Here are some practical pointers for project managers on how to ensure any project’s success….

1. Identify and engage with your project sponsor

The project sponsor is the person (usually a senior manager) who authorises a project, and acts as its champion within the organisation. As a project manager, it’s essential that you know who this individual is, the stake they have in the project, and what their expectations are. Introduce yourself at the earliest opportunity, and make it your mission to keep them regularly updated throughout the project management process.

2. Agree what success will look like

The disciplined nature of project management requires a great deal of planning. On occasion, this can lead to an over-emphasis on inputs. What really counts when the project is finished, however, are the deliverables. Agreeing and documenting key success indicators such as project scope, quality, relevance, time and costs at the start of the project will maximise the chance that project stakeholder expectations are met. It’s important to secure input and buy-in to these indicators from the project sponsor and project team. [1]

3. Set well-defined goals

Any project needs clear goals, objectives and milestones to ensure that everyone understands what needs to be achieved and by when, and to enable resources to be allocated appropriately. Setting SMART objectives, i.e. those which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound, will help you to maintain focus and keep your project on track.

4. Manage risks and develop contingency plans

All projects are subject to risk. Unanticipated internal or external forces can have an impact on progress at any stage of the project lifecycle. When planning your project, it’s therefore important to consider potential sources of risk (e.g. budget cuts) what, if anything you can do to minimise such risk, and to have contingency plans in place should risk become reality. Potential risks to your project should then be periodically monitored and assessed throughout the rest of the project lifecycle.

5. Communicate effectively and manage expectations

Part of the job of the project manager is to communicate a compelling and attainable vision to all the stakeholders. The success of the project depends, in part, on the way in which these objectives are communicated. Your communication strategy should therefore be comprehensive, clear, and inspiring to ensure buy-in and support from all stakeholders. Once the project is underway, progress reports should be communicated to the project team, sponsor and the wider organisation as appropriate.

6. Adopt visionary management and good leadership

Successful projects are characterised by committed and consistent leadership. The project manager has three key responsibilities: to manage the project itself, to oversee the project team, and to ensure they themselves have a working knowledge of any specialist areas that relate to the project. As project manager, a main part of your role is to act as a conduit between stakeholders and the project team, enabling information to flow between the two, and addressing any conflicting priorities. While delegating some responsibility to project team members is recommended, it’s important that you maintain overall charge, and have final authority over key decisions.

7. Embrace change management

If the project involves large-scale change for your organisation, it will be necessary to consider change management carefully. It’s particularly important to anticipate the likely effects of such change on both employees and your customers in order to mitigate resistance and alleviate their concerns. Here again, communication is key. It’s important that stakeholders understand what is changing and why, and the benefits that it will bring for them.

8. Be flexible and adaptable

As project manager, it’s important to strike a balance between setting objectives that are too rigid and those that change too frequently. Your project team should be given enough flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. However, it’s important not to move the goalposts too often, as your team may begin to show signs of change fatigue, and you may even put the original aims of the project at risk. [2]

9. Encourage transparency and accountability

If team members are not communicating effectively with each other and other parts of the organisation, there will be a risk of duplication of effort. Regular and well-planned project team meetings can therefore be time well spent. For larger projects, cross-functional project teams are desirable, with members being encouraged to discuss their progress. Clear lines of accountability for individual tasks and for the project as a whole should also be drawn, to ensure all project team members take responsibility for their own particular part of the project.

10. Spend time reviewing as well as doing

Throughout the project lifecycle it’s important to evaluate progress to ensure the project is on track. At the end of the project, a full evaluation exercise should be undertaken to identify what worked well, what didn’t and what could have gone better. The lessons learned from this review can then help inform any subsequent projects that you, your department, or the organisation undertakes.

Sources & notes:

[1] R Max Wideman First Principles of Project Management (28 May 2010).

[2] Change fatigue can occur when employees experience multiple change initiatives, often in close succession, which can result in them becoming cynical and de-motivated