Project Management Techniques – 10 Critical Steps for every PM!
Most project managers are completely lost with starting a project. These ten key project management techniques are going to give project managers the heads up they need when starting their projects. This advice I am giving you today works because it is what I have done for the last 30+ years. If I was assigned a project today, this is exactly the steps I would follow. Across Waterfall, Agile, IT, and Healthcare, the steps I am giving you below work. See, 30+ years ago, I had to create these same project management techniques because I was like most of us, an “Accidental project manager,” so I did this out of necessity. That can be pretty scary if I have just assigned you a $500K project and you don’t have any clue where to start. So, I wanted to take the time now and make sure that you know the ten project management techniques to use if you are assigned a project.
Project Management Techniques Overview
Ok, that’s easy, right. Let’s spend time now and look at each of these now and get tactical.
1. Setup project environment
Here are the key components you should be looking for when setting up your project environment. They include:
- Document Repository – SharePoint/Teams/Google Drive
- Email Folder
- Risk Log
- Issue Log
- Action Log
- Decision Log
- Interdependencies Log
- Project Calendar
Regardless of the type of project you are managing, you will need to set up a series of critical logs and environments for your project. These logs noted should be the minimum you get set up.
This is the time to mention there are a ton of different project management tools that you can use to help you establish these environments and logs for your project, including:
- Email, documents, spreadsheets, presentation decks…. etc. Most offices use Word, Excel, PowerPoint. But not all of them.
- Common Repository for logs, storing documents, remote access. SharePoint, Lan drives…etc. This will allow your team members to access this information at any time.
- Scheduling tool (MS Project or scheduling software (i.e., Smartsheets, Monday.com…etc.) for producing gantt charts, performing critical path analysis and project planning.
- Planning tool – WBS Schedule Pro for creating work breakdown structures
- Financial software or access to it for project accounting
- Timesheets software for time tracking on projects (i.e., Project Online)
As you can imagine, I am not in a position to even begin to name all the project management software out there in the market, but that’s ok, a lot of times, this is done for you at the company, and you don’t really have a choice what tool you will and won’t use, to manage your projects.
2. Build Customer Relationships
The next step is to build those critical relationships with your customers that you will rely on throughout the project. There are some initial tasks that you can do immediately with your customer that will help you build a solid relationship from the very beginning. That includes:
- Determine who is your primary customer
- Reach out and build a relationship, determine how often they want to meet
- Ask their requirements for the project, are the decision-makers, and the role they play on the project.
- Determine if they are Text vs. Graphics people and what are their communication preferences.
- Work with them to develop and sign off the project’s charter.
3. Develop project charter
As we covered when building and establishing the initial relationship with your customer, the project charter is one of the first things you will work on together. There are hundreds of templates for project charters available, and each company has different components, but I have used this template for years in my projects. Of course, this is just a template to be changed to fit the needs of your project.
This is a good time to make sure you are aware of the many-many project communication tools that I have available for you to use today on your projects. Have a look at this link here, and grab your copy of my tools today!
4. Develop & obtain your project resources
The first step in this project was to understand what is in the scope of the project, and develop the project charter, now it is about resources. Here you need to reach out to the company’s resource managers to begin to staff your project and build your project teams. Almost every company will have different techniques for project staffing, and your company is no different. Still, you need to learn this quickly and start making relationships with those resource managers. The typical roles you are creating in IT for a software development project include:
- Project Manager – That’s you!
- Business Analyst
- Technical Team Lead
- Test Lead
- UAT Lead
- Training Lead
- Organizational Change Management Lead
Of course, every project is different, and very different sets of resources are needed, but, typically, software projects run with the same roles across most companies. If your project is Agile, then for Agile Project Management your resources will differ than what is listed above.
5. Develop project schedule
The next step is to start building the high-level schedule for your project. It does not have to be perfect. Again, it does not have to be perfect in this stage of the project, but it must outline the high-level dates and any known dates. For example, if you have a Nov 5th go-live date, you must hit that date. I would get that in there as a starting point because it would allow me and my project team to do some backward pass scheduling. Here are some tips for building out an initial schedule.
Strawman high-level schedule Best Practices
If your project is Waterfall, put in those standard phases in place Initiation, Planning, Design, Develop, Build…etc.
If your project is Agile, put in the Initiation, Planning, but then make sure you add the Sprints and the key Agile ceremonies.
The goal here is not for the schedule to be perfect. The purpose of this step is for you to understand directionally what resources are needed and how long this project will last.
You will have plenty of time to refine the project schedule, but when first assigned a project, this step is critical.
