Project Management and Planning
Great, so you’ve successfully onboarded your client and followed all our advice… you’re even almost the best of buddies. Well done. But now, before you do ANY work on the project, you need to establish the project parameters and use the right project management tools to help you stay on top of your work.
1: What is project management all about?
Project management is the process of planning and organising tasks to successfully complete a project. While it has always existed informally, project management only emerged as a distinct discipline in the mid-20th century.
The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints. Typically these are project scope, time, quality and budget – and optimising the allocation of (infinite) resources to deliver projects on-brief, on-time and on-budget.
Project management versus general management
General management concerns ongoing daily operations across the business, whereas project management – as the name implies – deals with ‘projects’ which are temporary and outside of the daily operations of a company or business. The stages of project management can be broken down into: planning, initiating, executing and monitoring and closing tasks.
How can project management help you?
Chances are you're working on a project right now. That new website for your client, the rebrand you've been engrossed in, the slick new packaging campaign that's being rolled out next week. Projects come in all shapes and sizes, from small, highly-focused jobs requiring only a few tasks, to complex, multi-faceted enterprises requiring input from everyone in your office. In order to successfully tackle any project, you need some kind of plan in place. That’s where project management comes in – to help you successfully realise projects from idea to complete enterprise.
Which project management methodology should you use?
Your project management methodology is the way you approach the project and organise your process so it's more streamlined. By choosing an established project methodology, you don’t have to reinvent the process every time you start a new project. We have a full breakdown of some of the most common methodologies here!
2: Defining the project scope
During the client kickoff meeting, you thought you had established the parameters of the project, or what’s known as the project scope with the client. As time goes on however, a few innocent client requests get tacked on here and there.
Your project starts bulging at the seams.In your efforts to keep the client happy you oblige, until ultimately you find the allocated budget has been blown right out of the park.
This is called scope creep.
Now, your clients aren’t trying to be inconsiderate or oblivious of the scope on purpose. They’re just super passionate about their business, and thus vested in their project.
So what should you do?
Off the back of the project kickoff meeting, produce a detailed scope plan for your client. This will identify the project benefits, objectives, deliverables, key milestones and the number of revisions allowed. A Gantt chart or visual timeline may be helpful (more of that here), so they know exactly what to expect. The more detailed the better – this document will form part of your insurance against scope creep.
Scope management involves preparing for every conceivable risk. Think about what could go wrong during each stage or component. Determine the probability of those risks occurring and the impact each will have on deliverables and timelines. Some find it helpful to break these risks into low-level, medium-level and high-level categories. Once you’ve categorised your project risks systematically, you’ll want to assign potential actions and resources.
Finally, define your communication plan. How often does the client expect progress reports? At what stages will you need input from the client? Who will be their key point of contact?
3: Using online project management software
Why do you need an online project management software?
While a whiteboard and calculator might be a tempting low cost option for managing your projects, as your project develops in complexity or scale, an online system is going to save you a lot of hassle, time and effort.
What are some of the benefits of online project management?
With an online system, you’ll be able to track your projects by phase more closely and understand the key variables that have an impact on profitability, such as staff time (compared with the budget).
Give your clients a login and they can check on the status of the project or keep up with notes at any time! This minimises the need to extraneous meetings too, so you have more time to get on with the project!
Real-time project transparency.
A ‘live’ overview means that you always know exactly how a project is progressing and can align your team to work faster and smarter across the organisation.
Ability to work from anywhere.
Stuck on the train in rush hour? Working from home? You'll still be able to keep an eye on your project from wherever you are. Any contractors or remote workers in your team can access it too, see updates and milestones, and track their own progress.
No more annoying paper filing! You’ll be able to store documents, notes and even email conversations in one place!
More efficient time management.
Track time and set up notifications or alerts when projects are nearing a deadline
Great, now you understand the benefits. You can have the best project management software in the world, but it won’t amount to much if your staff isn’t motivated to use it, or don’t know how.
Which project management software should you choose?
Is it online and cloud-based? With everything in one system and in the cloud, data is always up to date and accessible from anywhere, across devices.
Does it integrate with other softwares? For example, if you’re using Xero for your accounting, your project management system should integrate with the software nicely! WorkflowMax integrates with over 30 world-class add-ons and has a seamless integration with Xero. You can customise it and make it work for you!
Are there education/support resources available? Look for software that has a good support page, online training modules, education videos or self paced courses?How favourable are the reviews and ratings? Make sure to check out third party review sites such as GetApp and Capterra.
4: Great client collaboration software
Open and honest client communication is fundamental to the success of your project, so the earlier you start collaborating with clients, the better! You don’t want them to be banging on your door at 4pm on a Friday afternoon wondering where the final proofs are!
When you're a small business you know your clients intimately, and can offer them personalised customer service to suit their needs. But as your business grows, it’s harder to ensure consistency – across clients, across projects and across staff. That’s where a great client management software comes in.
We discussed some of our favourite client collaboration tools in Chapter 2 and building off the back of that, let’s delve into client collaboration software.
WorkflowMax has a nifty client manager feature as well as a robust document management functionality, which – through integrations with leading document management software – allows you to organise, edit and share documents with your team and the client. Because the system is in the cloud, you have instant access to the most up-to-date file. It’s a more time-efficient way of accessing project documents and files, and ensures you’re always working on the latest version!
