Whether you're an experienced project manager or a newcomer, managing projects can be challenging.
In the early stages of a project manager's career, it's essential to understand key terms like dependencies, burn rate, and roadmaps and to be familiar with frameworks such as agile, scrum, waterfall, and kanban. Junior PMs often work with experienced mentors who help them stay on track and make necessary corrections.
As project managers gain experience, they become more adept at handling complex stakeholders and navigating uncertain projects. Projects can be unpredictable, full of surprises, and require quick, real-time adjustments, just like a train conductor.
Even seasoned project managers need help determining if a project is on track, especially when faced with unexpected changes or complex situations. In these cases, they must lead the discovery process, build team consensus, and drive the project forward.
That's why it's crucial to stay updated on best practices that can make your job easier.
10 best practices for successful project management
Let’s explore guiding principles to master any project, signs to monitor project health, and invaluable project management tips and tricks gained through experience and learning.
Here are the best practices to keep in mind:
1. Eliminate assumptions and promote clarity
Remember that even the most skilled professionals are still human. Miscommunication, conflict, and errors are inevitable parts of life. To excel as a project manager, it's essential to avoid making assumptions and ensure all project information is clear, well-documented, and shared with the team.
Strong collaboration is critical, and project managers can facilitate this by providing a platform where the team can engage productively with the shared information and align on their assumptions. Here are some helpful tips to follow:
- Prioritize accuracy: Make sure any written communication, whether through email or Slack, is accurate and reliable. Your team will depend on your words to plan and execute their tasks.
- Recap meetings: After meetings, share a summary of critical decisions, action items, and due dates. If any information needs to be included or clarified, highlight it.
- Seek confirmation: Ask for confirmation from your team members, even if it's just a simple emoji reaction.
- Maintain consistency: Keep your communication consistent, whether it's a weekly email, a post-meeting recap, or an agenda shared before a meeting.
- Avoid undocumented details: Don't assume your team knows everything you do. Document even seemingly minor details, as they can be easily forgotten or lost in the shuffle of numerous meetings. Lack of documentation can lead to repeated discussions or unactioned plans, frustrating the team in the long run.
When a project manager assumes that their team is aware of all the same information they know, minor details can sometimes slip through the cracks. During a meeting, a brief remark about an upcoming task might seem so evident and memorable that you'd think there's no way anyone could forget it. But as time passes and more meetings occur, that small decision can easily get lost in the shuffle.
In the long run, not documenting these seemingly minor details can lead to frustration within the team, as they might find themselves revisiting the same discussions repeatedly. Even worse, they could completely forget that a plan had already been devised. So, always remember to document and share information, no matter how obvious it may seem, to ensure your team stays on the same page and moves forward smoothly.
2. Be thoughtful and proactive
As project managers, it's vital to remain confident and share information thoughtfully, even while learning new details alongside the team. Acting promptly and carefully can help prevent panic and maintain the team's morale.
For instance, during a project, I shared a QA sheet for the client to log any issues before going live. The client's developer started documenting over 30 issues in a short time. After reviewing them, I realized most were duplicates, out of scope, or working as designed. I quickly reassured the team that the project timeline wouldn't be affected. In such situations, project managers must swiftly handle any potential project impacts.
Here are some tips to follow:
- Organize project knowledge: Ensure your team understands the importance of sharing new information by organizing and defining it clearly.
- Streamline communication: Avoid unnecessary reactions by communicating effectively. For example, quickly inform all teams about any issues and their impact on the timeline.
- Tailor your communication: Adjust your tone and format to suit each team. While a simple Slack message may work for the internal team, the client team might require a more formal approach.
- Stay informed: As a PM, solve problems and remove roadblocks by staying updated about all ongoing activities.
- Reflect and adjust: Evaluate your time allocation and adapt as necessary. If delving deeper into project communication helps you better grasp the project status, give it priority over less pressing tasks.
By being thoughtful and proactive, project managers can effectively steer their teams through challenges and keep projects on track.
Master the project communication plan
Ready to take your project collaboration to the next level? Check out this guide on crafting a project communication plan that can be the difference between success and failure.Check it out
3. Keep the end goal in mind
Managing a project requires balancing multiple timeframes. The day-to-day perspective involves careful time management and check-ins to ensure tasks are completed, while the monthly or quarterly view is more strategic, often involving longer lead times.
Decisions in each timeframe should be carefully planned. Many teams tend to focus on urgent issues and extinguishing fires, which can prevent them from thinking ahead and identifying long-term solutions.
A successful project not only meets its goals but also considers the sustainability of those goals after the project ends. If a project manager and their team are solely focused on short-term concerns, the project may not be adequately addressed. Remember, projects don't simply end upon delivery – there's also the process of transitioning the project team and sustaining the results.
