Managing the planning and execution of a project can be challenging. Making sure that it's completed on time, within budget, and meets expectations is not an easy feat.

The best project managers are great at balancing stakeholder engagement, preventing scope creep, mitigating risk, and upholding the principles of project management.

You may come across a lot of project management tools, tips, and methodologies that you wish to try but end up forgetting a couple of weeks later. If you're wrapped up in practicing the big-picture principles of project management, it's easy to forget the little details that make the best project managers worth emulating.

In this blog, we’ve curated the 17 best practices in project management that you can learn and apply to execute winning projects every time.

1. Communicate with project stakeholders

Having a client-centric approach is essential for any project. However, from the day you kick the project off, you must also communicate the goals and objectives to all the project stakeholders. This will include the project team members, managers, project sponsors, and valued users.

Schedule meetings with them to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the project's success and set clear expectations. Provide consistent updates with real numbers and results to keep stakeholders engaged. 

2. Clarify the project purpose

Purpose is everything. It drives organizational strategy and is the roadmap to maintaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Research by PWC confirms that 79% of corporate leaders consider purpose critical for business success.

Articulating the project purpose to your team members and stakeholders keeps it authentic. It clearly defines the project's existence, the problem to solve, and the reason to help every end-user.

Purpose-driven companies grow more than three times sooner than others, carve a bigger market share, and forge deeper customer relationships.

3. Create a risk response team

Projects and tasks are all subject to different levels of risk. That's why you should always have a risk response team.

They can help a project remain in the preferred green zone and avoid going in the yellow — or the dreaded red. Think of a risk response team as the first line of defense when problems occur.

4. Formalize project roles

A project is not only the PM's responsibility. There are team members performing project management functions, even if they don't have formal roles. Simplify the project by identifying, defining, and formalizing these roles.

For example, a software engineer assists the project manager in documenting technical information and gathering requirements from different business units. However, they may not have the formal knowledge to perform the business analyst role.

Consider conducting specialized training and formalization of their role to help them contribute to the project more effectively.

5. Hold project kickoff meetings

Your project kickoff meeting sets the tone for your entire project. When you do this right, the team can hit the ground motivated, energized, and focused.

Use the kickoff meeting time to:

  • Establish a common goal
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities
  • Define the parameters and criteria to measure success
  • Forecast potential risks and ways to manage them
  • Decide the mode of communication for the project
  • Choose your project management methodology and tools

You should include everyone with a stake in the project so that expectations are managed upfront. The earlier you get on their radar, the better.

Maintain open lines of communication with all team members. Making sure everyone is aware of the project from the beginning is a simple yet effective way to drive a healthy project from idea to execution.

6. Start with a detailed work definition document

A common issue with managing projects is clarifying who is responsible for what. A detailed work document takes care of the uncertainty and confusion.

It clearly documents the work to be done by the specific team members so that everyone is clear on the effort, time, and resources required.

To foster accountability within your project, create a detailed work definition document and have all your stakeholders sign it.

7. Create a detailed work plan

Formalizing your project's work plan is key to meeting deadlines and hitting milestones. Without a detailed work plan, it can be difficult to document the various project stages.

What gets measured gets done. A detailed work plan is a simple way to track the progress of all the different moving parts of a project.

Write your project plan in terms of the goals and problems being addressed (and what isn't) instead of just listing the tasks to be completed. Doing this will keep the focus on your work and protect against scope creep.

Prioritize project goals, identify deliverables, and estimate task duration to define your schedule and dependencies. 

8. Outline quality standards across the project life cycle

Delivering successful projects is hard if the quality is overlooked. Project quality is the performance, functionality, reliability, and consistency of project deliverables. Before starting with the project execution, it is imperative to set quality benchmarks for the entire project life cycle.

Remember to communicate these benchmarks to the relevant stakeholders to keep everything transparent and increase the chances of success.

