In theory, a project is successful when delivered on time and on budget, within the terms agreed by the participating stakeholders. In practice though, you’ll have to plan and assign resources, face delays and adjust expenses, all while making sure that everybody is in sync.
But what do you do when you have little to no experience in managing a project from start to finish? If this is your case, the next 5 steps will serve as a guide to setup your project up and running. We’ll take a look at every detail and see how a project management app like Paymo can help along.
1. Agree with the stakeholders on the project plan
A project plan is the key element of a successful project, serving as a roadmap for its leader and the stakeholders involved. It contains three parameters against which the project progress is measured: the scope, the timeline, and the budget. It also states under which circumstances changes can occur, in case deviations from the initial plan arise.
After its completion, stakeholders will review and accept it to get the project starting. It is vital thus to get all the parties involved on the same page regards the agreed parameters and their own responsibilities.
2. Create a list of tasks and group them
At this point, you have to identify all the necessary tasks that will lead to the scope fulfillment. This might turn out to be easy if you’ve managed a similar project before. But if you’re getting into uncharted waters, the best thing to do is reverse engineer the whole process. Think about the final outcome and what needs to be done to get it.
Jot down all the required tasks in no particular order, then group them under task lists according to their likeness. If the project is more dense, you can go more granular and set a third level of tasks in the form of sub-tasks. Pay attention though, as this adds up complexity and makes the project hard to follow.
3. Estimate budget & costs for each task
Once the tasks are mapped out, you have to do the thing that most project managers fear: estimates, i.e. how much time will it take to complete a task. Why? Because initial estimates are often wrong. Don’t worry though, you’ll be more accurate once you gain experience.
But to give you a head start, there are three types of tasks: tasks that you’ve done before, tasks that you haven’t done before but have an idea about how to deal with them, and tasks that you haven’t done before and have no clue about their logistics. For the first type you already know the time budget and can calculate the costs derived from the average hourly rate. For the second type you estimate based on your intuition and multiply the budget by 1.5-2, and for the third type you multiply the budget by 3.
If this sounds too much, keep in mind that estimates don’t forsee any unforeseen complications. Doubling or tripling your estimation should account for some of those invisibles. Remember, it’s always best to promise much and overdeliver.
4. Monitor and measure project progress
You’ve already decided on the project scope, estimated task budgets and established a project timeline. So what now? You need to monitor the project on a daily basis to ensure that all the agreed parameters are met. To do this, you have to define a set of metrics, depending on what success means to you. For example, if you’re concerned with nailing the deadline because of specific project constraints, you will measure the schedule variant metric. This one shows how the project varies compared to the initial schedule and which tasks are late. If stakeholder satisfaction is more important to you, the you’ll issue a satisfaction survey and measure the output.
Once set, you simply have to measure them on a regular basis. You might want to use a customizable dashboard in a project management system that provides data in real time. The advantage is that you can see the whole project progress in one single view, without having to switch between different apps.
5. Track time and get paid
Don’t forget to track time for each task in part and categorize it in billable vs. non-billable hours. This way you’ll determine if you are consistent towards the project’s scope. The practice will also aid you in billing your clients and getting paid for actual work, removing guesstimates from the equation. Embarrassing final price disputes are thus avoided, while you are held accountable.
By now you should probably have a big picture over what setting up and managing a project takes. You don’t need a lot of experience if you follow this guide and respect the steps in big lines. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
This article was written by Andrei Țiț, Customer Success Manager @Paymo, an end-to-end project management platform for SMEs.