Thoughts

8 Do’s (and 1 Don’t) for Successful Project Management

A Project Manager’s guide to successful projects and strong client relationships.

by Angelica Suarez

At Promptworks, we believe in the type of project management that strengthens the client relationship and gives the client confidence that our team is going to make good choices for them. As a Project Manager, I don’t just collect a list of specifications for the development team to build to blindly. I care about our clients’ success and want to understand the value each project brings to their users and their business. Since I joined the Promptworks team almost two years ago, I’ve come up with a list of tips to ensure successful projects and strong client relationships. Here are 8 “do’s” (and 1 "don't") for successful project management.

1. Identify your project’s stakeholders and build trust.

It is important to figure out who should get a seat at your project’s table early on. Once you identify the appropriate stakeholders for your project, you’ll be able to get them in the same room for scope planning, product roadmapping, and sprint reviews.

Here are a few examples of stakeholders you may want to consider:

  • Product Owner: The person responsible and accountable for your product.
  • The Project Team: The team members dedicated to your project.
  • End User: The person who will be using your product. This person can be an external customer or internal user. (It’s best to connect with end users directly, but sometimes you may need to rely on an internal stakeholder familiar with the customer perspective.)
  • Resource Manager: The manager in control of resources such as talent or equipment needed to execute your project.
  • Domain Expert: A stakeholder with domain expertise if your product has very specific requirements (ie. security or compliance components).

2. Decide on the project management method that is best-suited for your project.

When starting a new project, think through your processes, your team, and your project complexity to find the method that will work best for your needs. For example, if you have a project that is predictable and repeatable, Waterfall might be the best method for you. If you’re not using Waterfall, you are probably using Lean or some variation of Agile and will need to select one of its many different frameworks or methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, XP, etc.). The reason we use Scrum at Promptworks is that building custom software solutions can be exploratory, unpredictable, innovative, and uncertain. A consistent Scrum sprint cadence allows us to work collaboratively with the client in very tight feedback loops.

When deciding on a method, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How predictable is your project?
  • How many uncontrollables/unknowns do you have?
  • Are there parts of your project that are testable throughout development?
  • Are you going to be in direct communication with end users?
  • How much agreement do you have among stakeholders about how this product should look and function?

3. Research your domain.

Understand the language being used in the room - technical jargon and all - and how to translate it to get everyone to the same conclusion. When someone is explaining something new or technical to me, I like to summarize it back to them to make sure I’m understanding exactly what they mean. This way, I can communicate it back to the client or my own team and ensure that everyone has the same understanding.

4. Keep a close eye on your product backlog.

A “product backlog” is your giant to-do list for how your team is going to build your product. I always knew the importance of a backlog to a project, but now that I manage one myself, I know how truly important it is. It’s so important that I live by the tagline, “Your backlog is your project’s backbone.” The backlog keeps everyone aligned so if you don’t have a well-managed backlog, your project is going to hit a lot of challenges.

Here are a few ways to keep your backlog on track:

  • Do regular backlog refinement with your team. Getting work into priority order gives everyone a clear sense of direction, and taking a look at each ticket will help everyone come to the same understanding of what needs to be done.
  • Sprint plan with your stakeholders and your development team together. This is a great opportunity to make sure everyone is on the same page about where you are in your project progression and what’s coming next.
  • Help your team practice good ticket hygiene. That includes keeping ticket statuses up to date, linking relevant materials such as pull requests to the ticket, and making comments within the ticket that share any important information or decisions about the work. By keeping your tickets in good working order, everyone will stay aligned about the work being done.

5. Ask why, and ask why again.

Always ask a lot of questions in order to gather your requirements and really understand what you’re building and why. At the end of the day, it is imperative to understand your user needs and the business value your project is bringing to your client. Sometimes you may find that a client is requesting a specific feature, and by asking why they need that feature you’ll often uncover new user needs and possibly find a better solution than the feature they requested. This is where the consulting nature of my work comes in. When you keep asking “why” in order to understand your project and client better, it shows that you care about the value this product is bringing and really want the product to succeed.

6. Stay adaptable.

No matter what, something on your project is going to change. It’s important to create a safe-to-fail environment and encourage learning and adapting among your team members. In this open environment, you and your team can evaluate what is and isn’t going well in the project, and adapt your working patterns if need be. Reinforcing the importance of being flexible will ensure a highly-functioning and successful team.

7. Be meticulous about project reporting.

Every project has guardrails for success, such as the project timeline and project budget. As a Project Manager, keeping track of these metrics is a fundamental skill for success. It may not always be the most fun or exciting part of your job, but it’s imperative that you always know how your project is tracking against its planned timeline and budget. Actualize as often as you can-- I like to actualize all of my project budgets on Mondays for the previous week. Predict the time and cost for when your project will realistically conclude, and re-project those numbers every time you get new information. These are the little details that matter, and staying on top of your project reporting will help you de-risk your project as you go. Trust me on this one, your client will thank you!

8. Communicate project updates early and often.

Your client is excited about this project, so tell them all about it! Share the team’s victories as well as the hard lessons learned. Full and transparent communication ensures that everyone feels included and informed about the project and will lead to better decision making along the way.

Which leads us to 1 Don’t: Don’t try to hide your challenges!

In any project, you're going to come up against situations that are tricky or conversations that are difficult. The earlier you can get ahead of difficult conversations, the easier they are. Your client and your team don’t want to feel like they’re in the dark. The more you share, update, and communicate with your client and team members, the fewer surprises or risks there will be in your project. Clear, honest, and timely communication are the bedrock of a successful client relationship.

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