Having been involved in both large and small projects, my experiences have shown that certain key factors lead to a successful outcome.

Based on these experiences, here are some of the most important elements of project management that could make the difference between failure or success.

  • Management buy-in. Demonstrable management support and commitment is essential for every project.
  • The right resources. People need to be prepared to commit to the work required of them.
  • The ‘Time – Cost – Quality’ Triangle. An increase or decrease in any of the three areas will cause an effect on another part. Before embarking on a project, ask yourself these questions; Do you have sufficient budget and time to complete the project? Pay attention to detail and don’t forget about quality.
  • Communication and documentation are essential.
  • It looks simple, right? There aren’t too many pieces in this puzzle. Oh, how wrong can we be?

So what’s next?

The project plan

Let’s look at the project plan, a critical part of making a project succeed. Firstly, make sure all the required tasks are listed. The project plan must list in detail all the aspects of the puzzle and how to deal with them when issues arise. These include setbacks like illness or unscheduled leave, problems which can be addressed if they have been outlined in the project scope.

The project timeline

Customers often ask if the project will be ready to go live within an almost impossible timeframe. Do not be tempted to say yes. Sure, if you do, your customer will be happy – initially. However, you will set yourself up for a stressful project and, most likely, an impracticable deadline.

Be realistic. It may be necessary to discuss the project going live in phases with agreed deliverables. These should be dealt with in the scoping and workshop sessions. Be careful never to give any timelines or commit to completion dates without fully understanding the requirements and the time they will take to achieve. Only once this information has been determined can you provide rosters and understand the risks.

Plan sensible dates for the schedule and identify expected deliverables up front. Continual changes (scope creep) and missed deadlines are a sure path to failure. It is better to create correct expectations at the start of a project, rather than finding yourself in deep water when you cannot deliver. No-one wants a dissatisfied customer.

Regular update meetings are also necessary to create awareness as to the status of the project, and these should be included in the communication plan as agreed to by all stakeholders. New requirements may reveal themselves during the project, making it necessary to adjust priorities. These guidelines will help to keep the project on track and in line with the key deliverables.

The project scope

Make sure you have a set of expectations agreed by both parties, starting with a project scope. This will provide everyone involved with a full understanding of what is (or is not) included in the project.

Where you need to, add the necessary detail to ensure you have captured all the relevant points and be sure to refer to — or perhaps include – the accepted proposal. This will become your ‘bible’, the manual for delivering a successful project. It’s important to adhere to the content in the document, and to create amendments as necessary. Make sure that all parties are on board and sign an agreement to commit to the success of the project — in other words, define the project plan ‘end-to-end’.

Here are some of the most important considerations to include:

  • Scope management
  • Requirements management
  • Schedule management plan
  • Cost management plan
  • Quality management plan
  • Process improvement
  • Human resources plan
  • Communications management v Risk management plan
  • Procurement management plan v Stakeholder management plan

An important project element that is often overlooked is the communication to stakeholders of changes such as timelines and budget. Make sure you check all work done against the documentation, and that the steering committee knows when you need to review items, especially when there is a risk of exceeding the budget or of timelines not being met.

And please, do this before it happens rather than letting customers finding out after the fact.

The diagram below outlines a summary of the steps. Use these as a guideline and expand on the detail as necessary. Remember, it’s better to have more clear information, rather than summaries that may lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Project Scope Diagram

Did I mention documentation? I cannot emphasise enough how important this is.

Keep communicating, get replies, follow up, and follow up again, and again. Most resources are allocated to a project only partly, and this is why following up is so important – they usually also have their day job!

Do not always rely on e-mail. Pick up the phone, meet with the people involved outside of the set project meetings. And of course, if there is any hint of an issue that could impact success do something. Go back to the drawing board, and get buy-in and acceptance of changes continually.

For a more formal summary of what a project entails, here is a definition from Wikipedia:

“Project management is the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or result with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or deliverables) undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services. In practice, the management of these two systems is often quite different, and as such requires the development of distinct technical skills and management strategies.

The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints. This information is usually described in a user or project manual, which is created at the beginning of the development process. The primary constraints are scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary — and more ambitious — challenge is to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet pre-defined objectives.”