The best part: you can create a client login so they can view progress at every stage of the project, see any updates and attachments and effortlessly stay more involved in the process. That way you can manage their expectations and avoid any potential clashes.
5: Managing your time effectively
Project time tracking isn't about keeping tabs on your team – it's about producing data you can use to generate accurate project costing/estimations, process payroll and value work-in-progress. In fact, time tracking can give you real-time visibility of your projects, improve staff efficiency and drive greater business profitability.
Ever wondered how much time employees spend on specific tasks? Or which of your employees are the most productive? How many hours of "actual work" did an employee put in, versus the number of "clocked" hours? And what portion of the employee's day was spent on personal or unstructured activities?
The answer to all of those questions can be answered by using the right time management tools.
So, what time-management strategies can you implement in your business?
- Use an online system. Seriously, it’s time to bid those awful excel spreadsheets bye-bye! A cloud based timesheet system will enable you to add time from anywhere, across devices, and if you can’t remember all the job details on the spot, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off later!
- Make time tracking fun. Offer cool incentives for staff to get their timesheets in on time.
- Offer training and support. New systems can be daunting. Let your staff know you’ve got their back by offering them educational resources, training videos, and plenty of time to familiarise themselves with the new tool. Bear in mind that some of your team – especially the older generation – may be slower on the uptake than others, so try to make an allowance for this behavioral change when you’re expecting widespread adoption.
- Keep meetings short. We know meetings are a necessary evil, but the less time wasted, the more time your team can actually spend doing stuff!
- Limit emails. Or better yet, use inter-office communication tools.
- Use internet blocking sites. (Like Freedom). Choose the sites you want to block and sync blocks across all of your devices. Freedom users report gaining an average of 2.5 hours of productive time each day!
- Practice time blocking. For example, use the Pomodoro technique to focus on one task at a time, break tasks down into small goals, and get more done.
- Try adding in a power hour. Block out your calendar for that hour so people can’t schedule meetings in, or move to somewhere quiet – without your phone – and try to get as much done as you can in those precious 60 minutes.
6: How to be a great project manager
Anyone can manage a project, but knowing the theory is very different from understanding its proper application and successfully working with your team to achieve the project’s objectives.
So what are some of the traits you need as an exceptional project manager?
Exceptional organisational skills
Were you the kind of kid who colour-coded his pencils or lined up her stuffed animals according to height order? And then made everyone else to do the same? Project management might just be your jam!
Vision & Focus
You need to be able to see the “big picture” in order to hold the overarching project goals in check. But you also need to have laser like focus on the details, in order to ensure that nothing is lost – it's the little details that come together to create the flawless whole. As Kyle Racki, CEO of Proposify puts it: “Good project managers plan for the unplanned.”
A project manager is responsible for the entire job. You need to be able to inspire great work, manage different types of people, and react quickly while under stress. Project management isn’t for everybody, but those with strong leadership skills will do well in the field. See this Entrepreneur article on 50 Rules for being a Great Leader for ideas on how to improve your leadership abilities.
Familiarity with project management software
There are many different types of software designed to make managing projects simple. Luckily, with WorkflowMax’s 14-day free trial, it’s easy to get familiar with the way project management tools enable a team to track every facet of a job.
Planning and Risk management skills
The truth is, “not every project is going to be stuffed full of rainbows and unicorns” (wisdom via NerdyOrganized.com). It’s what you do when your project goes wrong that says the most about your leadership, planning and risk management skills. Are you comfortable dealing with crisis, able to keep a cool head and steer the project back on track?
Current technical and soft skills
Whatever your industry, there will be different technical competencies, methodologies and project management tools that you’ll need to be able to understand and implement.
A good project management professional is one that has an understanding of the business pressures and pain points in a particular industry. Often, a company looking to hire a project manager will look for someone with business management experience or a business degree.
Ability to delegate
Being able to trust the team you've built is an incredibly important trait, as is letting go of control, knowing exactly when to step in and being able to assign responsibility to the right people.
6 tips to improve your project management skills:
Tip 1: Communication is everything
With so many stakeholders, suppliers and team members to juggle, it’s vital that communication channels are clear so the right message gets through. Use every opportunity to get better at your communication skills and try to stay objective when assessing the outcome. Visit your local Toastmasters club to see if they can help!
Tip 2: Ask good questions
Great project managers know that they don’t know everything. Asking questions of staff, contractors, clients and stakeholders helps you understand their needs and ensure they have everything they need.
Tip 3: Share information freely
The more information people have, the better they can do their jobs. Make sure everyone has access to what they need, whether it’s the original client brief or the right project management tools and any add-ons.
Tip 4: Resolve conflicts quickly
Bad blood between clients, stakeholders or contractors can quickly derail a project if it’s not dealt with as soon as possible. Good project managers are skilled communicators, and should be comfortable with conflict resolution. Consider taking an online course to brush up your skills.
Tip 5: Make friends and influence people
The best project managers attend industry events and maintain a virtual army of contacts and friends. When a client needs a person for a particular job, you want to be able to whip out your phone and call the perfect person. Check out Dale Carnegie’s timeless book for more tangible advice.
Tip 6: Know your stuff
You’re the expert who needs to juggle every aspect of the project, so you need the knowledge and skills behind you to ensure you make the best decisions. Make sure you’re regularly talking to different teams and staying abreast of the latest developments – at a project and industry level.
Get more great advice here: 25 Tips to Increase Your Agency's Productivity