As a project manager, I am constantly running 10 to 15 individual projects for several different clients. The daily tasks of a PM consist of juggling dozens of moving parts including scopes, budgets, time, people, communications and even expectations. In this post, I will focus on one of the most important – and least appreciated – building blocks of successful project management: planning.
Step 1: Setting roles and responsibilities
No matter how big or small, a project should always start with a plan. This detailed documentation of realistic objectives, roles and schedules brings all parties on the same page about what needs to happen and when. Although listing out all the necessary steps for delivering and closing a project may sometimes seem like a daunting task, you can trust me when I tell you that it’s worth the effort. If my experience as a project manager has taught me anything, it’s that a successful delivery of a project requires commitment from not only me and my team but also the client.
At the beginning of a project, one of the PM’s main responsibilities is to make sure that the client commits to a timely delivery of all materials and feedback. Going through the plan together and clearing any possible confusion is crucial at this point, as it will save the whole project team from a ton of roadblocks later on. It’s also important to remember that not all clients have a technical background or a clear understanding of the many considerations related to a web development project. In fact, that’s probably the reason why they hired an agency in the first place. When this is the case, it’s the PM’s responsibility to provide their support and expertise to make sure that the client understands what they can expect and when.
Step 2: Scheduling for success
After we've mapped out and agreed on a detailed scope, it’s time to start thinking about the timeline for completing it. I usually start by asking the client about any internal deadlines that may influence delivery. Understanding dependencies such as product launch dates and internal marketing reviews enables creating a work-back schedule that meets the client's exact needs. However, it’s even more important to make sure that the deadline is realistic. A great website can’t be built in a week (although Luxus has been known to make the impossible possible) and managing the clients’ expectations about the delivery and quality of work is crucial.
When the timeline is set, it’s best to make sure that all deadlines – even the small ones – are marked in a calendar. That way, it’s easy to keep track of multiple projects and make sure that they all stay on course, on schedule and on budget. If there are unexpected delays, I’ll be able to communicate those to the client as soon as they occur.
Step 3: Following through
When it comes to tools, I’m a big fan of Evernote. At the beginning of a project, I prepare a checklist of each and every day of the project for as long as there are deadlines. That way, I have a to-do list for the foreseeable future, which helps me keep track of the agreed schedule. At the end of every week, I take a moment to go through all the tasks that I have planned for the week to come, and double-check that I have booked the internal resources that I need for hitting all the deadlines. I also might send out an email to my clients reminding them about about the agreed feedback schedule. Most of my clients are really busy, and one way I can help them is by making sure that they stay on top their commitments. When you think about it this way, lost time usually means lost resources, which ultimately translates as wasted budget. In other words, meeting those deadlines is in everyone's best interest, and my job is to look out for that shared interest.
Even though a thorough plan goes a long way, it’s good to remember that sometimes even the best laid plans go south. My team members may get sick, the client may need additional time to give feedback or the technical specs may change mid-project. However, when a carefully made plan goes out the window, a good PM keeps their cool and makes a new one.