This is it. This is my personal, and somewhat comprehensive, list of project management best practices. I look at this as sort of a “good PM checklist.” If I make sure that I'm doing these things when they should occur and - for those that are ongoing - throughout the project, then I usually have a fighting chance to drive home a successful project, save for those things that simply are out of my control. But, by sticking to this list, there are fewer and fewer of those “beyond my control” things because I'm informed, on top of things and ahead of the game most of the time.
1. Formal project kickoff. Whether it's a 15 minute phone call or a two day cat and papagay show at the customer's site, always conduct some sort of formal project kickoff session. It gives everybody involved a starting point and a chance to start the project on the same page with proper expectations set for the management of the project and their role in it. For larger, complex projects this needs to be a detailed session with a presentation deck, the statement of work (SOW) readily available for reference and at least the draft project schedule ready to review and dissect.
2.Involve the team in early project planning. The best way to get your team on board with their tasks, accountable to you for their tasks, and accepting of full ownership for those tasks is to involve them as much as possible in the early planning of the project.
3. Detailed requirements definition. The customer will likely come to you with a list of requirements. Consider those to be high-level requirements – sort of a starting point. Now it's you and your team's responsibility to dig deep and pull out the real requirements for the engagement.
4. Risk planning and management. I know it's painful sometimes and we'd like to leave this off the list, but spend at least some time planning for risk – you won't be sorry. And then manage that list weekly throughout the engagement and add to it as necessary.
5. Project schedule oversight and revision. The project schedule is not static – it is dynamic and will be throughout the project. Revise it weekly and use it to drive the project status call with the customer (along with the project status report).
6. Weekly budget forecasting and analysis. Review and revise the project budget weekly so as to never lose control of it. A 10 percent budget overrun can be corrected – a 50 percent budget overrun likely can't -- it will be too far gone.
7. Weekly formal customer status meetings. Conduct weekly formal meeting with the project customer – even when there is little to nothing to discuss. Keep it to an hour (or less) and stay on topic.
8. Weekly internal team meetings. You will likely be engaging many of your team members every day at certain points in the project, but conduct a weekly internal team meeting before the formal customer call so you know everything you're revising is up to date with the latest information and all bases are covered.
9. Resource forecasting. Review your resource plan weekly to make sure you have the right skill set in place for the next activities due to start. Schedules and tasks change – which means your resource needs can change, too.
10. Issue management. Manage issues well throughout the project engagement – whether it's with a full featured issue management tool or a spreadsheet.
11. Scope management. Scope management is always a difficult one – the customer never likes to hear “change order.” But it must be done to ensure the project stays on the right timeline and on budget.
12. Document and track change orders separately. Whether this is with a spreadsheet, or on the status report in a separate section, or both, be sure to track change orders carefully so nothing falls through the cracks.
13. Project status reporting. Choose a project status report and process that is repeatable and doable for you and the customer – and don't forget your reporting needs to your senior management. Choose the right layout/format and you may only need to produce one report that fits all needs. Management likes dashboards, graphs and green-yellow-red status health for a quick view.
14. Customer engagement. You need the customer engaged throughout to help make decisions and provide information. Don't let them slip away to their day job...continue to have weekly meetings and assign them tasks to stay on top of.
15. Executive management reporting. I basically covered this in the status reporting section – it's important and you need to find out what they need to know about your project. You'll make life easier for you if you can incorporate it into the same status report that everyone gets.
16. Engage the stakeholders. This isn't just the project team and customer. Engage all stakeholders by calling them to the project status meetings when needed, including them in status reporting and project schedule distribution, etc. They may be needed for key decision making...keep them engaged.
17. Communication planning. Communication on the project may be the single most important thing that the project manager does. Set the tone early that all communication goes through the PM and distribute key contact information for all project participants. On more complex projects, a formal communication plan may be in order. I've led many project engagements where it is a paid-for formal deliverable.
18. Lessons learned sessions throughout the engagement. Very few project managers actually get around to conducting lesson learned sessions at the end of the project as everyone is moving on to their next assignment. Conduct these sessions after each big deliverable or milestone so as to help you manage better now and in the future. Benefit on the current project as well.
19. Peer reviews on all deliverables. Don't learn the hard way about this one like I did and send out an error-riddled deliverable to the project client. Have your entire team – when possible – participate in the review of all plans and deliverables that go to the client. You won't regret it – I certainly don't regret it now. Errors breed customer concern and dissatisfaction.
20. Post implementation support and formal handoff. Plan well for customer handoff to support and formal handoff of the implemented solution to the project client. Leaves everyone and everything covered, increases customer satisfaction, and that end users are taken care of.