Have you ever started a project and felt so excited by the possibilities? But then things happen. Somewhere along the way, something falls apart and the project begins to crumble.
I think every project is like that – full of endless possibilities.
Clients are excited to take on the task. They’re full of promises and legions of people that are happy to help you on your quest to success.
Initial brainstorming sessions bring enthusiastic buy-in from stakeholders, accompanied by ambitious, noble goals for the project. But something happens along the way. Communication slows, deadlines are missed and the project stalls.
It’s happened to the best of us.
In my experience, the easiest way to avoid this result is to learn how to implement effective, strategic project management. I’ve been trying to hone this strategy for a while now. In this article, I’d like to review some of the strongest project management tips I’ve encountered for increasing productivity and profitability of projects.
Clarify Project Details at the Beginning
Getting on the same page with your clients starts with clarifying the project details. You’ll want to outline the following right from the beginning of the project:
- Your ultimate objective
- A realistic timeline
- A meeting schedule
- List of team members
- Available resources
CIO magazine also recommends defining “what’s not in this project,” which can include things that shouldn’t be focused on right now.
For example: If you’re a web designer launching a company’s new desktop website, You can outline that this does not include developing a mobile app. This will also cut down on scope creeeeep (more on this later.) Even if you don’t have a whole team to lead, this road map helps.
Develop Your Leadership Abilities
Team members need to see you as someone excited and determined. Developing leadership skills – even as a freelancer – is a great way to be seen as an authority and peer by your clients (not just some outsourcer that can take a bit of the load off).
Once you’ve gained respect, it’s a lot easier to persuade clients, their team and others on the project to buckle down and get the job done.
Start thinking of yourself as a leader.
Trust me, it’ll help to keep excuses at bay, projects on track and clients utterly satisfied.
Establish Project Milestones
If you’ve got a larger project, you definitely need project milestones. It’s the main way of tracking where you’re at, if you’re on schedule and what tasks you need to do to arrive at the next milestone.
Plus, it’s just much easier to work on large projects and stay focused if they can be broken into smaller sub-chunks.
You’ll also find that it keeps clients comfortable with how long it’s taking to complete the project. We live in a world of instant gratification, and if something is taking (seemingly) too long, people get really antsy.
Using project milestones is a way to show progress and ease any nervousness.
I suggest going as far as celebrating every time a milestone is achieved – it will boost morale, build momentum and give incentives to hit the next goal.
Always Keep Communication Flowing
I’ve not found a single client that complained because I communicated too much.
However, in my early days of freelancing, I actually lost clients because I didn’t communicate enough to make the client feel in the loop.
These days, I take a very conscious approach to communication. I’ve found following these tips work well for making sure everyone remains happy:
- Conducting regular check-ins, either in person or at least via email.
- Using “reply all,” a tool that sometimes is discouraged in other settings. But here, go nuts.
- Keeping client in the loop – especially if they aren’t hands on in the day-to-day.
Avoid Scope Creep at All Costs
Ah, scope creep.
Saying “while we’re in here working on this we may as well fix this…” may work for car mechanics or surgeons, but I’ve found it does more harm than good in a freelance setting.
But that won’t stop clients from trying.
Be ready to be polite but firm. Don’t dismiss the idea altogether – they’re usually pretty awesome. Instead, politely remind them of your contract. I’ve found one of these two responses work well:
- “That’s a great idea! Would you like to revisit my contract so we can add it into the work I’m doing for you?”
- “I really love that idea. It’s a bit beyond the scope of this project. Let’s table it for now then circle back and see what we can come up with at the conclusion of this project.”
Build an Exit Interview Protocol
Freelancers with tons of feedback, social proof and testimonials don’t just happen overnight. They’ve worked hard to collect this data from clients. The best tip I have for you here is something my Mom taught me from a young age:
“It never hurts to ask!”
Now, it may not hurt, but it sure is nerve-racking – I still get nervous when asking someone for a testimonial or honest feedback on my work. Not because I didn’t do my best, but because rejection is hard to take.
The easiest way I’ve found to do this is through a formalized exit interview.
At the conclusion of the project, make it your personal protocol to ask clients to review your work, give a testimonial or answer a couple of questions.
If you’ve done a good job, most clients are more than happy to oblige.
Unlike Hollywood studios, your projects likely won’t have millions of dollars invested or be judged by zillions of critical fans. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect good project management principles. It’s quite easy to see a project unravel, but following these tips makes it less likely.
Have you ever had a project go off the rails? Or what kind of ‘movie magic’ did you wield to keep things on course? Share one of your biggest project management successes (or failures) in the comments below.