Project Management guide

Middle: Planning the Project

So, You’re Planning a Project…

It’s never too early to start planning a project. Many project managers will attest the most successful projects start 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 different options available, how do you choose the right methodology for your project and your team? You should pick your methodology based on the needs of your project and your team. Two tips are relevant here:

A. Start With the End in Mind

Take a look at your requirements, your project goals and objectives. What does your final deliverable need to look like? What benefits should it provide? Some examples:

  • If it’s a physical object, such as a building or a household product, with very definite materials and clear stakeholder expectations, it may benefit from a sequential methodology such as waterfall or critical path.
  • If it’s a software product or an app that is not set in stone yet, a flexible agile methodology may be just what the project needs.
  • Is environmental sustainability a core value of the organization and essential to the delivery of your product? Then look at PRiSM.
  • Is rapid development of a minimum viable product the most important thing? Then look at one of the process-based methodologies such as lean or lean six-sigma.

B. Assess What’s Already Working

But don’t forget to look at the work processes you already have in place that have proved successful for your team in the past. What kind of work environment does the team excel in?

  • If they thrive on collaboration, incorporating new ideas as they work, and even last-minute pivots due to changing needs, then consider methodologies such as scrum, kanban, XP, or APF.
  • Or do they prefer an orderly, structured plan that accomplishes tasks sequentially? Then look at methodologies such as waterfall, critical path, and critical chain project management.

Understand the Project Lifecycle

Regardless of what kind of project you’re planning, every project goes through the same stages, more or less. Although each project will require their own set of unique processes and tasks, they all follow a similar framework. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is called the project lifecycle.

The project lifecycle helps provide some predictability, and gives 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 & monitoring phase
  • The closing phase

The initiation phase

The initiation phase is the first phase of the entire project management life cycle. The goal of this phase is to define the project, develop a business case for it, and get it approved. During this time, the project manager may do any of the following:

By the end of this phase, the project manager should have a high-level understanding of the project purpose, goals, requirements, and risks.

Further Reading
blog post

Best Practices for Your Project Management Initiation Phase

blog post

7 Stakeholders to Consult Before Starting a New Project

The planning phase

The planning phase is critical to creating a project roadmap the entire team can follow. This is where all of the details are outlined and goals are defined in order to meet the requirements laid out by the organization.

During this phase, project managers will typically:

The next phase (execution) typically begins with a project kickoff meeting where the project manager outlines the project objectives to all stakeholders involved. Before that meeting happens, it is crucial for the project manager to do the following:

  1. Establish vision and deliverables:
  2. Set a common goal for everyone. Lay out what needs to get done and by when.
  3. Identify team and set roles: Who does what? Create a list detailing this and include contact info for easy communication.
  4. Develop initial project plan: Have a plan in place but finalize details with your team at the kickoff.
  5. Define metrics for success: How will the project be measured? What will make it successful? Set expectations early.
  6. Identify potential risks and bottlenecks: Prep the team for potential roadblocks and have a process in place so that these possible problems can be taken out quickly.
  7. Establish logistics for team communication: How will you update each other? Establish a consistent process (daily, weekly meetings) and determine the technology for it.
  8. Choose work process or project management methodology: Establish the best practices your team will follow.
  9. Decide which tools you’ll use: Ensure everyone has the proper tools and knows how to use them.
  10. Schedule the kickoff meeting: Entire team and stakeholders must be there, even if via video conference or phone.
  11. Set the agenda and prepare the slides for the meeting: Send the agenda ahead of the meeting, so everyone can prepare accordingly, and provide the slides after the meeting for reference.

Further Reading
blog post

Project Management Basics: 6 Steps to a Foolproof Project Plan


10 Steps to a Kickass Kickoff Meeting

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How 5 PM Experts Create a Fail-Safe Project Management Plan

The execution phase

This stage is where the meat of the project happens. Deliverables are built to make sure the project is meeting requirements. This is where most of the time, money, and people are pulled into the project.

As previously mentioned, a kickoff meeting is held to mark 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 be used? What kind of meetings or status reports should your team expect?
  • Tools: What tools will be used to complete the project, and how will they be used?
  • Next steps: What are the immediate action items that need to be completed?
  • Q&A: Open the floor for any questions
Further Reading
blog post

The Chemistry Behind Every Great Project Kickoff

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The Right Way to Empower Your Team With Flexible Hours and Remote Work

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The Art of the Handoff: What Soccer’s Tiki-Taka Teaches Us About Teamwork

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Joelle Kaufman’s Secrets to Leading a Successful Team

The controlling and monitoring phase

This phase happens in tandem with the execution phase. As the project moves forward, the project manager must make sure all moving parts are headed in the right direction at all times and in a coordinated manner. If adjustments to the project plan need to be made due to unforeseen circumstances or a change in direction, they may happen here.

During the controlling and monitoring phase, project managers may have to do any of the following:

At the end of this phase, all of the agreed project deliverables should be completed and accepted by the customer.

