7 Project Management Best Practices You Should Never Forget
I love reading about project management. Not too much about project management best practices.
Project management is such a vague field that its hard to generalize its principles beyond the basics. On top of that, it’s behavioral nature makes it hard to chase consistent frameworks.
I am mindful of this as I discuss project management best practices in this post. These practices are handpicked from numerous PM methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall, etc. They hold true regardless of your team size, project, and industry.
This is not a step by step guide for organizing projects. Simply a few practices I have personally found immensely useful. I hope you will too:
1. Only have one person accountable for one task
It’s such a simple principle that’s often ignored. A culture of accountability is at the heart of effective project management. And it’s hard to foster it if multiple people share accountability for one task.
While it’s tempting to assign a single task to multiple people, especially when you have a larger team; it’s almost always counter-productive.
Have only one assignee because it makes it clear who’s in charge of seeing the tasks through. It reduces ambiguity and the tendency to pass the buck when things go wrong.
This is echoed by both the RACI matrix and Apple’s DRI model. That’s why in RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Consulted, Informed) matrix, being responsible and accountable are two different things. Multiple people can be responsible for working on a task but only one should be labeled accountable.
That is also the reason why in most task management tools, assignees and followers are different categories. Many task management tools also restrict multiple assignees.
2. Give authority to project managers
In many cross-functional projects, project managers are tasked with delivering the right outcome. However, in many cases, they aren’t given real authority. The project members still remain answerable to their line managers. Expecting results without giving the authority will set you for disappointment.
Giving authority to project managers means empowering them to take calls on who does what in the project, who can be removed, what are the priorities, etc. Project managers’ feedback on the performance of project members should be incorporated in their performance appraisals.
One shouldn’t get confused by the limited authority of Scrum Masters in Scrum teams. In fact, the lack of authority is one of the differentiating factors between the Scrum Master and Project Manager. It works in Scrum because of its inherent structure. But a project manager in traditional projects needs authority to accomplish its goals.
3. Keep stakeholders informed
Stakeholders don’t like surprises. Unfortunately, often project managers get consumed in the internal dynamics of the project and lose touch with the expectations of the stakeholders. More importantly, stakeholder expectations aren’t stagnant. They evolve as the project progresses.
This was one of the core issues that led to the creation of the Agile methodology. Software developers were among the first to realize how easily they can lose touch with the ever-changing business requirements.
Of course, structured updates that are scheduled in the project planning phase are important. They provide an opportunity to consistently update the stakeholders. However, in many cases, they aren’t enough.
Establish a continuous feedback loop with both internal and external stakeholders where they can get real-time updates on the project. Project/task management tools are a great way to do it. Some of them let you share updates with an unlimited number of guest accounts.
When in doubt, always remember that over-communication is better than under-communication. Then it’s easier to figure out the right cadence of updates.
4. Have a flexible process
Project management methodologies are intended to support people, not vice versa. It’s important as a project manager to be flexible and adapt your methodology to the unique conditions of the project. No methodology can work if you apply it rigidly without understanding the dynamics of your team.
Most Agile methodologies specifically state this. Maarten Dalmijn has a great post on this topic. Flexibility is at the core of Scrum. Experienced Scrum teams are able to adjust their backlog during a sprint. They also adjust the level of autonomy in their team based on their product and industry. Even experienced practitioners of Waterfall understand that their model can be flexible. They follow its basic structure (linear sequential phases) but iterate and revise based on their requirements.
5. Understand the workload of your team
We discussed giving authority to project managers. That comes with not just the responsibility to drive the project home but also the well being of its members.
Are people overwhelmed? Do they need support? What do they want to accomplish from the project? Do they need help with prioritization? These are some important questions that often get buried under the constant rush to meet deadlines. Modern project management tools allow project managers to visualize the workload of their team and identify areas where they need help.
It’s also important to understand what priorities your team has outside of the project. This will help you plan the workflow more accurately. And also collaborate better with the line managers of your project members.
6. Optimize continuously
No project management methodology will fit perfectly with your project. Every time you apply it, you’ll uncover new insights – things that did and didn’t work. Every project cycle becomes an opportunity for optimization based on the insights.
It’s important to not just evaluate the results of the project but also its approach. This principle is outlined really well in Scrum teams, where there is a clear distinction between the sprint review and retrospective. One meeting looks at the results of the sprint and, takes in the feedback of stakeholders. The other is a deep look at their internal process, to uncover opportunities to improve.
All popular project management methodologies, Waterfall, Scrum, Kanban, etc. put a great emphasis on continuous improvement of the project management process.
The best way to do it is not to wait until the entire project is over but to develop a mindset to identify opportunities to improve as they pop up. You can then address them even when the project is underway.
7. Ensure rewards are consistent with results
This links back to the first practice that we discussed – accountability. For any project to be successful, it’s important to have a culture of accountability. That can only be created if the results of the project have an impact on the growth of its members.
The project manager’s performance is measured by the outcome of the project and the well being of its members. Each of the member’s performance is measured against their responsibilities. Incorporate this feedback into performance appraisals. Reward top performers and help those who underperformed get better. If rewards aren’t consistent with results, it becomes really difficult to cultivate a culture of ownership and accountability.
What are some of the project management practices that you have found useful? We’d love to hear them out.
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