6. Develop & obtain a project budget
Now you must develop your initial project budget. This budget will be with known scenarios for this project. For example, if you know you need a unique skill set and must hire that skill, add those costs to the budget estimate. If you know you are hiring vendors, add that to the budget, add your FTE resource costs. Add hardware/software/marketing. Whatever the case may be, you need to work with your leadership and develop an initial project budget for your project. Once that budget is created, expect many meetings with your project stakeholders to approve and finalize this initial budget. What are some best practices around budget tracking monthly? Well, they include:
- Setting a baseline for the budget and locking that baseline
- Tracking estimates weekly and actuals monthly. Most companies do the financial actuals monthly (work with your finance department for exact timing), but tracking weekly keeps you on top of your finances.
- Report budget in weekly project status report. Project Managers track and watch the budget as part of how they run the project. If you see estimates that are not correct, get that corrected early, so there are no surprises as the end of the month when actuals hit.
- Track and report budget at major phases gates for the project.
With that ongoing tracking of the budget, project managers can genuinely have a good handle on how their projects are tracking and make adjustments where necessary. Project managers who track and record their project budget can then make smarter project decisions with this information.
7. Develop your Project’s ROB – Rhythm of Business
This is one of my favorite parts of being a project manager, and I find most PMs miss this part in initially setting up their project. I call it setting up the ROB or The Rhythm of Business, and that is the series of meetings and touchpoints that you will have to execute for your project. This is another one of the project management techniques I love about being a project manager. As project managers establish what needs setting up for their projects, your PMO might have other meetings that need to be established. What are some of the areas to be looking for when setting a ROB? Well, that includes:
- Weekly Status meetings
- Customers Meetings
- Developing and releasing status reports
- Project Phase Gate Meetings
- Project Monthly Meetings
- Executive Meetings
As you can see, many meetings need to be accounted for on projects. As the project manager, your role is to get on top of those meetings. You need to get plans to create the materials, get templates created and approved, and then drive your project around the executing and reporting at those meetings. Yes, a large part of project management is communications, and that is why I love this step so much. Not only do you need to do this for your project, but it puts you in a spot to be in control and leading the way.
8. Start executing weekly syncs and project deliverables
Depending on your project’s size, complexity, and reporting requirements, this is where the planning stops and the work begins. The project manager moves the project team into the continued planning and execution phase of the project. What are some of the initial key activities? Let’s use a waterfall project as an example:
- Build out the BRD
- Continue to plan and refine the end-to-end project schedule
- Continue to lock resources, especially if you need to hire outside help, that process needs to start sooner than later
- Build out the technical environment for the project.
The main goal of this step is the project manager has put the processes in place and has started the project in motion.
9. Report progress on project execution
Now the work of the project is in full execution mode, so the role of the project manager is to report, communicate, remove roadblocks, and help the project team execute. This is also when all the issues and risks occur on the project, so you will be busy reporting on them as well! What are some of the critical components for project managers to be reporting on while executing their projects? They include:
- Project Status including critical risks and issues
- Financial Status
- Resource Status
- Phase Gates
Of course, there is much more than can be reported as you execute your projects. But that is mainly dependent on many factors within your organization. Such as what your PMO is asking for, what your executives need, your project stakeholders, other leadership..etc. So, when you have all these different stakeholders looking for status and updates, you as the project manager need to streamline this process wherever possible. You want to create one report and use it for multiple stakeholders where possible to reduce your time and reduce inconsistent data across multiple reports. By doing this, it keeps your project messaging the same where you can.
10. Complete project
That’s it. You successfully have set up and ran a project following the steps I used for over 30+ years. Yes, I have made some nuance changes due to Agile, DevOps, and the company’s needs, but by in large, these are the exact steps I have followed. I think I have been a very successful project manager. I hope some of these same steps and processes help you with success and a structured process that you can follow on your projects. When I sit back and think about finishing project after project and had some of my accomplishments, I want to reflect and pass on some of my best practices to you on project management.
- Project Management is a marathon, not a sprint.
- People and Team/Stakeholder relationships are everything.
- Organizational Change Management is everything. As PMs know that well!
- There will always be a new Agile, so get down the basics of managing a project and then worry about your development methodology.
- Crawl, Walk, Run in project management. You don’t need to be an expert overnight, but you need to learn and continually grow.
- Get a mentor/coach. Get someone you can bounce things off as you execute your projects. Sometimes that is free, sometimes that is paid, but you must have go-to people you can rely on and bounce ideas off them to help you execute your projects. I have had two mentors and coaches for over 20 years, and I grow and learn from them daily.
I hope this was helpful. I hope that you can take these same project management techniques and use them when assigned your first or next project. You not only don’t need to panic, but embrace the challenge and follow these steps to set up and execute your projects.
If you want to learn more and continue in your career as a PM, you will need coaching, and I am here to help. Check out my coaching program here; let me help you be successful.
What do you think?
If you like this article, I know you will love this one as well. It is called the 5 Essential Project Management Communications Techniques for 2021 and it provides project managers with the techniques to communicate more effectively on their projects. I also wrote this one on ways to stop your project from failing, check it out here. 4 Ways to stop your projects from failing article.
Bill Dow, PMP
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