To establish project quality, teams must identify standards and success criteria for every phase in the life cycle. The definition of quality can be different from one project stakeholder to another, which is why it is essential to define it. Use these tips to get started:

  • Break down the project into various stages with deliverables
  • Set up quality standards by evaluating past projects and reviewing those of competitors
  • Validate the quality benchmarks and processes by putting them in writing
  • Communicate the quality standards with all project stakeholders to keep them clear and transparent
  • Complete the project quality documentation with associated data and supporting information

9. Document everything

As a project manager, have you ever seen an assignment delayed by a few days, or maybe even a few weeks? Why did this happen, and how do we prevent it from happening again?

To answer these questions, you need to draw on evidence. Documenting everything in your project is an effective step to gathering all the data you need to make better decisions and learn from previous challenges.

So, write everything down! Project steps, bottlenecks, scope changes, and task dependencies. Even having stakeholder paid time off (PTO) accounted for comes in handy.

10. Engage project sponsors

Good project sponsors are the number one predictor of project success, yet fewer than two out of three projects have actively engaged sponsors.

A project sponsor's job is to monitor progress, help resolve issues, champion the project to other executives, and understand how it fits into larger business goals.

Project sponsors are the key link between the project manager and higher-ups. Hold regular check-ins with your sponsor to discuss project goals and required resources. Use this Project Sponsorship Checklist to guide team discussions and clarify expectations. 

11. 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.

As a project manager, your job is to ensure the project's success. Asking for feedback from your team is one of the most powerful ways to grow as a project manager and increase your chance of success.

Awareness of areas for improvement is an extremely powerful tool. Harnessing team feedback can motivate you to become a better version of yourself.

Asking for feedback is a great way to better your management skills. Knowing how to teach project management best practices to your team members also helps improve your next project.

12. Sign new agreement documents when necessary

New requests often mean a change in the original project scope. When this happens, it's best practice to have everyone sign the new document.

This helps the stakeholders gain a clear understanding of the new scope of work and its impact on the project. Since it creates a documented agreement, there is minimal confusion if deadlines need to be moved. Set up all your change requests to come through in one location using Wrike Request Forms.

13. Manage both risk and opportunity

Spend some time imagining worst-case scenarios, their solutions, and how you might prevent them from happening. Discuss this with your team and collate their inputs. A frank team discussion also helps you become aware of any known issues affecting your project.

Not all uncertainties are bad. Don't forget to keep an eye out for opportunities to deliver value beyond what's expected.

It’s important to conduct a thorough risk assessment and create a risk management response plan for your project.

14. Schedule regular check-ins with your team

Staying in sync with your team is a must when managing a project. Holding a weekly or twice-weekly stand-up with your team is a surefire way to align priorities, get feedback, and clear any roadblocks 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? 

15. Manage scope creep

When new requests start coming in, communicate the impact of those requests on the project's schedule and budget and calculate earned value.

Though you may wish to accept a new project or task, this can quickly get you into project overload. When you have a new request within your project, it's your responsibility to show how this will affect your timeline or budget.

If different stakeholders have competing or conflicting requests, bring everyone together to discuss and clarify goals and move forward with everyone on board. 

This concept can be confused with gold plating. However, gold plating and scope creep in project management can negatively impact performance.

16. Hold wrap-up meetings

Once your project is complete, it's time to reflect and see how you can optimize your project management processes for success. Holding a wrap-up meeting is a perfect opportunity to get all project members together for discussion.

Go over lessons learned and ways to improve for next time, as following the same steps over and over won't help you succeed.

17. Hold a project retrospective

The project isn’t complete when the final deliverable is submitted. It’s complete once you've held a retrospective and recorded the lessons learned.

During the meeting:

  • Review what went well
  • Identify best practices for future use
  • Brainstorm other ideas for getting work done more smoothly 

How to incorporate project management best practices with Wrike

With these project management best practices, you'll be able to deliver successful projects in any industry — from marketing to IT to construction and beyond. Continuously optimizing your work management will go a long way in saving you time and money.

Following these project management best practices will ensure you'll develop invaluable project management experience and continuously strive for success. Get a free Wrike trial to gain real-time visibility, track progress, and drive successful projects.

Additional best practices for project managers: