Have you found yourself managing projects when your primary role is NOT a project manager? As a friend and co-worker once said, “Life IS a Project.” Regardless of your role at work or at home, there are always projects to be accomplished. At work it could be a product launch, product promotion or product development. Maybe you are in operations and are more focused on the back office success of the company. At home, you could be planning a vacation or a group outing of some sort. Maybe it’s building a shed.
Management of your project can be as formal or informal as fits the people affected by the project and the scope of the project. However, any project has a higher likelihood of success if the person leading the project thinks about these 5 key principles that cross all methodologies, scope definitions and interested parties.
In this article, I am going to highlight the 5 key principles to any project’s success. This is a kick off to a series that will go more in depth on each of the principles.
What are the 5 key principles of Project Success?
Principle 1: A Concise Project Definition
Whether you are building a shed or launching a new product, it always helps to have a concise project definition. The reader of a good project definition understands why you are doing the project and its ultimate outcome. Think of it as a summary of your business case. For example, “My car does not fit in my garage because my bicycles and tools are taking up too much space. Therefore, I am building a shed in my backyard so that I can store my toys and park my car.” I always like to be sure there is some form of “so that” in my project definitions.
Principle 2: Project Buy In that Sticks
Most successful projects start with support from those who are impacted by the project – whether they know it or not. There are often conscious stakeholders and unconscious stakeholders. Conscious stakeholders know about the project and often either support, do not support or are indifferent about the outcomes. Unconscious stakeholders do not know they should care about the process or outcomes of the project. These are the folks who might catch you by surprise down the road!
For my shed project, it is obvious that my husband, the builder and I all care about the shed project. However, do I need to think about my neighbors? Will they care about the noise or the impact on their view? What about my children? Will they support the move of their bicycles?
Principle 3: Clear Task Estimation
In a simple example like a shed project, task estimation may not seem like a big deal. However, if you live in a region that gets rain and snow it may be very important. How long will it take to order the parts; is the contractor available; how long will it take to build the foundation? The structure?
Clear task estimation is not synonymous with accurate task estimation or even thorough task estimation. Much like project definition, it is more important to clearly communicate the meaning behind tasks and estimates than to be exact in their estimation at the outset. For example, are your tasks tied clearly to outcomes? Are they understandable? Are you estimating effort or duration?
Principle 4: Flexible Project Execution
One of the greatest gifts of agile software development is the idea of a flexible mindset. Unless you have a project that has been done before, with well-known milestones and tasks, it is highly likely that your project is going to evolve over time. More important than a plan that you “stick to,” is a plan that can respond to change and a project manager who has the mechanisms in place to understand how the project is progressing.
In my shed project, although we have a good sketch, I need to be ready for the plans to change once the building begins. This is very typical in home remodels, for a different example. Once you pull off the sheet rock, you never know what is behind the walls. Once you start doing the work, you can expect surprises. A good project manager is prepared to anticipate change.
Principle 5: Effective Decision-Making
Decision-making is not one of those things you find in all of the standard project management approaches. However, I have found decision-making to be the single most important aspect of a successful project. It is critical to know who is ultimately making the decisions that impact the project. I like to keep a list of “open questions/decisions” that have to be made for project success. Some companies use decision-making frameworks to guide their projects.
In the shed project, who approves the spend? Who approves the design? The location? I personally do not care about the design, for example. As long as it fits in the space we allocated, my husband can design it however he wants. However, I do feel that we have a budget and I am an “approver” of the ultimate spend.
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Whether you write them down or think about it in your head – applying these 5 principles can help any project get started on the right foot towards success.
Would you like to go more deeply into the 5 principles of project success? Join CW Training and Consulting for Demystifying Project Management – What Really Drives Project Success. A 4 hour workshop being held on October 12th, 12:30 p.m. at Open Canopy in Redwood City, CA. Alternatively, set up a custom workshop with us and we will come to your business.