4 Tips for Getting Started With Project Management
Project management is one tough job. In recent years, organizations have moved away from having one dedicated project manager for every project to a much leaner setup. It’s not uncommon for the lead on a project to wear
multiple hats in addition to being the manager, or for a dedicated project manager to juggle dozens or even a hundred projects at once.
Even if you’ve settled for a great tool, without the right strategy, even the best can fail. How you start your project, from the preplanning phase to the kickoff meeting, sets the tone for how the project will move forward. I spoke with a few project management experts to get their advice on how to get off on the right foot. It’s certainly a great tool, but without the right strategy, even the best tools can fail. How you start your project, from the preplanning phase to the kickoff meeting, sets the tone for how the project will move forward. I spoke with a few project management experts to get their advice on how to get off on the right foot.
Make Sure You Have a Project
Before you start trying to manage a project, it’s crucial to make sure you’re attempting to manage a project and not something else. That’s the kind of guidance that I was surprised to hear because it seems so simple, but I heard it from more than one project management expert.
So what makes a project a project? As Jason Westland, CEO of ProjectManager.com, told me, “If you have a set of tasks or a defined scope of work, and it has to be delivered by a particular end date to meet a particular requirement, then it’s a project. If it’s just ongoing, then it’s not.”
Before some organizations kick off a project, they might hold what’s called a discovery meeting. A discovery meeting is the perfect time to make sure you’re locking down a project and not just workflow.
Define the Scope
Whether it’s coming from someone in-house or an external client, every project needs clear delineation. Peter Clarkson is director at Maestro Development, which makes the project management platform Maestro Project Office. “A project has a mandate to do A, B, and C,” he explained. “Invariably in projects large or small, somebody else decides they like A, B, and C, but their department also needs D, so let’s add D. So you have to in a kickoff meeting set out what that scope is, and if it’s not in the scope, in that framework, then it’s not in the project.”
Defining the scope can happen in a discovery meeting, or it might simply come from a conversations or email exchanges between the client or person requesting the project and the potential lead or manager of the project.
Hold a Kickoff Meeting
Speaking of kickoff meetings, a lot goes on in them that sets the project on its trajectory. The purpose of the kickoff meeting is to get all the players of the project on the same page as to the definition of the project and how it’s going to run.
In a kickoff meeting, the project lead will define for all the players at least these things:
- Project scope and requirements,
- Players and their roles,
- Deliverables and milestones.
A kickoff meeting should define the project’s control hierarchy, said Clarkson, meaning “who the project manager is, what his or her role is, who the sponsor is, who the steering committee or advisory committee are, and what their role is.” He also noted that “a lot of people have never worked on a project before. You have to lay out how they will work together, what the hierarchy is, and what the decision-making processes are.”
Deliverables are specific things that the person requesting the project gets along the way. They might be mockups of a design or a working prototype of a product. Milestones are key dates to hit, and they are often due dates for deliverables, although they can comprise other moments, too.
“As long as the scope is defined up front, the requirements and deliverables are defined up front, and there are some key milestones—things that need to be delivered by a certain date—then the project is off to a great start,” said Westland.
For more on how to get the very most out of your kickoff meeting, read my interview with Do.com Ceo Jason Shah in which he gives thoughtful advice on how to make meetings more productive.
Map Out Your Deadlines
Because by definition every project has an end date, as Westland explained, it’s important to get that deadline onto your calendar. That’s when the project ends. There should be no more work on any particular project past its final deadline. Anything beyond that is follow-up work for someone else, or even a new project.