Improve the productivity of your projects and keep clients happy with these 6 project management tips.
Managing projects isn’t always easy. Scope creep, miscommunication, poor client management, and a lack of working capital can derail even the most promising projects. No matter how great an idea is it needs the right process to help get it off the ground, and that’s where great project managers come in.
As a team leader or project manager, it’s up to you to maintain clear lines of communication, realistic timelines, and a regular schedule of meetings and feedback loops in order to keep projects on track. Not everyone managing a project will have a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification or some other sort of formal training. However, anyone managing a project can overcome these challenges, keep their team and clients on the same page, and ensure a project’s success with these 6 project management tips.
6 Project Management Tips for Project Success
Table of Contents
1. Take the Guesswork Out of Project Management With Estimates
A project estimate is a skinny project plan or a trimmed-down version of a project proposal that details the cost, timelines, key deliverables, and services. A project estimate is primarily used for risk management. A project estimate can be reused and adjusted for future projects that are similar in scope and ensures that:
- You kick-start new projects on a solid footing
- Both parties understand the work involved from the get-go
- You don’t “ballpark” the cost of a project and undersell yourself
When building your first project estimate include the 7 key elements of any great estimate:
- Project scope
- Completion date
Also, don’t forget to use the right estimating software and process for building killer project estimates. Some project management software will have estimating capabilities built into it, but the template usability and design may leave you wanting more. Looking professional when laying out a project scope is key to landing new business.
2. Meet With Your Client to Clarify Project Details
Any project, no matter how big or small, benefits from a kickoff meeting. In these meetings, the project manager will generally discuss project to-dos so that both parties understand the scope of work, timelines, potential risks, and costs associated with the project.
You should have a kickoff meeting even if your client has already approved a project estimate or proposal. Why? Client needs often change from the time they accept a project estimate or proposal. If the project manager fails to capture these changes, the scope of the project won’t be 100% clear. That means a project team may get halfway through a project only to discover the client wanted something entirely different. This can obviously be a stressful situation for team members and key stakeholders.
3. Plan to Move Intelligently Through the Project
When starting any new project, you need to plan ahead. During the planning phase, get clear on details like milestones, work, and deliverables. To achieve this clarity and improve the chances of project success, focus on the essential elements of any project plan:
- Stakeholder needs: Prioritize client needs, based on urgency and importance to not only nurture the relationship but to illustrate how invested your project team members are in the project.
- Project objectives: Convert needs into clear objectives and make sure they’re specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Be sure to include every critical milestone and which team member is responsible for it.
- Specify deliverables and due dates: These are the services and assets you need to deliver by specific dates. These can be easily scheduled and tracked in a project management tool.
- Project schedule: Detail deliverables, timelines, responsibilities, and project milestones – project management software is one of the best ways to manage a project schedule.
- Roles and responsibilities: As the project manager, you should define roles for specific tasks and on the entire project with team members. Also, make sure the client understands their role before the project begins, especially if you have multiple projects on the go all at once.
- Project budget: Detail how much money you need, and manage expectations about how the project budget levels up to project work and project goals. be sure to detail costs directly associated with team members and project managers.
- Communication plan: Specify how you’ll communicate (via email, phone, etc.) and how often (daily or weekly). Be sure to include your communication plan as part of your project management plan when you kick off your project.
- Tracking and management tools: Focus on the right systems and processes to communicate, track and manage projects. For example, FreshBooks lets you invite collaborators, store project files in one place, and track your time against projects and clients
Take note: It’s easy to fuss over the project details to a point where you struggle to move beyond the planning phases. Resist this urge and instead focus on building a shippable solution.
For more detail on how to plan and deliver amazing projects, grab a copy of Master Project Management: Closing Deals and Delivering Amazing Projects.
4. Create Project Milestones
Guess what, all project managers have at one point or another delivered work or a specific asset to a client only to discover it’s not what they want.
Thankfully, project checkpoints help you avoid these uncomfortable, and often costly, situations. Project checkpoints are an easy way to simplify project management. These checkpoints signal it’s time to review and check progress before moving ahead. They help you maintain communication and ensure there’s a constant feedback loop in place to capture any changes as they occur.
Project management software often has checkpoint functionality built-in, which is valuable for breaking down bigger projects and focusing on task management.
So, make sure you specify these checkpoints right at the start of any project and include them in your project timelines. For example, a project timeline may look as follows:
- Project briefing session: [date]
- Initial concept delivery: [date]
- Concept review period: [number of days]
- Delivery of draft assets: [date]
- Revisions – round 1: [number of days]
- Final asset delivery: [date]
5. Collect Payment at Different Checkpoints
Projects often fail because money dries up. This is especially true for larger projects that span months.
Just think about a web designer who has a contract with a client for a project that lasts 6 months. Now imagine if the designer were unable to purchase essential new software halfway through because they had no cash on hand.
Having payment checkpoints in place can protect you against these scenarios. In fact, it may be wise to include a payment checkpoint upfront in the form of a deposit.
When a project manager requests an upfront deposit, it not only gives the project a needed cash injection but also encourages client participation. After all, clients are generally more committed to a project when they’ve already invested money.
For more information on upfront deposits and how much to charge, read Should You Ask for an Upfront Deposit on Work?
6. Track Your Time to Boost Productivity
While you should be tracking all the project information you can, tracking time against certain projects is a great way to achieve success. By doing this, you can determine how long, on average, it takes you to deliver projects, so you can better price future ones.
You can also identify if you’re spending too much time on projects and if there’s a problem. For example, if a project that usually takes 5 hours now takes 10, odds are you have a problem somewhere. Maybe the client is requesting too many revisions. Or—if you manage a team of employees—perhaps an employee is taking too long to finish their work. As a project manager, it’s part of your job to figure this out.
Now, when it comes to tracking your time, you can do so manually using your phone and recording your time logs in a spreadsheet. But the better approach is to use time tracking software that contains the following 7 key time tracking characteristics:
- Easy to use: It has a minimal user interface
- Links time to projects and clients: Track time against clients and projects to capture all billable hours
- Is mobile: Record time while on the move via a mobile app
- Lets you decide how to track your time: Choose to record time while working or log it after
- Provides overviews of how you spend your time: View time log summaries by the hour, day or week
- Scales with your business: The right time tracking app works whether you’re one person or manage an entire team
- Integrates time tracking and getting paid: Don’t silo project management and billing—after all, they are linked. Instead, use an app that lets you log time against a project or client, mark the time as billable and convert those timesheets into invoices with one click
Bonus Tip: Collect Feedback as You Go
For longer projects, many project managers run client satisfaction surveys at regular (no more than quarterly) intervals to gather valuable feedback. You can then use this feedback to improve how you manage projects moving forward.
Furthermore, for successful projects, collect testimonials and information you can use in your marketing materials. For example, you can include client testimonials in your proposals or on your website to boost your credibility.
Project Management Tips: A Few Final Words
Some business owners struggle as project managers because they’re wearing lots of hats. Hey, that’s fine. Remember, you don’t need to be perfect, but there are a few things in their article that benefit all project managers. In fact, you can avoid failure altogether by working some of these project management tips into your next project.
This post explored 6 project management tips, from creating project estimates and having a project kickoff meeting, to collecting payments at checkpoints and tracking your time. While you may never fully resolve to be a perfect project manager, you can tighten up your project management skills and encourage team members to do the same. Implementing these, and select other project management methodologies can make a big difference.
The only remaining question is: What project management tips will you use?
This post was updated in February 2022.