Project Management

Project Manager's Top 10 Tips for Keeping Projects on Time and on Budget

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Taking a reactive approach as a project manager essentially guarantees that your project will be overdue, over budget, and diverted from its original goal. It takes a proactive project manager, fluid communication and some essential preparation to guarantee success. These following tips can ensure your project continues its desired trajectory, and finishes on time and on budget (every project managers goal!). 


1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team

You need to evaluate your’ skill sets to strategize your selection.  You want to utilize Tim’s graphic design skills on this print ad along with Megan’s witty, genius copywriting expertise. Select the ideal players so you can play up their strengths for the benefit of the team as a whole. Familiarize yourself with your team’s weaknesses so you can combat it with extra resources or whatever else is needed.  If you need more players on the field, go recruit more, but be strategic about it. Too many people in a project can dilute it and slow it down.

2. Document the scope of the project before you start

A budget should not be merely a conjecture or guess, and a schedule should not be “figured out” as it goes along. Most successful projects finish within budget because their scope is clearly defined ahead of project launch. This can be the most difficult for a project manager to deal with as they are often caught between the team doing the work and the management team increasing scope. Do your preliminary research to ensure you have an accurate idea. Supply a project brief or creative brief to your team at the first meeting, to communicate the scope of the project to everyone involved. Knowing what a project consists of before an undertaking is key. Knowing what a project consists of before an undertaking is key.

3. Set goals within realistic timelines

As a project manager, you want to strive for high goals while leveraging a realistic timeline so your team has enough time to be excited about the project and generate great ideas. If your project team views the project as just one huge goal, it can be overwhelming and disheartening. If you break down the project into smaller, more manageable tasks with due dates attached to each one, it will seem more doable, thus your team will be more productive, moving the project along on schedule.

4. Make sure team members understand schedules and deadlines before launch

You can spend countless hours creating the perfect looking schedule and milestone plan, but doing so without the input of team members could prove disastrous. Involve team members early on in the planning and there will be no excuses when the final project schedule is set. If they feel they were a core part of the planning aspect of the project, your team feels more accountable to the schedule they help set.

5. Use collaboration tools

Sending out endless emails with attachments is time-consuming and inefficient. With so many emails that clog your team’s inboxes every day, the pertinent information you’re sending may get lost in the shuffle. Integrate a project management tool to serve as your centralized communication tool and the umbrella for your business apps. Sharing the latest documents, setting deadlines, assigning tasks and analyzing project data is seamless with agile project management software.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate…

When in doubt, communicate. This doesn’t always mean a string of long email chains (see use collaboration tools above). Meet with the team member if you have a question. Be as approachable as possible so your team feels comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns. Set aside time to answer questions.  Always communicate in a professional and respectful manner.  Be approachable and friendly. Acknowledge work that is done well and think of ways to do tasks better next time.

7. Know your red flags and watch for them

Make sure you know what they are and what to watch for before it’s too late to adjust. Document any obstacles along the way for next time. Be proactive enough to sense when things are getting off track and adjust accordingly, instead of just reacting afterward.

8. Celebrate milestones

It’s important to celebrate milestones as they happen and reward jobs well done. Productivity will soar amongst your project team if your members feel appreciated for their role. Some team members may have a more crucial part than others, but each and every person plays a pertinent role in the project success. Acknowledge your members for what they have accomplished to boost morale and keep your team motivated and focused.

9. Remember there’s no way every detail of every project can be under your control

The hardest thing for a project manager is to just sit back and trust that your team is doing its job, especially if you’re a perfectionist. But you picked this team for a reason, and they are certainly capable of their assignments. Use the project team to its fullest by allowing team members to do their jobs. Use the best project collaboration tools and hold people accountable, but trying to do everyone’s job while trying to manage the project is a recipe for failure. Micromanaging causes resentment, passion aggression and a lack of repsect Your team was selected for a reason, and are perfectly capable of doing a job well done. Trying to do everything and be everywhere will be absolute chaos. 

10. Have contingency plans

No project is perfect. Variables and conditions change along the way, and as a project manager, you need to adapt accordingly and proactively. The best way to ensure your project fails is to not have a contingency plan for each phase and milestone. Be prepared.

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Editors Note: The original version of this post was published in August, 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 
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