Every project manager dreams of projects that hit key milestones on their own. But in the real world, projects are never like self-driving cars. They always need someone steering them in the right direction — and sometimes, someone to rev the engine when your project team falls behind.
Of course, there's not even such a thing as Google Maps for projects, let alone self-driving cars. When you want to ensure successful project management is occurring, you've got to evaluate the route you're taking yourself.
Here's what you need to know to ensure you're sticking to your project plan and become a better project manager.
How to measure project success
Successful project management can look different from team to team and project to project. The good news is, no project is totally unpredictable. When you want to determine if your project's on track (or totally off the rails), do these four simple steps:
1. Evaluate your timeline
Great project managers know you always need to plan for the unexpected. No matter how well thought out your original project timeline is, schedule changes are often needed — for example, when you discover a quality issue and need to backtrack or when suppliers delay deliveries. No need to hit the panic button just because you're rescheduling a few tasks. But a successful project should always stick to major milestone due dates — or as close as possible.
Update your project schedule once per week. Then, evaluate whether or not you'll still hit your key deadlines. If not, how far off are your new deadlines? Consider how you can make changes to stay on track for project success.
2. Determine if you're meeting stakeholder expectations
Just because a project is on time doesn't mean it'll meet your customers' needs. Imagine taking only three months to develop a new popcorn machine just to have it leave every kernel unpopped. 🍿
To determine if your project is meeting stakeholder expectations and goals, regularly check in with your clients to get their feedback. If possible, get their feedback on your in-progress results, or at least when it's all complete. Have them rate your work on a scale of 1-10. The closer you get to a 10, the more likely you're achieving successful project management.
3. Review the quality of your deliverables
Every product should meet your company's quality standards as much as it meets your stakeholder needs. If we're talking popcorn again, poor quality might take the form of a machine that does make popcorn, but leaves every piece half burnt. If you lead with effective project management, you won't serve your customers any scorched results.
The best project managers make quality review a key part of their processes. As your project moves along, make sure your team is checking off key tasks that guarantee quality. For example, a marketing agency may have a senior designer review digital assets before they're published. Take note each time your project is sent back to a previous stage in your timeline due to quality issues.
If your project status keeps getting stalled due to poor quality, it's probably not as successful as it could be.
4. Consider your budget
In a business environment, spending money to make money is often the name of the game. But if cash is totally flying out of your pocket, you won't be able to call your project a success.
One way to measure if your project budget is on track is by calculating cost variance. At any stage of your project, subtract the actual cost of work performed (ACWP) from the budgeted cost of work performed (BDWP). If the result is a negative number, this means you're going over budget and digging into your potential profits. If the result is positive, your project is financially a success.
4 tips for successful project management
Poor project management isn't always obvious until things go totally downhill. Hindsight is 20/20, after all. If you don't want your project to suddenly do a cliff dive, you need to put up barriers that keep it en route to every project milestone. These four project management tips can help you cross the finish line on the road to success:
1. Use project management software that works for your team
The right project management tool can be a game changer for any team. Project management software is built to help you schedule tasks, communicate with your team, and track your project progress in one central location.
With the right project management tool, you can see the big picture of where your project is headed. Or, you can zoom into the nitty gritty details to find and get rid of your biggest project derailers.
When you select your software, make sure it fits your team's project management methodology. For example, let's say you're practicing Kanban project management, which is all about moving tasks through columns on a visual board — often "to-do," "doing," and "done." To reflect this method, choose project management software that supports Kanban-style dashboards, such as Asana or Trello.
2. Use technology that streamlines your workflow
Once you've got all your project management processes in order, how do you get the rest of your team to run like a well-oiled machine? One way to streamline your workflow is by implementing software that saves your team members time.
Evaluate what tasks your team is wasting the most time on, and start researching potential solutions. Is there a way to automate your team's most repetitive tasks? For instance, if your team members are spending more time taking meeting notes than contributing to project strategy sessions, you can use a tool like Anchor AI to automate note-taking and document action items. Team members will save time, and they’ll be able to participate in the meetings more fully.
3. Assess risks before starting a project
There's no way you can have a plan B for everything that could happen. But when you assess potential project risks early on, you can better prevent things from going wrong.
To practice effective risk management, list out all the things you think could go amiss with your project. Then, categorize those risks as minor, moderate, or critical based on their potential impact and their likelihood of occurrence.
For example, team members are likely to call in sick during cold and flu season, which can have a moderate impact on your project. You could classify this as a moderate risk and may want to have contractors on standby fairly soon. On the other hand, a one-day shipping delay may be somewhat likely, but if it'll have a fairly low impact, you can consider it a minor risk.
Assessing risks will help you identify the ones that your team members should try to safeguard against first and most closely monitor. With a bit of teamwork and foresight, your projects can run more smoothly than ever.
Pro tip: Don't think of risk management as a practice in pessimism — remember that identifying potential issues could save your project in the end.
4. Communicate the importance of every project and task
Good project managers don't micromanage their teams. Working with someone breathing down your neck — literally or figuratively — is never comfortable or helpful. Instead of telling your talented team members what to do 24/7, practice effective communication to get the results you want.
For instance, to keep a project on track, you can explain how each task and team member contributes to a project's success. Second, it's all about being a motivator instead of a controller. Get your team excited about their roles and responsibilities by explaining why they're needed and appreciated, and they'll take care of the rest.
Improve your project management skills
With successful project management, your projects will stay on budget and on time while meeting stakeholder expectations. The project management practices you put into action can drastically impact a project's success. For example, by proactively dealing with risks and bolstering your communication skills, you can improve the well-being of every project.
Investing in the right technology can help you achieve project success, too. And if a lack of productive meetings is a roadblock, Anchor AI can help you move your projects along. Join the Anchor AI waitlist to be one of the first to try it out.