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20/12/21 John Lawless

Top 5 tips to allow for pain-free projects

Project management is, in its simplest form, like spinning plates. In fact, it’s more like spinning a 32-piece dinner set all at once. This is regardless of your sector or industry, the size or budget of the project. As a project manager or lead you are tasked with leading the project in the right direction regardless of what unforseen speed bumps you may hit along the way. 

All PM’s will ultimately have their own unique style of ensuring the task at hand is completed to a high standard, but they will also have several contributing factors to ensuring this happens. Daily practices or approaches that keep things ticking over. 

Having experienced various different PM roles in both the private and public sector over the last 10 years, here’s our PM teams top 5 tips to allow for a pain free project..

1. Keep things simple

It’s easy to overthink projects when we are scoping them out; all the ‘whats ifs’ and ‘buts’, and by trade Project Managers/ Leads are planners and problem solvers, so it’s only natural that we would try and plan for every possible eventuality and potential risk in the project. 

However, as a result, this can in some cases prevent us from being productive with our time, over working and over thinking when it isn’t needed and focussing on things that simply don’t need to be focussed on at that time, if at all. So, my first tip on the list, keep it simple..

Viewing a project in its most basic form, from my experience, is the most productive way to delivering a brief to spec and on time (coupled with some of my additional top tips you can read below)

Keeping things simple helps us remain grounded on the key parts of the project that really make or break it. Cutting through the ‘noise’ of a project is key. Being realistic with our time and resources. And of course, communication. But more on that later. All of these contribute to the quality of your delivery to your client..  

2. Build your squad

Project Managers/Leads are seldom the experts when it comes to delivering a project. Most projects will require specialist input in some form. This is when you put your ‘aces in places’ and assemble your A-Team.

Collaboration in projects, both internally with your team and externally with your clients, third parties and additional resources, is essential to delivering a high quality project, but it’s the experts you have selected to help you deliver the project that really make the process pain free!

In our case here at 43 Clicks North, we have an amazing group who specialise in web development, social media, content and design, SEO, PPC and CRO... Could I manage all of that myself and still deliver the brief? Absolutely not! Do I know enough about any of them to even try and wing it? Heck no! It’s ok not to know everything. Pop any ego’s and self doubt aside and let the experts do their thing and deliver the goods..
 

3. Transparency

It goes without saying that communication is key in every project, regardless of its scope or the sector you are in. But transparent communication is arguably more important and effective in delivering the project on time and to its respective specification. 

Being honest and realistic in our goals, abilities and capacities with our clients, our team and ourselves as project managers, or anyone running a project, should be at the forefront of any project. 

Not only does this allow you to build trust, respect and meaningful relationships with your team and clients, but it gives everyone involved in the project a voice. It makes troubleshooting easier and more productive when unforeseen issues inevitably arise. It allows us to challenge each other, be more solution focussed as both individuals and as a collective. And if it wasn’t there before, it makes for a great culture addition in the workplace...

4. Be flexible

Project Managers/ Leads (myself included) generally like order. Everything has its place in the grand plan, but, as much as we want projects to be black and white and follow the brief to the letter, they often don’t. And we shouldn’t expect anything less. That’s not because we are bad at our jobs, or the initial brief wasn’t thorough enough. 

There are so many variables to a project that things will never go to plan 100% of the time, and we’d be naive to think as much. Practicing a flexible approach and mindset to each project and client is a big win to keep the project on track, without sacrificing progress when things don’t go how you originally planned. Granted, this can take time and practice to get to grips with for even the most experienced project managers.  

Every client is individual, as is the project, regardless of size, budget and scope  - so we can’t run with a ‘one shoe fits all’ approach. Sure, there will be templates, processes and ideas that have worked for you on other similar projects, but, what if they don’t support you in your current dilemma? 

Stopping yourself from stressing out or getting bogged down when deadlines change, or an integral member of the team is off sick, is easier said than done, but, life happens sometimes. Having that flexible mindset and approach to your work, coupled with the aforementioned transparency with your team and clients, will help you solve the respective problem, steady the ship and keep you moving full steam ahead.

5. Keep on Trackin’

Few elements during a project are as important as tracking. Making tracking a part of your project practice can be key to hitting various checkpoints in your project plan, and ultimately delivering the finished article. 

Tracking the progress of a project allows us to evaluate the work already completed and reflect on our practice and progress. The work being on time, early or slightly late according to the original plan is irrelevant if you are tracking at key stages, as this gives you time to adapt. If you are on time, the plan remains the same. If you are ahead of schedule, amazing! If you’re a little behind, tracking this has allowed you to deal with this potential risk and plan ahead to compensate for this change later in the timeline of your plan. 

Tracking also allows you to learn both personally and as a team: Where did the plan go well? How can it be tweaked so we adapt to the same blockages next time? Are we communicating effectively enough? 

Similarly to learning, tracking allows for feedback; Have your team delivered part of the plan ahead of schedule? Has the client gone the extra mile to support you in achieving your goals so far? Has your team challenged themselves and delivered some amazing work?

Ultimately tracking can be used as flexibly and as often as required, the more the better as long as it’s productive, but aside from its most basic meaning in a project, it’s a great tool to allow for developmental and relationship growth going forward.

Summary

Some of these tips may seem a little obvious and may not be your style, but practicing these tips, or tweaking them to suit your own unique way of working can only enhance your practice and success rate of delivering projects in the future.

John Lawless

With 6 years project management experience in both the public and private sector, I've learned that taking client ambition and delivering them into results, via a well oiled spreadsheet is quite the thrill.