Improve the productivity of your projects and keep clients happy with these six 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. Luckily you can overcome these challenges and set yourself up for success with these six project management tips.
Six Project Management Tips for Project Success
1. Take the Guesswork out of Your Projects with Estimates
A project estimate is a skinny project plan or a trimmed down version of a proposal that details the cost, timelines, key deliverables and services. It’s usually built to tackle smaller projects with existing clients 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 estimate include the 7 key elements of any great estimate:
- Project scope
- Completion date
2. Have a Meeting with Your Client to Clarify Project Details
Any project, no matter how big or small, will benefit from a kickoff meeting. In these meetings, you discuss project to-dos so that both parties understand the scope of work, timelines and costs.
You should have a kickoff meeting even if your client has already approved an estimate or proposal. Why? Clients’ needs often change from the time they accept a proposal or estimate. If you fail to capture these changes, you may get halfway through a project only to discover your client wanted something entirely different.
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 clients’ needs, based on urgency and importance
- Project objectives: Convert needs into clear objectives and make sure they’re specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely
- Specify deliverables and due dates: These are the services you need to deliver by specific dates
- Project schedule: Detail deliverables, timelines and responsibilities
- Roles and responsibilities: Define roles for specific tasks and the entire project. Also, make sure the client understands their role
- Project budget: Detail how much money you need
- Communication plan: Specify how you’ll communicate (via email, phone, etc.) and how often (daily or weekly)
- 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
Have you ever delivered an asset to your client only to discover it’s not what they want?
Thankfully, project checkpoints help you avoid these uncomfortable, and often costly, situations. These checkpoints signal it’s time to review and check progress before moving ahead. They also help you maintain communication and ensure there’s a constant feedback loop in place to capture any changes as they occur.
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:
- Initial concept delivery: [date]
- Concept review period: [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 six 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.
Upfront deposits not only give you a needed cash injection, but they also encourage 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
The final project management tip is to track your time against certain projects. By doing this, you can determine how long, on average, it takes to complete specific 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 five hours now takes ten, 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.
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 seven 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 time sheets into invoices with one click
Bonus Tip: Collect Feedback as You Go
For longer projects, run a client satisfaction survey 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
Just because some business owners experience project failures doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, you can avoid failure altogether by focusing on the right project management tips.
This post explored six, from creating project estimates and having a project kickoff meeting, to collecting payments at checkpoints and tracking your time.
The only remaining question is: What project management tips will you use?
This post was updated in October 2019.