Keys to Successful Project Management

Being well-versed in project management processes and using a powerful tool such as

Microsoft Project puts you well ahead in the project management game. For an even greater edge toward a successful project, follow these guidelines:

Develop the goals and objectives. Know the overarching goals as well as the specific, measurable objectives of your project. They are your guiding principles.

Learn the scope. Know the scope (including tasks, quality, and deliverables) of your project and exactly what is expected of it. The scope includes how much you're doing (quantity) and how well you're doing it (quality).

Know your deadlines. Find out any deadlines—final as well as interim milestone and deliverable deadlines. If these deadlines are up to you to suggest, lucky you. But often this isn't your luxury. Often, you might propose one reasonable date only to have upper management or your customers suggest another, not-so-reasonable date. The sooner you learn about these dates, the better you can plan for them by adjusting the scope, the budget, and the resources.

Know your budget. If the project finish date is not your limitation, the budget might very well be. Again, it might be up to you to tell upper management how much the proposed project will cost. But it's also likely that the budget will be imposed upon you, and you'll need to be able to fulfill the goals of the project within a specific and unrelenting dollar amount. Again, the sooner you know the real budget of the project, the more realistic and accurate your plan can be. You can adjust scope, time, and resources in order to meet the budget.

Find the best resources. Gather input about who the best candidates for certain tasks are so you can get the best resources. Although the more experienced resources will likely be more expensive, they'll also be more likely to complete tasks more quickly and with a higher level of quality (likewise with equipment or consumable material resources.) Determine the acceptable level of quality for the project, balance this determination with your budget constraints, and procure the best you can get.

Enter accurate project information. You can enter tasks and durations, link them together, and assign them to resources, making it seem like you have a real project plan. But suppose the data you entered doesn't reflect the real tasks that will be done, how much time resources will really be spending on these tasks, and what needs to be done before each task can start. Then all you have is a bunch of characters and graphics on a screen or in an impressive-looking report. You don't have a project plan at all. The "garbage-in, garbage-out" maxim applies. As you're planning the project, draw upon previous experience with a similar type of project. Solicit input from resources already earmarked for the project—they can provide excellent information about which tasks need to be done, how long they take, and how tasks relate to each other.

Adjust the project plan to meet requirements. Look at the plan's calculated finish date and the total cost. See if they match your limitations for project deadline or budget. If they do not, make the necessary adjustments. This must all be done before you actually start the project—probably even before you show the project plan to any of your managing stakeholders.

Save a baseline and go. After you have a project plan that solidly reflects reality, take a

"snapshot" of the plan and begin project execution. This snapshot, which is called the baseline, is the means for determining whether you're on track and how far you might have strayed if you need to recover the schedule later.

Track progress. Many project planners take it only this far: They enter and calculate all the tasks, durations, relationships, and resources to where they can see a schedule and budget. They say "go" and everyone charges, but the plan is left behind. As project variables change (and they always do), the project plan is now useless as a blueprint for managing the project. If you want the project plan to be useful from the time you first enter, assign, and schedule tasks until the time you close the project on time and on budget, t!

you need to maintain the project plan as a dynamic tool that accompanies you every g-

step of the way. Maintaining the plan means tracking progress information. Suppose a o task planned for 5 days takes 10 days instead. You can enter that the task actually took 10 days, and the schedule will be recalculated. Your plan will still work, and you'll still be able to see when succeeding tasks should be completed.

Make necessary adjustments. As project variables change during project execution, you can see whether an unplanned change affects key milestones, your resources' schedules, your budget, or your project finish date. For example, suppose that 5-day task took 10 days to complete, and it changes the project finish date and also causes the project to exceed its budget. If this happens, you can take steps well ahead of time to make the necessary adjustments and avert the impending crisis. Use the power of Microsoft Project to recalculate the project plan when actual project details vary from the plan. Then you can analyze the plan, decide on the best course of action to keep the project on track, and take action. This action might be within the project plan or outside the confines of the plan in the real world of the real project itself.

Communicate. Make sure that your team members know what's expected of them. Pay attention when they alert you to potential problems with their tasks. Keep upper management and customers informed of your progress and of any changes to the original plan.

Close the completed project and capture information. When a project goes well, we're often so happy that we don't think to capture all the information we should. When a project is completed with much difficulty, sometimes we're just relieved that we're done with it and can't wait to get on with the next project and forget about this unhappy nightmare. But whether a project is simple or difficult, a radiant success or a deplorable failure, there's always much to be learned. Even if you're not involved in any other projects of this type, other people might be. It's important to record as much information about the project as possible. Narrative and evaluative information can be captured through a postmortem or "lessons learned" document. Project information such as tasks, resources, durations, relationships, and calendars can be recorded in a project plan itself. If the project went very well, you can even save your project plan as a template to be used for future similar projects, thereby enabling future project managers to benefit from your hard-won experience.

Part 2

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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