So, You’re Planning a Project…
It’s never too early to start planning a project. Many project managers will attest that the most successful projects begin with the planning phase. If you have a strong foundation for the project launch, it’s much easier to manage.
Choose the right project management methodology
With so many methodologies to choose from, it can be tricky to figure out which is the right one for the job. Consider the needs of both your project and team, and remember these two tips:
1. Start with the end in mind
Look at your requirements, goals, and objectives to ascertain what your final result needs to look like and the benefits it must provide. For example, physical objects like buildings and household goods require a more sequential process like Waterfall or critical path. The flexibility of Agile methodology, meanwhile, will suit the more unpredictable world of software development.
2. Assess what’s already working
Think back on your past projects. Which processes have already proven successful for your team? If they relish collaboration and incorporating new ideas as they go, pick a methodology like Scrum, Kanban, XP, or APF. Waterfall, critical path, or critical chain project management will suit teams that prefer a more structured plan.
Understand the project life cycle
Regardless of what kind of project you’re planning, each one will more or less go through the same stages. Although every project will require its own set of unique processes and tasks, each will follow a similar structure. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end. Welcome to the project life cycle.
The project life cycle helps provide some predictability, giving the project manager a way to tackle tasks in distinct phases. In this section, we’ll explain what you need to know about each phase:
- The initiation phase
- The planning phase
- The execution phase
- The controlling and monitoring phase
- The closing phase
The initiation phase
The initiation phase is the first part of the entire project management life cycle. This stage aims to define the project, develop a business case for it, and get approval. During this time, the project manager may do any of the following:
- Perform a feasibility study
- Create a project charter
- Identify key stakeholders
- Select project management tools
By the end of this phase, the project manager should have a high-level understanding of the project purpose, goals, requirements, and risks.
The planning phase
The planning phase is critical to creating a project roadmap the entire team can follow. Here, you will outline the details and define the goals to meet the requirements laid out by the organization.
During this phase, project managers will typically:
- Create a project plan
- Develop a resource plan
- Define goals and performance measures
- Communicate roles and responsibilities to team members
- Build out workflows
- Anticipate risks and create contingency plans
The next phase, execution, typically begins with a project kickoff meeting where the project manager outlines the objectives to all involved stakeholders. Before that meeting happens, the project manager must do the following:
- Establish the vision and deliverables: Set a common goal for everyone. Plan out what needs to get done and by when.
- Identify your team and set roles: Who does what? Create a list and include contact info for easy communication.
- Develop the initial project plan: Have a plan in place, but finalize details with your team at the kickoff.
- Define the metrics for success: How will the project be measured? What will make it successful? Set expectations early.
- Identify potential risks and bottlenecks: Prep the team for potential roadblocks and have a process in place to solve these problems quickly.
- Establish logistics for team communication: How will you update each other? Establish a consistent process (daily and/or weekly meetings) and determine the technology for it.
- Choose the work process or project management methodology: Establish the best practices your team will follow.
- Decide which tools you’ll use: Ensure everyone has the proper tools and knows how to use them.
- Schedule the kickoff meeting: The entire team and stakeholders must be there, whether that’s in person or virtually.
- Set the agenda and prepare the slides for the meeting: Send the schedule ahead of the meeting so everyone can prepare accordingly, and provide the slides for reference afterward.
The execution phase
The execution stage is where the meat of the project happens, requiring the most time, money, and people. Here, you’ll build deliverables to ensure you’re meeting requirements.
As previously mentioned, a kickoff meeting marks the official start of the execution phase. A kickoff meeting agenda might look something like this:
- Introductions: Who’s who?
- Project background: Why are you doing this project? What are the goals?
- Project scope: What exactly will you be doing? What kind of work is involved?
- Project plan: How are we going to do this? What does the roadmap look like?
- Roles: Who will be responsible for which elements of the project?
- Communication: What kind of communication channels will you use? What kind of meetings or status reports should your team expect?
- Tools: What tools will you use to complete the project, and how?
- Next steps: What are the immediate action items that you have to complete?
- Q&A: Open the floor for any questions
The controlling and monitoring phase
This phase happens in tandem with the execution stage. As the project goes forward, the project manager must make sure all moving parts are heading the right way at all times. You might have to make adjustments to the plan due to unforeseen circumstances or a change in direction.
During the controlling and monitoring phase, project managers may have to do any of the following:
- Manage resources
- Monitor project performance
- Risk management
- Perform status meetings and reports
- Update project schedule
- Modify project plans
At the end of the execution phase, all agreed project deliverables should be completed and accepted by the customer.
The closing phase is a critical step in the project management life cycle. It signals the project’s official end and provides a period for reflection, wrap-up, and organization of materials.
Project managers can:
- Take inventory of all deliverables
- Tie up any loose ends
- Hand the project off to the client or the team that will be managing the project’s day-to-day operations
- Perform a post-mortem to discuss and document any learnings from the project
- Organize all project documents in a centralized location
- Communicate the success of the project to stakeholders and executives
- Celebrate project completion and acknowledge team members
How to set up a project team
Now that we’re on the same page about the value of collaboration, let’s take a step back and discuss what makes a project team and how to build a great one. Assigning people to tasks is not the same as building a team.
A project team is a group of people working towards a common goal by bringing valuable and unique skills to the table. Identifying your project team members, defining your team’s identity, and standardizing its operating practices are critical to a successful project.
So what should you consider when assembling your project team?
- Project needs: Understanding the scope of the project first allows you to choose who needs to be on the team strategically.
- Skill set: Selecting team members who can offer a diverse set of unique and relevant skills is vital. If your team lacks a particular skill set, they may not complete a task correctly. Too many people with the same abilities can cause confusion over ownership.
- Capacity: You might have found the perfect person for a part of the project, but if they’re overloaded with work, they can become a roadblock. Choose team members who have availability in their upcoming project schedules.
- Work styles: Different people have different work styles and personalities. It’s essential to understand how these differences may affect your team dynamic and embrace them once the project has started.
How to select the best project management software
There are various project management software options on the market, and choosing the right one for you and your team is critical. These seven questions are a helpful starting point for selecting your software, but be sure to think about your long-term strategy, too. Will this software grow and adapt with your team, or limit it?
Key features when selecting a project management software
Project management software should make it much easier for your team to adopt a project management workflow. Look out for software that’s simple to use and allows for effortless collaboration, file-sharing, cost management, and real-time reporting, amongst many other useful features.
Ready to start your project? For more information on running a successful project, check out the next section.