If everyone knew what to do, when to do it, and how exactly to do it, there would be no need for project managers. There is no such thing as the perfect project, project team, or perfect project manager, but it’s important that we all strive to better ourselves from assignment to assignment.
It’s all a learning process and the best we can do is pick up little golden nuggets of wisdom from every project we own.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of eight best project management practices that I’ve learned over my time of working with teams, working on teams, and managing teams.
Here are our top 8 project management best practices
- Maintain consistent communication
- Mind the workload of your team
- Make sure all roles and responsibilities are clear
- Manage your risks
- Avoid scope creep
- Define your deliverables
- Hold regular retrospective meetings
- Hold a project conclusion meeting
Our 8 project management best practices to follow
Some of these fall in line with the basics of project management, but it’s good to get a refresher on the things we already know, but still don't incorporate into our work.
These simple changes will take your project from being a disorganized mess to a well greased, deliverable-producing engine in no time.
1. Maintain consistent communication
What good is a project plan if it isn’t effectively communicated to your team? Not only does poor communication affect your plan, but it will also drag down your project execution when issues and concerns aren’t brought to light.
It’s crucial to establish and maintain consistent lines of communication between you, the project stakeholders, and your team so that everyone is on the same page.
Tips for maintaining consistent communication
Nearly every step of the project life cycle requires communication and if this is an issue for your team, perhaps it’s time to try some new strategies.
Here are three simple communication strategies you can use.
- Hold regular meetings: This doesn’t mean you should call a meeting for every issue. Instead, hold a regular weekly or bi-weekly meeting that’ll cover what everyone is working on, anything that is coming up, and give your team an opportunity to voice their concerns.
- Adopt a project communication tool: Whether it’s your project management software or some other form of collaboration tool, make sure you have some other avenue of communication besides email.
- Encourage communication for any issue: Sometimes the biggest barrier to communication is the fear of retribution for reporting an issue. It’s crucial to create an open environment between you and your team so they feel safe to bring any issue to you.
2. Mind the workload of your team
Humans aren’t machines and since technology hasn’t progressed far enough to welcome our robot overlords (finally get to use that Simpsons reference), you have to be mindful of how much work your team is taking on when developing your project management plan.
Allocating too many tasks to a single team member will quickly lead to burnout, setting your team and project back for however long it takes you to reallocate that work.
Tips for minding the workload of your team
It’s important to understand one major key for maximizing efficiency is keeping your team energized and consistent.
These two tips will help ensure that your team will produce the best work possible without burning out.
- Use software with a workload management feature: There are plenty of project management software options out there that offer workload management capabilities, like Asana, TeamGantt, and Monday.com. Use the features within these programs to measure and track how many tasks your team members are executing, to ensure they don’t overburden themselves.
- Establish a task limit beforehand: Most workload management features will give you the option to set a limit on the number of tasks a team member is supposed to execute at one time. Make sure you set a realistic limit based on the difficulty and duration of each task.
3. Make sure all roles and responsibilities are clear
In most cases, you won’t execute a project by yourself, and you’ll have to rely on a team to help you throughout planning, execution, and delivery steps of project management.
Like any complex process, every person performs a duty, but if those duties aren’t clear it’ll lead to conflicts, issues, and missed steps in the process.
Tips for making sure all roles and responsibilities are clear
Nothing kills motivation quite like your team members finding out they are wasting their time or taking on the responsibilities of other slacking coworkers.
One of the responsibilities of a project manager is straightening out unclear roles. This is a surefire way to improve performance, increase job satisfaction, and minimize the chances of missed tasks.
- Create a RACI matrix: A RACI matrix is a simple planning chart that allows project managers to assign responsibilities for your project. RACI stands for:
- Ask for feedback: If you feel some project roles are unclear, chances are some of your team members feel the same way. It never hurts to ask your team about these roles and who will fit best in them.
4. Manage your risks
When executing a project, things will go wrong. It’s inevitable.
That means it’s extremely important to do all that you can to prepare for the worst and hope for the best by managing your risks. Don’t let these risks define your project success.
Tips for managing your risks
Project risk management is a helpful process of steps that entails a lot of analysis and preparation that can’t be fit into a short tip sheet. That’s why I’ve linked to my longer guide on project risk management.
However, as a preview, I’ve listed out the five basic steps for preparing a risk management plan:
- Create a risk register
- Identify any relevant risks
- Perform a risk analysis
- Develop a response plan
- Assign owners for each risk
This guide also includes software recommendations and project risk examples you need to stay on the lookout for. Hope this helps.