To manage a project with the end in mind:
- Keep priorities front and center: Regularly remind your team of short-term and long-term goals, and actively set aside time to discuss the entire project scope.
- Emphasize the end date: Treat the project as a finite activity and always work towards a precise end date. Remember, if there's no end date, it's not a project!
- Promote strategic reflection: Create space for the team to reflect on the project's strategic planning and tackle more significant problems. This may involve finding additional resources, pausing non-urgent tasks, or creating a sense of manageable urgency to highlight the consequences of inadequate planning.
4. Clear the way for your team
Great project managers clear the path for their teams, ensuring they can perform their best work without hindrance. To excel, PMs must align with every team member, anticipate risks, and eliminate roadblocks.
Some roadblocks might include demanding clients who prevent the team from completing deliverables. In such cases, a PM can create space for the team by setting expectations for weekly scope reviews, acting as an intermediary between the team and client, or even removing team members from meetings and communications to help them focus. Other roadblocks involve limited access to tools, lack of information, or delayed feedback.
PMs must avoid becoming roadblocks themselves. Here's how:
- Ensure information accessibility: Ensure all stakeholders can easily access project files, documents, and info. Include someone else in communications to avoid information bottleneck when the PM is unavailable.
- Delegate wisely: Assign tasks to the right team members. PMs should encourage team support and be ready to respond swiftly when project conditions change.
- Schedule regular check-ins: Hold frequent touchpoints for diverse views on project delivery. Casual chats often lead to risk spotting, solution brainstorming, and fresh approaches.
- Foster productivity: Avoid becoming an information gatekeeper and empower the team for successful project delivery.
5. Become a tech expert
As project managers, you must be proficient in the tools you use. If PMs aren't effectively utilizing their tools, chances are the rest of the team isn't either.
Seamless integration and new functionalities are expected, so mastering these tools is crucial. For example, with Float, a schedule can easily be created from tasks that make up the project plan in Asana, Trello, or Jira.
Efficient use of tools reduces administrative overhead and ensures that PMs spend their time wisely. Here are some strategies to help you become a tools champion:
- Dive into the manuals or help guides: Familiarize yourself with the tools' strengths, limitations, and features by reading the materials available on their websites or in their help centers. For example, did you know there are over 100 guides to ensure you use Float to its fullest potential?
- Stay up-to-date with newsletters: Subscribe to newsletters for the latest updates on new features and improvements to your team's workflow. PMs' feedback can often lead to product enhancements, such as integrations and plug-ins.
- Take advantage of training resources: Some tools offer live training sessions to help you master their functionalities. Don't hesitate to participate and learn from the experts.
- Schedule regular tool maintenance: Add a recurring monthly event to your calendar to ensure ongoing tool hygiene and stay on top of updates.
- Onboard new team members effectively: Make sure new members are introduced to the tools and understand how the project team uses them. This can be done through meetings, guides, or self-paced training. Encourage them to become champions, just like you.
6. Avoid the blame game
Great project managers prioritize the needs of the project and business over individual concerns. They champion project success while keeping the team's best interests in mind.
When dealing with challenging situations, such as communicating risks or missed deadlines, PMs can maintain healthy relationships by adopting a neutral stance, resolving interpersonal conflicts, and fostering a collaborative atmosphere.
Here are some tips to keep difficult conversations neutral and maintain a balanced approach:
- Use inclusive language: Whenever possible, employ we in your communication to emphasize that everyone is working towards the same goal. Address individuals only when necessary to avoid singling anyone out.
- Take full accountability: As the PM, take responsibility for the issue if something goes wrong. Doing so will protect the team from blame and demonstrate leadership in finding a solution.
- Develop a new plan: After acknowledging the problem, quickly create a new strategy to move forward and achieve the desired outcome.
- Balance empathy with professionalism: Maintain a healthy balance between being supportive and holding the team accountable. For instance, if a team member needs time off, show compassion for their situation while ensuring the project's objectives can still be met during their absence.
By staying neutral, logical, and composed in challenging situations, you'll preserve your credibility in relationships and earn a reputation for being calm and collected project manager.
7. Trust your spidey senses
Project management is a career where soft skills like communication, building trust, and managing expectations are vital for success. PMs often have a strong sense of intuition when things seem off, and they use this intuition to investigate and make decisions based on professional relationships.
While relying on gut feelings is important, balancing this with logical analysis and data-driven decision-making is essential. PMs should also seek input from the team and gather information before taking action based on their hunches. Great PMs are empathetic and highly attuned to their team's needs, reading between the lines and sensing risks before they escalate. They monitor their observations quietly, gather evidence, and then take steps to mitigate risk with the team's consensus.
