This project management guide is for project managers, team members, and clients. It will help everyone on your team understand the project management steps, and what comes next. It will ensure that everyone follows the same path to finish the project on time and on budget.
Project management steps are integrated — each step depending on the others. For example, quality craftsmanship doesn’t matter if you solve the wrong problem, or your client doesn’t understand the solution. A great project manager sees the entire process start to finish; vigilantly and patiently completes each step before moving to the next.
Each project should start by you working with your client to define the project scope.
Start by understanding why they are hiring you — be careful to not propose a solution to quickly. Reassure your client that this is a challenging assignment. They have come to you, because their team couldn’t solve it. In fact, writing a winning proposal is typically less about your solution, and more about proving that you understand their problems and goals.
Next determine what will be required to solve their problem — the deliverables for the project. This will help you define the requirements of the project: the bare minimum features or results that need to be met to fulfill the contract.
Watch out for the project planning fallacy.
Problem: The project planning fallacy causes people underestimate how long it will take them to complete projects. Interestingly, this bias only affects predictions about your own tasks. People typically are pessimistic when estimating other people’s tasks.
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky propose that people are optimistic about their own abilities because they have an unconscious need to impress people. This causes them to predict that a project will take less time and less money because that’s what the client wants.
Solution: Save timesheets from past projects and group them by project types; use the average to create new estimates for similar projects. Also, have your team review your proposal. The typically care less about impressing the client, and can provide a more realistic timeline.
Start by determining what roles are required, and who can fill them. Then collaborate with your project team to break each deliverable into tasks, and estimate the amount of time required to complete each task.
Break apart any task that will take longer than 6 hours, and group tasks together that take less than an hour. Your goal is to outline the project deliverables, without creating too much minutia.
Then assign the tasks to the appropriate team members. Be careful to take into account other projects your team members may be working on.
Now you can determine if you have capacity for the project. Each person should have a target utilization rate, and your goal is to get each person as close to their target utilization as possible without over scheduling them.
Know when to turn down less profitable projects.
Problem: Agreeing to projects to keep your team busy, then not having capacity to close more profitable projects. Most likely you will have to turn down the more profitable project, or give in and overbook your team to try to complete both projects.
Solution: First, set your billable rate so that your team doesn’t have to be 100% booked to make a profit. Then establish a baseline for new projects. Set the baseline so that you can be content with any project that meet that standard. This will make it easier to turn down less profitable work, as well as work that would over schedule your team.
Once your project is active, you need to monitor progress and compare it to the original project plan, and make adjustments as needed.
Timesheets are a major key in this project management step. Recording time provides data that helps you understand your project’s progress. Your team’s timesheets will show you when tasks are taking longer than expected, who has availability to help and show the project’s progress.
Projects never perfectly follow the plan. It is okay to make changes to your project plan. However, make sure that you are not changing core concepts. Adding additional unneeded requirements can cause your project to go off-track. This scope creep can lead to project failure.
Communicate Why Your Team Needs to Track Time.
Problem: Tracking time requires effort, and can be easy to ignore. However, data from timesheets is essential for monitoring progress, and identifying issues early.
Solution: Communicate how timesheets are being used, and how important they are important for project management — read more.
Just because you think the work is done, doesn’t mean the project is finished. Your client has to agree. You want to leave them impressed and satisfied with their investment, and not scratching their heads wondering, “Is this it?”.
It makes a big difference how you present your deliverables. We recommend walking clients through from start to finish: the problem you solved, your process, and how the final deliverables solved the original problem. If you did great work, they won’t be able to argue that the deliverables don’t fulfill the project scope.
Note: if the deliverables are not tangible: provide clients with a physical report or slide deck that they can hold. This will help them feel like they really “got” something for their investment.
Once you have agreement that the project is complete, you can send the final invoice. Be ready to provide details if your client has any questions — download invoice templates and designs.
Communicate with stakeholders.
Problem: It can be difficult to keep project’s stakeholders informed. Leaving stakeholders without insight leads to frustration and mistrust. Without trust the feedback loop for project requirements disappears. This can gravely impact the effectiveness of your project.
Solution: Provide updates every few weeks. Keep a clear line of communication, and make sure they understand that their feedback is important to the progress of the project.
Project managers often overlook this step. Your timesheets and completed project are full of data and lessons. Hold a post-project analysis meeting with your team to reveal issues and gain feedback.
Here are a few examples of questions to ask yourself and your team:
Ask your client or stakeholder what improvements can be made. Honest feedback is the key to improving, and getting ready for the next project.
Save your timesheets, and use them to bid on new projects.
Problem: Repurposing proposal from past projects to bid on new projects. This leads to your team repeating the same mistakes over and over.
Solution: Save your timesheets, and use them to bid on new projects. This provides a much better starting point than old proposals because they contain the work it really took to complete the project. True, each project is unique, but working from timesheets is better than working from proposals.
Following these project management steps can get complicated fast — especially as you add people and projects. We know because our founders ran agencies, software development teams, and consultancies. They created Bric to build the software they wish they had.
Each feature of Bric makes it easier to follow these project management steps.
Bric is only USD $7 per team member per month, and can help you follow these project management steps to delivering successful projects.