5. Avoid scope creep
This best practice is the perfect companion for number four, since scope creep is one of the most common project risks you will face. Your scope defines the outline and boundaries of your project.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to lose sight of those boundaries once you’re in the weeds of the execution phase. If you’re not careful, you’ll find the size of your project scope growing well beyond the due dates for your deliverables.
Tips for avoiding scope creep
The last thing you want to happen when executing a project is to fall so behind that the stakeholders question your ability to deliver the results they want.
That’s why I’ve included two key tips to help prevent scope creep in your project.
- Include scope creep in your risk response plan: It’s crucial to create scheduling and resource buffers in your response plan that’ll account for the possibility of scope creep due to project changes.
- Verify your scope with your stakeholders: Your stakeholders won’t understand the process involved in procuring their deliverables unless you help them understand. Involve them in the process of setting the project scope so they know exactly what is expected, when it is expected, and how changes will affect those deliverables.
6. Define your project deliverables
This is the perfect follow-up for scope creep issues. A deliverable is any sort of end goal or result of a project, whether that be a product or service.
When planning your project and presenting your path forward to the project stakeholders, it’s key that you lay out exactly what those deliverables are.
Tips for defining your project deliverables
Defining your project deliverables will occur sometimes before you create your work breakdown structure, but after you’ve had your initial meetings with your stakeholders to get a feel for their needs.
Here are a couple tips to help you establish those deliverables in a way that’ll satisfy these stakeholders while maintaining the sanity of you and your team.
- Come to a mutual agreement on deliverables with the stakeholders: This goes hand-in-hand with avoiding project scope creep, because if you don’t come to a clear agreement on what the project deliverables are, you leave them open to interpretation. This kind of vagueness is what leads to unmet expectations and unrealistic standards.
- Add buffers if deliverables are subject to change: This is especially relevant for software development projects. If your stakeholders are likely to add additional deliverable requests, make sure you create scheduling and resource buffers to account for these changes.
7. Hold regular retrospective meetings
This goes hand-in-hand with the consistent communications best practice. Project success demands transparency, and the perfect way to ensure that transparency is to hold regular retrospective meetings.
Retrospectives are one of the project management practices used through scrum, one of the many Agile-based project management methodologies.
These meetings are meant for reviewing the progress made during a set period of time and reflect on the successes and challenges that came about. These retrospective meetings also open up the floor for more communication between team members, as well as with managers.
Tips for implementing regular retrospective meetings
Done correctly, retrospective meetings are an empowering and encouraging event that’ll help keep you, the manager, in the loop and your team happy while executing a project.
Here are two key tips that’ll help you while holding these meetings.
- Highlight the positives: It’s important for your team to stay motivated when executing a project and what better way to do that than through encouragement? In fact, if possible, try to highlight two positives for every negative during a retrospective meeting.
- Try to keep them consistent: Don’t turn retrospectives into an inconvenience for your team. Make sure you try to structure and schedule your retrospectives to happen every time at the same time and day of the week.
8. Hold a project conclusion meeting
A project conclusion meeting is the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together, from the team to the project stakeholders, for one final reflection on everything that went down during the execution.
During this meeting, you’ll cover your successes, setbacks, and lessons learned during the project, accompanied with improvements to be made in the future.
This is also a great time to thank everyone for their hard work and recognize exceptional moments and individuals on the team.
Tips for holding a project conclusion meeting
This meeting is only as productive as you make it, so here are two tips that’ll help you make the most of this meeting and collect as much useful information as possible before the next project.
- Assign someone to take notes: Make sure you designate someone to take notes during the conclusion meeting to record any new information received by the team, next actions to be taken, and mention of any highlight moments.
- Send out an agenda beforehand: It helps to let everyone know ahead of time what will be covered in the meeting and what to expect, not just for the purposes of courtesy, but also to give attendees time to prepare any questions or concerns that they have.
These are the core pillars every project manager needs
There are a million other project management ideas that you can incorporate into your day to day planning and execution.
Some are industry specific, while others are extremely applicable across any project type, but if you aren’t practicing the eight above, you’ll never see the success that you’re looking for.
Sometimes it’s the simplest answers that’ll solve your problems.
Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Atlassian, Microsoft, and Smartsheet and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Microsoft and short January 2021 $115 calls on Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.