Project Management Best Practices

A Dice Talent Community

By Cathlynn Carman

Here are the areas I focus on when setting up a project. Though how you leverage each item will depend on the environment you work in, all will apply in some way.

Project Organization

Planning the Work: One thing that I hear just about every time I step into a new situation is that there’s no plan, or I uncover challenges with existing plans and how they’re handled. When a plan is in place, there may not be any organization around it or any follow through in terms of communication. You know how the saying “You have to work the plan.” Well, you need a plan to work.

It’s easy to sit down and create a ton of documentation around anything. Computer + Keyboard + Words in some arrangement = Plan. But you need a plan that will get you buy in plan from all levels, including the project resources. If they don’t agree, it will be very difficult for you to execute plan that you’ve created.

Some of this will come down to the actual communication styles within the group or organization. Some will come down to the project manager just executing what you’ve set forth to do.

Define the Team Framework: Part of defining the team is the framework of the team. It is essential that each team member knows all the others (whether they’re remote or not), and has had proper introductions. If the team isn’t comfortable together, its communications will fail, and the framework will fail.

Once you have the framework defined, you have to make sure it stays constant. If it’s modified, be sure it’s done according to situation and influences that are necessary to completing all of the project’s deliverables.

Here again, you’ll need buy-in from the appropriate stakeholders, including management and business partners.

Creating the Project Plan: To have a solid project plan you’ll need a charter or business case; a scope and  requirements description; and a project schedule. Other things to include (but are detailed in other sections) are change management processes, communication plans, and risk and resource management plans.

The Project Charter and Business Case are essential in order to communicate overall goals and objectives to the project team.

Some inputs for these documents are:

  • Business reason for starting the project
  • Objectives for the project
  • High-level objectives concerning the solution
  • Listing of Stakeholders and their part in project
  • Scope definition (in and out)
  • High level risk management plan
  • Communication plan
  • Expected ROI (Return on Investment)
  • Budget allowance and owner

Ways that these documents are useful are:

  • To help provide authorization for the project
  • To provide priority for the business partners and IT groups
  • To serves as the primary tool to establish the rest of the project documentation and direction
  • To control scope and requirements within the project

Project Scope and Requirements: The scope and requirements documents will provide the overall framework and deliverables for the entire project. These can change over time, but will enable the team to manage scope (or scope creep) and the triple constraint. These are essential to enable the project manager to maintain team accountability to the end deliverables.

Milestones and Project Schedule: The project schedule is important because it helps define an overall plan for the course of the project and often creates a starting point for all stakeholders to engage with the project. It provides the baseline for your project and overall structure to the timeline.

Change Management: In order to effectively manage change, you have to define the appropriate goal and scope for the project completely. If there is not a fully defined scope statement and business objectives, the change management plan will not be as effective and it will be very easy for your client to push that line.

Communication Plan: Developing a communication plan is more than defining your thoughts and desires for how you want to communicate. Aside from some standard things (steering committee time, stakeholder update, team meetings), it is extremely important to define a plan that will work with the individual team member and culture to know what will work. I typically will develop a basic plan up front for my kickoff meeting, but may also provide update if I see that the team has different needs as the project progresses.

Resource Management: In the beginning of a project, it is important to identify all the known resources you will need in the plan and start defining actual resources to fill those roles. It is not just important to define the people that will be doing the daily work, but also to identify those who will impact your project like the steering committee and potential stakeholders.

Risk Management: Ensure that you define as many known risks up front. While you’re at it, see if you can identify any new risks, as well. These will be paired with mitigation plans for each item that you describe. This document will be a living document – it will change over the entire course of the project.

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