There’s a world of difference between projects that are taken on and carried out willy-nilly, and those that are planned with precision and finesse

What makes a super project manager?

Project Management is a broad field. There’s a world of difference between projects that are taken on and carried out willy-nilly, and those that are planned with precision and finesse.

It’s the project manager’s job to see a project through to completion, both on time and within budget. But it takes more than simply completing an assignment in order for a project to be considered a success.

“Being a (Super) Successful Project Manager Isn’t down to Talent”

There are various factors, both internal and external, that can easily send a project off its tracks, and a successful project manager takes the appropriate steps to avoid those disruptions. Much of it starts at the beginning, before a project even kicks off.

Follow these 7 tips for a smooth, successful project.

1. Have complete project details up front

“Being a Project Manager Is like Being an Artist, You Have the Different Colored Process Streams Combining into a Work of Art. – Greg Cimmarrusti”

Before a project even begins, it is necessary to have a completely detailed project scope approved by all stakeholders. A “completely detailed” scope means having things like interim milestones, a detailed timeline and sufficient budgets all laid out before any work begins.

Change is inevitable, and while actions may shift throughout the timeline, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to maintain control. While a successful project manager works with the client in all their needs, it’s just as important to keep communication open about project details throughout the process in order to avoid a disaster.

2. Set realistic expectations

Projects tend to fail because expectations are much higher than the reality. In order for a project to succeed, it must be set with realistic expectations. Everyone on the team, including the client, must understand any and all limitations of the project.

“Unrealistic Expectations Often Lead to Disappointment, While Simple Unbiased Attention and Detachment to Outcome Often Leads to Pleasant Surprises”

A good rule of thumb is “Pick two: good, fast, cheap.” A project can be completed on time and within budget as long as expectations are reasonable. Trying to do everything at once will only set you up for failure.

3. Establish measurable and reportable criteria for success

Success is something that is measured; therefore, an excellent project manager must have criteria to determine the success of the project. Since budgets and deadlines are important, they must be measured throughout the project timeline. Set up check points and milestones, both internal and external, in order to track the progress and note any changing needs for the project.

Additionally, it’s important to have client checkpoints throughout the process to receive feedback from the client’s perspective. Unless you want to risk re-working substantial components should the client be unsatisfied, incorporate client feedback throughout the project.

4. Assign responsibilities carefully

“If Not Us, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When? ― John E. Lewis”

A project manager cannot succeed alone. It takes a team to see a project to success. However, it’s even more important to properly assign responsibilities with teammates who have the right skill set. If a manager assigns the wrong person a task, they reduce the chances of success before the project begins.

When assigning roles, make sure each individual understands what is expected from them and the deadlines. Be sure to keep communication lines open so members can ask questions or get clarification as needed.

5. Embrace your role as a leader

“The First Responsibility of a Leader Is to Define Reality. The Last Is to Say Thank You. In Between, the Leader Is a Servant. —max Depree”

You are the leader of the project, so act like it. It’s your duty to not only lead, but to also coach, mentor and motivate your team. The P in PM is as much about ‘people management’ as it is about ‘project management’. Do not let any other team member assert dominance over your position or take the role of a leader for the project. As project manager, you are also the liaison with the client and must be accurate with communications both internally and externally.

“A Great Person Attracts Great People and Knows How to Hold Them Together. — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe”

A great leader must prove to be strong and calm, especially when difficulties come at the project. It’s when times get tough that teams seek counsel of their leader, which is why keeping your cool under pressure is vital.

6. Manage project risks

“If You Don’t Invest in Risk Management, It Doesn’t Matter What Business You’re in, It’s a Risky Business. – Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn”

Hopefully in the beginning stages of project prep, you have defined potential risks and contingency plans. If you can see a risk approaching, you can take preventive measures to avoid it, or begin corrective measures if necessary.

However, if a project becomes too risky, be ready to stop the project. A leader must know when things must be stopped before they reach the point of failure.

7. Evaluate the project upon completion

“When Our Leaders Accept the Status Quo, We Run the Risk of Disaster. – Max Bazerman from Predictable Surprises”

Upon completion, it’s important to evaluate how the project went, even if it’s only for internal purposes. That way you can pinpoint what went right or wrong, determine what could and should have been done differently, and establish best practices for future projects.

If you want your project to run smoothly, hit targets and deadlines and achieve your goal, you’re going to have to put in the groundwork.