OK, I can’t resolve all project problems within a short article, but I have 5 top tips for project success that I’ve spoken about hundreds of times when training thousands of Project Managers, so here they are:

1) What’s the Scope?
The number 1 reason projects don’t succeed is scope creep or lack of scope definition. What the heck is it you & the project team are supposed to be doing? Often the Project Manager is engaged whilst the scope is still being defined, and that must become job #1.

Work with the Sponsor & other key Stakeholders to drive the creation of a written, agreed scope. Get this scope approved. It’s just as useful to list things that are outside of scope that others will assume are in.

2) Plan the Work
Now you know what you’re are doing, it’s time to engage the project team and plan the work to deliver the scope. You are the PM and can’t be the expert in everything.

The best plans can only be achieved with buy-in from the team. Lean on them for their expertise and ensure the plan is ‘our’ plan, not ‘your’ plan.

Good planning is an art more than a science. Don’t get bogged down trying to mirror every piece of project minutia in a project schedule. As a rule of thumb; a project that takes months should have tasks that take days.

You are not trying to track where ‘Bob’ is going at 3pm on Thursday, but rather agree clear task deadlines and get people to focus on achieving those. How team members get there should be their responsibility.

You might give tasks a “confidence factor” (low, medium, high) agreed with those involved to show how confident you all are in the estimated time. Those tasks with low confidence deserve closer attention by the team and the PM.

Remember – plan the work, then work the plan.

3) Establish a Progress Cycle
You must establish a regular progress cycle, often weekly or fortnightly. This is where the core project team sits down and review progress from the previous period, then set the course for the current period.

This progress meeting should be short & sharp and provide absolutely clarity about who is responsible for what and the agreed deadlines.

I often recommend having this meeting standing up, possibly around the ‘project’ if your project relates to a physical entity. Meetings held standing up take half as much time as those where everyone sits down, eats biscuits and go off topic.

The progress cycle provides momentum and structure to your project.

4) Ensure Clear Task Ownership
Clarity of task ownership is everything. If you have a task that doesn’t have a defined deadline or a clear named owner, then it’s not going to happen. Ensure task owners accept responsibility for completion of the work within the deadline, to the right level of quality and of course cost.

Owners should be prepared to give updates on progress during the progress cycle meeting.

5) Publish a Regular Status Report
At the end of each progress cycle, the PM must issue a status report (highlight report). This can be as simple as an email or one page PowerPoint slide. I would suggest keeping it simple and providing a short text update under the titles of:

  • Achieving’s Last Period
  • Planning Activities This Period
  • Key Milestones (current forecast dates compared to original planned dates)
  • Key Concerns (risks and issues)

And of course you might provide a cost summary & details of any pending changes. This is a simple example but you may well provide much more detail including the classic RAG KPIs.

There are many other topics we could talk about, including project communication and stakeholder engagement. But do review your approach against these 5 simple recommendations and give yourself and the project team the greatest chance of success.

Good luck!