Further Reading

Resource Management Guide


What Is Resource Management and Why Is It Important?

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How to Improve the Change Management Process for 7 Key Personality Types

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Stop Projects From Derailing With Wrike’s New Report Templates

Project closure

The closing phase is a critical step in the project management life cycle. It signals the official end of the project 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 postmortem 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

So, 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 you build one. Merely assigning people tasks is not the same as building a project team.

A project team is a group of people who are all 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 all critical to a successful project.

So what should you consider when assembling your project team?

  • Project Needs. Understand the scope of the project first allows you to strategically choose who needs to be on the team.

  • Skill set. Choosing team members who can offer a diverse set of unique and relevant skills is crucial. If your team lacks a certain skill set, a task may not be completed correctly. Too many people with the same skills can cause confusion over ownership.

  • Capacity. Even if you find the perfect person for a part of your project, if they’re overloaded with work, they can become a roadblock. Find team members who have availability in their upcoming project schedules.

  • Work styles. Different people have different work styles and personalities. It’s important to understand how these differences may affect your team dynamic and embrace them once the project has started.

Make the Project Kickoff Meeting Successful

Before project work formally begins, hold a project kickoff meeting to get everyone on the same page. This is a crucial first step that sets the tone for the work that follows. It’s typically the one chance to share the project’s objectives and overall plan with every stakeholder.

Successful kickoff meetings require preparation. Here are 8 steps to making your kickoff meeting a success:

1. Establish vision and deliverables: Set a common goal for everyone. Lay out what needs to get done and by when.

2. Identify team and set roles: Who does what? Create a list detailing who’s responsible for what and include contact info for easy communication.

3. Develop initial project plan: Present your initial project plan, but understand that details may shift during discussions with your team at the kickoff. Know how you want to approach the project, but be flexible.

4. Define metrics for success: How will the project be measured? What will make it successful? Set expectations and goals early.

5. Identify potential risks and bottlenecks: Prepare the team for potential roadblocks and have a process in place to handle them quickly should they arise.

6. Establish logistics for team communication: What is the preferred method of communication? What is the best way to provide status updates? Establish a consistent process (daily, weekly meetings) and determine the technology for it.

7. Choose work process or project management methodology: Establish which methodologies and frameworks the team will follow to align work styles and expectations.

8. Decide which tools you’ll use: Ensure everyone has the tools they need to accomplish their tasks.

Further Reading

10 Steps to a Kickass Kickoff Meeting

blog post

10 Phrases That Can Ruin Your Project Kickoff Meeting

How to select the best project management software

There are a variety of project management softwares in the market, but choosing the right one for you and your team is critical. Here are some questions to ask when assessing project management software options:

  1. Will my team actually use it?
  2. Can multiple departments use it?
  3. Does it support transparency and clear communication?
  4. Is it flexible?
  5. Can you generate custom reports?
  6. Does it easily (and securely) allow for external communication/users?
  7. Does it integrate with other tools we use?

One of the most important things to think about is the the long-term strategy when selecting your software. Getting your team familiar and comfortable with a project management software takes time and resources. You want to make sure you’re choosing one that can grow and adapt with your team, not limit it.

Key features when selecting a project management software

Identifying key features your team may need as they adopt project management workflows in your tool is crucial. A few things to look for:

  1. Real-time collaboration. Project management software should allow for collaboration between team members and stakeholders. People should be able to access and make changes to the system at the same time.
  2. Sharing & storing documents. Project management software should allow for the sharing and storage of documents. This provides a knowledge repository for your projects.
  3. Cost management. Tracking and reporting of costs as well as monitoring for potential overruns.
  4. Reporting. Customizable reports and dashboards that allow for real-time reporting. You should be able to filter and format based on the criteria that are important to you.
  5. Ease of use. If the system is too complex, your team will not want to use it.
  6. Template creation. It’s important to be able to create and customize templates so that you’re not building each project and activity from scratch.
  7. Warning flags. The system should be able to trigger alerts or warnings when things go off track, such as when an activity is late.
  8. Scheduling. You will want a software system that allows for the creation of a schedule baseline, and the ability to monitor your actual schedule against it.
  9. Time management - Actual time worked will need to be tracked in the system to monitor progress and manage both labor costs and resources.
  10. Resource allocation - You should be able to assign resource roles (i.e., accountant), and individual people (i.e., John Doe) to tasks in the system.
  11. Customization - Software should be flexible enough to adapt to the different projects and processes that your organization has.
  12. Controls & governance - While flexibility is important, a system also needs to have sufficient controls and restrictions in place to ensure data is secure and approvals are tracked and recorded.
  13. Integration capability - The software should be able to integrate with your other business systems such as your financial management system.
  14. Unique calendars - You will want to have calendars that can be changed to reflect your work days and hours, as well as updated to reflect any shutdown periods or vacations.
Next Steps

Ready to start your project? For more information on running a successful project, check out the next section.