailed session with a presentation deck, the statement of work (SOW) readily available for reference and at least the draft project schedule ready to review and dissect.

Detailed requirements definition. The customer will likely come to you with a list of requirements. Consider those to be high-level requirements – sort of a starting point. Now it’s you and your team’s responsibility to dig deep and pull out the real requirements for the engagement.

Involve the team in early project planning. The best way to get your team onboard with their tasks, accountable to you for their tasks, and accepting of full ownership for those tasks is to involve them as much as possible in the early planning of the project.

Project schedule oversight and revision. The project schedule is not static – it is dynamic and will be throughout the project. Revise it weekly and use it – along with the project status report – to drive the project status call with the customer.

Risk planning and management. I know it’s painful sometimes and we’d like to leave this off the list, but spend at least some time planning for risk – you won’t be sorry. And then manage that list weekly throughout the engagement and add to it as necessary. Do NOT leave out cyber security…everything can be hacked. If data is sensitive on your project, plan to protect it.

Project status reporting. Choose a project status report and process that is repeatable and doable for you and the customer – and don’t forget your reporting needs to your senior management and all key stakeholders. Choose the right layout/format and you may only need to produce one report that fits all needs. Management likes dashboards, graphs and green-yellow-red status health for a quick view.

Weekly internal team meetings. You will likely be engaging many of your team members every day at certain points in the project, but conduct a weekly internal team meeting before the formal customer call so you know everything you’re revising is up to date with the latest information and all bases are covered.

Customer engagement. You need the customer engaged throughout to help make decisions and provide information. Don’t let them slip away to their day job…continue to have weekly meetings and assign them tasks to help keep them fully engaged along the way.

Weekly budget forecasting and analysis. Review and revise the project budget weekly so as to never lose control of it. A 10% budget overrun can be corrected – a 50% budget overrun likely can’t…it will be too far gone.

Weekly formal customer status meetings. Conduct weekly formal calls with the project customer – even when there is little to nothing to discuss. Keep it to an hour and stay on topic.

Resource forecasting. Review your resource plan weekly to make sure you have the right skill set in place for the next activities due to start. Schedules and tasks change – which means your resource needs can change, too.

Document and track change orders separately. Whether this is a spreadsheet, or on the status report in a separate section, or both, be sure to track change orders carefully so nothing falls through the cracks.

Communication planning. Communication on the project may be the single most important thing that the project manager does. Set the tone early that all communication goes through the PM and distribute key contact information for all project participants. On more complex projects, a formal communication plan may be in order. I’ve led many project engagements where it is a paid-for formal deliverable.

Lessons learned sessions throughout the engagement. Very few project managers actually get around to conducting lesson learned sessions at the end of the project as everyone is moving on to their next assignment. Conduct these sessions after each big deliverable or milestone so as to help you manage better now and in the future. Benefit on the current project as well.

Post implementation support and formal handoff. Plan well for customer handoff to support and formal handoff of the implemented solution to the project client. Leaves everyone and everything covered, increase customer satisfaction, and that end users are taken care of.

Summary/call for input

I generally think that project management best practices are really just logical things that need to happen to make sure the project runs properly. If it works, then it should be on your list of repeatable best practices. This is my list. If you follow the items on this list for every project you’re responsible for, you should be able to run a pretty tight ship and keep the project team and customer well-engaged throughout.

What about our readers? What do you think should be added this list? Have I left anything out or would you like to elaborate further on anything I’ve listed here? Please share and discuss.