Planning and overseeing a project so that it’s completed on time, within budget, and meets expectations is not an easy feat. The best project managers know how to balance stakeholder communications with preventing scope creep, watch out for risk, and clarify roles, responsibilities, and priorities within their team, all while upholding the principles of project management. Steal some of the secrets to their success by using these 10 best practices in project management

1. Communicate with stakeholders early and often

This includes everyone who has an interest in the project’s outcome: team members, sponsors, and end users. Meet in person, if possible, to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the project’s success, set clear expectations, including each stakeholder’s role. Also, provide consistent updates, with real numbers and results, to keep stakeholders engaged. 

2. Engage project sponsors

Having good project sponsors is the #1 predictor of project success, and yet fewer than 2 out of 3 projects have actively engaged sponsors. A project sponsor’s job is to monitor progress, help resolve issues, and champion the project to other executives — as well as understand the big picture of how the project fits into larger business goals. Essentially, they’re the link between the project manager and higher-ups. Hold regular check-ins with your sponsor to discuss project goals and required resources, and use this Project Sponsorship Checklist to guide discussions and clarify expectations. 

3. Manage both risk and opportunity

Spend some time imagining worst-case scenarios and their solutions, as well as how you might prevent them from happening. Then talk with your team to get their input, and become aware of any known issues that will definitely affect your project. Just remember that not all uncertainties are bad: don't forget to keep an eye out for opportunities as well, so you can deliver value beyond what's expected. 

(Learn how to conduct a thorough risk assessment here, and create your own risk management response plan here)

4. Create a detailed work plan, including scope, schedule, and budget

Write your project plan in terms of goals and problems being addressed (and what isn’t being addressed), instead of just listing tasks to be completed. This will help focus your work and protect against scope creep. Then prioritize project goals, identify deliverables, and estimate task duration to define your schedule and dependencies. 

5. Host a project kickoff meeting

Your project kickoff meeting sets the tone for your entire project. Do it right, and your team hits the ground motivated, energized, and focused. So take the opportunity to establish a common goal, clarify roles and responsibilities, define how you’ll measure success, review risks, decide how you’ll communicate, and choose your project management methodology and tools. Be thorough, but try to keep the kickoff meeting as short and straightforward as possible. 

6. Document everything

Documenting every step of your project is the key to ensuring you not only stay on top of what’s happening, but that you have all the data you need to analyze performance, make better decisions, and learn from your experiences. If a deadline slips, you’ll be able to determine why it happened, and how to improve your work process to prevent it from happening again. 

7. Schedule regular check ins with your team

When you're managing a project, staying in sync with your team is a must. A short weekly or even daily standup with your project team is a sure-fire way to align on top priorities, get fast feedback, and help clear any roadblocks or bottlenecks holding your team back. The key is to keep things short and focused: what got done yesterday? What’s everyone working on today? Who’s stuck and what can we do about it? 

8. Ask for feedback

As Cornelius Fichtner says, the P in PM stands just as much for People as for Projects. Good leaders understand that nobody’s perfect, and that we all have areas where we can improve. Asking for feedback from your team is one of the most powerful ways you can grow as a project manager and increase your chance for success. 

9. Manage scope creep

When new requests start coming in, communicate the impact of those requests on the project’s schedule and budget and know how to calculate earned value. If different stakeholders have competing or conflicting requests, bring everyone together to discuss and clarify goals so you can move forward with everyone on board. 

This concept can be confused with gold plating. However, gold plating and scope creep in project management can both have a detrimental impact on performance.

10. Hold a project retrospective

Even once the final deliverable is submitted, your project isn’t complete until you’ve held a retrospective and recorded lessons learned. Take the time to review what went well and identify best practices for future use, as well as discuss what could have gone better to determine how to help work get done more smoothly the next time around. 

With these project management principles in hand, you’ll be able to deliver successful projects in any industry — from marketing to IT to construction and beyond. 

Additional Best Practices for Project Managers: 

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Check out our Ultimate Guide to Project Management for a crash course on all things PM. You'll find everything from glossaries of terms and implementation tips for popular methodologies, to useful templates and step-by-step tutorials to develop your project management approach