Project management has been an essential skill for leaders since 2750
BC, when different managers were each tasked with overseeing the construction of one of the four faces of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Today, whipping serfs has been replaced with a range of advice on project management techniques and a range of project management tools.
Project management techniques are constantly evolving, and even recently have gained from insight from devops or 'agile' approaches which promotes a cross-departmental approach to tasks.
Read on for our top tips on how to make your projects a success.
Read next: Best open source project management tools
Additional reporting by Laurie Clarke.
July 11, 2018
1. Start planning
Work with senior management to devise a strategy for every project you work on as soon as it's been given the green light.
The planning process should involve laying out an appropriate time schedule for completing project milestones, in respect to the completion date for the whole project. When scheduling the project, it’s wise to leave a week or so as a buffer, meaning that if a couple of deadlines are missed, the whole project is not delayed.
When you are planning, be realistic about how much time each activity will take, rather than being overly optimistic. It's better for morale to overreach targets rather than be constantly catching up.
Clearly define the purpose, how the strategy will achieve it, and whether you have the necessary capacity to realise the objectives. It’s also worth planning anything that could go wrong in the process - troubleshoot and identify the most likely causes of derailment. Then you can come up with ways of potentially mitigating these problems in the case that they do occur.
7. Know when an agile approach is suitable
Agile works well for delivering software products or services but is less suitable for business change projects with fixed deadlines within organisations.
"If you are told precisely what you need to deliver, and precisely when you need to deliver it - well, you need to use old fashioned dependency mapping and critical path analysis to work out how that is going to happen," says Matt Ballantine , the former head of IT at brand marketer Imagination and a CIO UK contributor.
On the other hand, a more open-ended, less clearly worked through project can benefit from contribution from different areas of the business, from people who can bring different areas of the expertise to the fore. This can result in creative problem solving and the delivering of innovative solutions. Ballantine recommends that CIOs analyse which approach will work for each individual situation and understand when constraints are truly fixed and therefore unsuitable for agile.
8. Recognise common issues and take responsibility
Recognise when there's an issue that needs to be addressed. This can save a project before it's too late, or even improve it. It can also send a message to the team that you're prepared to be accountable.
Missing deadlines, changing goals, or running over budget are all sign that an aspect of the plan or project practices needs to be adjusted.
Don’t persevere with a certain approach if it reveals itself to be problematic - the quicker it’s adapted, the quicker the project can get back on track. Plan for any problems you can forecast that may occur, and design a policy on how to escalate them. To mitigate against those you can't predict, monitor the progress closely and track it against key milestones. Remind team members when a due date is approaching to keep them on the right track.
10. Remember the 'Project Golden Triangle'
Matt Ballantine says the concept of the Project Golden Triangle is part of Project Management 101. It consists of three dimensions: cost, time and specification.
"The idea is that for any project, some of these dimensions are likely to be constrained," he says. "If cost is constrained, then your flexibility comes from delaying delivery and/or reducing the specification of what is delivered. If time is constrained then you have to flex specification or spend more to ensure that you deliver on time. "More commonly, two of the dimensions are constrained: in that instance your options become very limited - spend more, deliver late or under-specify as appropriate. If all three dimensions are constrained, the best advice to any project manager is to dust down their CV."