Project managers (PMs) who are ready for professional development need to know these project management best practices.
But, what does a successful project manager look like? What do effective PMs keep front-of-mind in their day-to-day operations? And what keeps project managers with potential from crushing their KPIs?
In this guide, our experts break down the benefits of efficient project management, common mistakes to avoid, and eight best practices for project management in the real world.
8 Project Management Best Practices
Highly skilled project managers facilitate successful projects while avoiding common missteps that derail deliverables.
If applied in everyday operations, these eight best practices in project management provide a framework for productivity, efficiency, and overall achievement.
#1 Budget Early and Adjust Quickly
An effective project budget should account for every dollar likely to be spent before a project’s completion. Understanding how to build a budget, how to use available funds, and what to do in the face of additional costs are crucial for optimizing spending and creating happy customers.
Before embarking on any other phases, project managers and other stakeholders should:
Make a budget – Gather cost estimates, account for material and time overages, and create an airtight, reasonable blueprint for project costs. Clients like to see detailed budgets with room for unexpected circumstances—so the budget should be documented, clear, and transparent.
Create a plan – Once a budget is determined, use it to create the overall project plan. After all, the budget will stipulate time and personnel resources as well as the materials and services needed to get the job done. Speed usually comes at a premium paid by customers, but inefficiency comes at a cost to project management.
Handle changes quickly – When unforeseen costs crop up, complete change order requests as soon as possible. If the client can’t spare the extra funds to accommodate the change, investigate other options swiftly to avoid delays and the cost of inaction.
#2 Create Realistic Schedules with Flexibility
The ability to schedule effectively is a crucial aspect of PM acumen—facilitating timeliness is one of the most important best practices for project management. While creating an effective, useful project schedule is the subject of countless articles and courses, the following principles apply to almost any project:
Everyone involved must weigh in on the timeline. The in-house staff working on the project (especially experienced personnel), subcontractors, and the suppliers servicing the project should all communicate their deliverables’ expected timelines.
Reasonable buffers must be applied for each phase. If the budget can only accommodate a skeleton crew, for instance, consider how a team member’s unexpected work absence would impact the project schedule. When communicating schedules with the client and other stakeholders, it’s much safer to underpromise and overdeliver regarding project timelines.
#3 Create Manageable Deliverables
Every project is a puzzle—personnel complete individual deliverables (pieces) to deliver the products or provide the services promised (the completed puzzle).
In many cases, breaking big-picture goals into smaller, more manageable steps makes the most sense. Creating many small deliverables can:
Give PMs an opportunity to check in on project progress without micromanaging
Prevent personnel procrastination on larger, more complex deliverables
Create opportunities for minor adjustments instead of process overhauls
Provide tangible evidence to clients looking for status updates
But take care not to over-divide tasks. Creating too many small benchmarks can decrease efficiency, impede personnel’s feelings of independence, or shift the focus away from the big picture.
While it may take time and experience, effective project managers will find the sweet spot—a deliverable schedule that equally prioritizes efficiency and oversight.
#4 Communicate with all Parties
Communication is critical for PMs, but establishing clear lines between all project stakeholders, in-house staff, and outside contributors is often easier said than done.
What does excellent communication look like during a successful project?
It’s transparent – Establish an accessible location for all project documents and materials where clients, company stakeholders, staff, and the PM can evaluate the status of a project at any time. Your status updates should be backed by tangible evidence of progress, and this project information should be available to need-to-know parties.
It’s frequent – Excellent project managers provide opportunities for stakeholder comments, client questions, vendor updates, and personnel input. But, they also do their best to facilitate these on a scheduled basis that works for the project.
#5 Review Performance
PMs should be involved in performance reviews to get the performance they expect from personnel. Reviews and check-ins help both PMs and their staff with task completion.
There are a few key components of effective performance auditing:
Open feedback: Over-analysis can create delays and inefficiency, so only weigh in when necessary. If an employee completes a self-evaluation, the review that follows should simply confirm the employee is actively meeting standards. Provide tips or guidance for employees who don’t feel confident in their performance or who could be doing more to meet expectations. But don’t micromanage—provide feedback when it makes sense.
#6 Delegate Tasks—but with Flexibility
Delegation is needed to prevent micromanagement, but a reasonable level of flexibility is necessary too. Therefore, project managers should consider the following when delegating tasks to their teams:
Facilitate autonomy – PMs have access to teams with niche skills, and using these resources wisely contributes to efficiency. Before delegating a task, it might make sense to ask for a volunteer from a qualified pool of available staff. Choosing one’s own work can be empowering.
Maintain a balanced workload – Keep workloads even, but make space for minor changes when needed. Is a team member overworked? Use available resources to help, even if the task is completed differently than initially envisioned.
#7 Be Transparent About Workload
PMs are leaders—and leaders are honest about their role in the success of a project.
Especially in the early stages, when trying to foster staff buy-in, PMs should make their task load clear to their team. Share daily tasks around endeavors to make their jobs easier, facilitate project success, and meet company standards.
Transparent project managers motivate teams to be equally forthcoming about their workloads, giving PMs the progress insight they need to provide status updates to clients and stakeholders. They also jump in when needed to make a project run more smoothly—if a teammate is overworked, they help pick up the slack.
#8 Monitor and Report Costs
Project managers are, in many ways, personally responsible for the financial success of their projects, overseeing:
PM’s should keep a close eye on project scope and costs— this includes reviewing actual costs versus budgeted costs regularly, and making changes as needed to prevent overspending.
Additionally, it’s important to get approval before spending extra money on a project. If it’s too late, or if the project simply can’t proceed without the extra cost, PMs must own up to their mistakes or shortcomings. Once the project is complete, it’s a good practice to reflect on the situation to prevent similar circumstances in future projects.
Optimized Project Management Processes with New Horizons
Strong project managers are crucial to companies—they facilitate project success, contribute heavily to customer satisfaction, and help complete the everyday tasks that paint the bigger picture.
But, excellent PMs don’t just appear out of thin air. When it’s time to upskill or train PMs, the right professional development solutions can boost performance, positively contribute to future projects, and create more functional staff.
Additionally, prompt and cost-effective task completion creates customer satisfaction and builds trust. And those factors reliably increase the chances of returning customers or network recommendations.
Take action today by exploring training and certification opportunities from New Horizons. We provide comprehensive project management training for seasoned PMs and project management newcomers alike, leveraging the latest tools, practices, and systems to make your organization’s PM team a powerhouse.
When it’s time to upskill, New Horizons is your company’s top source for quality training and education.
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