Everyone benefits from improved project management techniques and best practices, whether we are managing a software development team, building websites and online marketing campaigns, or just collaborating with projects that affect other aspects of our business.
Professional project managers have created labyrinths of rules, methodologies, and best practices to help businesses create better project plans and production cycles. Just check out the latest edition of the PMBOK® to see the extent of these guidelines. With practice, you may find that even just a few of these best practices on their own and are often enough to significantly improve your project planning and management.
1) Set Reachable Goals
Setting unrealistic goals and underestimating the amount of time an activity will take to complete can send a project timeline far off course. Use the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) formula to help improve the accuracy of your timeline estimates when scoping certain tasks.
Let's say that you know a job takes you 10 hours to complete on average, but it's taken anywhere from 6-42 in the past. When you're preparing your time estimate, you should plan on 13 hours instead of your average.
If a client, boss, team member, or other type of stakeholder says their budget is only 8 hours, then it may be tempting to say that you can do it since you've done something similar in 6 hours in the past. This is a risky decision, and it may be prudent to instead pull back on the scope of the deliverable in order to better accommodate the time budget.
It's best to create realistic, reachable goals that can be reasonably accomplished in the given timeframe based on the PERT formula above. The less experience you have with a given activity, the more likely it is that your total time will shift towards the worst-case scenario, so you may want to give higher weight to the "P" variable or increase your "M" value in those circumstances.
2) Build Buffers Into Your Timeline
Another tip is to plan buffers to address points in your workflow that are likely to create gaps in production. Buffers are especially needed whenever something is out of your direct control, such as when someone else must provide feedback or make a decision about something that has been done.
The amount of time you should build into your buffer typically depends on the size of the stakeholder group. If you’ve sent a mockup to a single decision maker for approval, for example, then building in a day or two makes sense. If the mockups must go to a team or a committee, then you may need to build in several weeks.
Inquiring about the decision-making process for new clients during preliminary scoping may help you refine these variables.
3) Set Clear Expectations
When it comes to successful project planning, half the battle is establishing clear expectations for project deliverables up front. To keep things moving smoothly, communicate with stakeholders frequently along the way.
If the project is a social media campaign, then make sure that all stakeholders' idea of success is discussed up-front and clearly documented. Some may want to see an increase in followers on a social media profile or post shares, while others may be more interested in seeing a particular type of conversion goal metric increased.
By discussing these goals and getting everyone on the same page, you'll increase the chances that everyone is working towards the same end and that they will be happy with the end results.
4) Create Backup Plans
Despite having amazing people on your team and a well-planned project, things still sometimes go wrong. Mitigating risk wherever possible is an important part of completing your reachable goals on time.
There are many ways to mitigate project risk, but we want to leave you with one simple best practice to begin implementing: always have a backup plan.
Whether you are working with an in-house team member or an outside vendor, it is a good idea to have a few resources in your pocket that may be called upon to help bail you out of a jam in case your primary resource can't complete the activity on time.
In some cases, it may even make sense to have standing relationships with other groups that provide the same product or service as you. If this is a reciprocal relationship, and you are available to do the same for them when they're in a jam, everyone ultimately wins in the end.
By creating realistic timelines, building in buffers, and clearly communicating throughout, you can improve your project planning and workflows.