A project manager is like the director of a movie, or the conductor of an orchestra. He or she coordinates the efforts of many people, helping them to stay on schedule, perform at their best and work productively with others.
People considering a career in project management must be more than organized. They need to know how to set ambitious yet achievable goals, and to see how their projects fit into the larger picture of progress at their organizations.
The following tips will help new project managers, or those learning project management, start off on the right foot.
Set the Scope
A project’s scope should be seen as the comprehensive description of what the project will include – and what it won’t. It is the blueprint for the project, and just as with an architectural blueprint, it’s difficult to make major changes after construction has begun.
A well-designed project will have firm start and end dates, as well as measurable objectives and a clear view of what success will look like. If these elements are hard to define, it may be difficult to measure progress and determine when the project is complete. In fact, missing any of these components might indicate that the project under consideration is not actually a project – it might just be part of the organization’s continuing operations.
The word “no” is a project manager’s best friend. Project managers must know exactly what they are trying to accomplish, and be ready to push back when other people try to expand the project beyond its original goals. Scope “creep” – when people expand the project beyond the original parameters – has the potential to delay or derail an entire project.
CIO, a website and magazine for technology executives, says some of the following must be identified to set a clear and predictable scope: objectives, goals, tasks, resources, budget and schedule.
To make sure everyone is on the same page, a project manager must bring all the players together at the beginning. A successful kickoff meeting, whether done in person or virtually, can set the tone for the entire project. The Digital Project Manager, a website for project managers, provides a sample agenda for a kickoff meeting:
- Client background
- Project purpose
- Approach to project
- Teamwork best practices
- Planning for kickoff with client, if applicable
- Momentum building
Visualize Your Progress
Project participants need to be able to understand which tasks have been completed, which are underway and which are planned for the future. Many projects are like jigsaw puzzles, and all the pieces must fit together to finish the big picture. Some tasks can be done concurrently, while others require one task to be done before another can begin.
Because of these complexities, project managers need to be able to track progress visually. One popular tool is a Gantt chart, which tracks tasks chronologically. Gantt charts can be simple or complex, and there are many free Microsoft Excel templates available online for download.
Another option involves using project management software (usually cloud-based) designed to track tasks, progress, process owners, timelines and other components. Software such as BaseCamp, MS Project, Trello and Wrike provide information and customizability beyond using a Gantt chart by itself. Costs to use the software may vary. When considering project management software, project managers should evaluate features and reporting capabilities.