Here's how to trust your spidey senses as a PM:
- Pay attention to your thoughts and their tone: We often categorize information as good or bad. We can better understand our intuition and what it means by reflecting on why certain information feels positive or negative.
- Proactively address anticipated concerns: If you expect clients or stakeholders to have specific preferences or reactions, prepare to address those issues. For example, if a stakeholder dislikes bold colors, but your designer advocates for them, help frame the recommendation to highlight the benefits of bold colors.
- Develop backup plans for unreliable vendors: If you know a particular vendor is consistently unpredictable, set up alternative solutions to avoid potential issues.
- Practice and refine your intuition: Just as you trust your intuition in social settings, work on honing your project management instincts. Over time, you'll become adept at quickly identifying unrealistic timelines, underestimations, and over-scoped tasks. Once you sense these issues, confidently lead your team to address them.
8. Set things up for success
Project managers play a vital role in orchestrating the environment, team, tools, platforms, meetings, and documentation necessary for a project's successful delivery. Although they may not directly produce deliverables, they ensure that all aspects of the project run smoothly and effectively.
To set your team up for success within the project, consider the following:
- Establish open communication channels: Create platforms and spaces where team members can address concerns, be it during weekly meetings, on Slack, or through email. As a PM, you possess valuable insights that individuals might not share with their direct managers. By maintaining open lines of communication, you can better understand and address the needs of your team.
- Encourage authenticity: Allow your teammates to be genuine and share their highs and lows. As a PM, showing your human side by sharing relatable experiences, such as the weather or weekend plans, is essential. This approach makes you more accessible and approachable when the team faces challenges. However, remember to maintain professionalism, as you are still responsible for delegating work and overseeing the entire project.
Working remotely and collaborating with international teams bring additional nuances that project managers and team members must understand and adapt to. Float offers solutions to help you set your team up for success, regardless of location or time zones.Learn more
9. Centralize and leverage your processes
In French cooking, mise en place refers to preparing and organizing ingredients and equipment before cooking. It involves setting up the kitchen so everything is easily accessible and ready to use.
Similarly, project managers can apply this concept to their work by ensuring all project-related aspects have a designated place. Organizing a project involves centralizing documents, tools, processes, risks, and roles, creating a streamlined and efficient environment for the team.
Here's how you can ensure all project-related work has a good home:
- Utilize existing tools and processes: Ensure no risk, process, or detail gets missed by relying on tools and techniques that the team is already familiar with. For example, if the project needs more frequent risk registry reviews, add it as a recurring agenda item to an existing meeting.
- Designate a central document: Encourage your team to bookmark one specific document that is the hub for all project information. Link all other documents and files back to this main document for easy access.
- Use a shared drive for project files: Store all files on a shared drive, allowing team members to access the information they need quickly and easily.
- Maintain file management hygiene: Create a process and plan for regularly reviewing tools and keeping them current. This helps ensure that your team always has access to the latest information.
- Implement a consistent naming convention: Add the client name, date, and critical deliverable name to all project files, making them easier to search for later. For example, as a project manager, you can write minutes shared after every meeting containing significant decisions about budget approvals. To reference these minutes later, check your calendar for that meeting date and search for the relevant file.
Centralize your project and capacity planning
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10. Have an ally to deal with ambiguity
Creating an environment of support can help PMs overcome challenges and make better decisions, even when expected to be experts. Here are some tips:
Find an ally in ambiguity: Fostering a supportive environment can help PMs overcome challenges and make informed decisions, even when faced with uncertainties.
Project neutrality and reliability: Maintaining objectivity and appearing cool-headed is critical as a PM. However, allies are invaluable for navigating complex projects.
Sounding board in uncertainty: In times of ambiguity, PMs can benefit from having a sounding board to act quickly, even without a complete picture. Reflecting on what's known, identifying unknowns, and creating a plan is essential.
Consult before team involvement: A PM can consult with a trusted ally to help identify gaps or misses before involving the entire team. This ally is a project stakeholder who understands the intricacies and can provide valuable insights.
Identify support early on: At the project's onset, identify team members who can provide second opinions during critical decisions. They can also be a safe space for discussing challenges and exploring solutions.
The role of an ally: A successful PM needs skills, knowledge, experience, leadership, courage, and resilience. Having a trusted ally can make all the difference in managing the complexities of project management.
Becoming an effective project manager requires a blend of technical knowledge, soft skills, and the ability to adapt to different situations. By mastering these essential tips, PMs can create a supportive and efficient working environment that promotes project success.
Remember to trust your intuition, maintain open communication, and collaborate with allies to navigate the challenges and complexities of project management. As you grow and develop in your role, continue to learn and refine your skills to lead your team confidently and deliver successful projects consistently.
Embrace the journey and celebrate your accomplishments along the way!