8 ultimate project management techniques and principles
This article is not an attempt to describe project management theory from books. It rather enlists my key project management techniques and principles based on years of practice, pitfalls and pearls.
1. The more risks identified at the planning stage the better
Apart from affecting budget resources and reputation, risks can even lead to project death. A carefully-selected project management technique will help you detect all the major risks at the early stages when you only start building a project model.
Imagine you are responsible for developing a high-load system that supports 5,000 users, but you don't have the right team member who can handle such complex projects. For sure, it is a risk as you might fail to find the right fit in time or a newcomer will fail you in the long run.
Or, let's say, you need to enable data synchronization between your data storage and a few other 3-rd party platforms. So what exactly needs to be done within this project scope? First of all, writing code that will do the necessary synchronization. But what about data integrity, big data support, automatic scaling, automatic process retrieval after the downtime, and finally finding the right tools and ways of testing all the above-mentioned project activities? Does this mean extra time estimates and the risks to be taken into account? For sure, yes. Will all the project managers consider it at the project initiation stage? From my experience, no. Yet, risk management is definitely one of those winning project management techniques that will help you create more accurate estimates as well as prevent unplanned scenarios and frustration. It's better to spend more time on program evaluation and review than later discover significant deviations from the agreed budget and timelines.
All the risk types can be checked here in this reliable article, so I will not copy them. But please take them into account when estimating the scope of your next project and creating a project plan.
2. Predict and prevent problems during development
When the development process is on and running, a few problems might evolve: a lack of understanding of how to implement an appropriate technical solution, repository mess, server configuration instability, no data backups, certain team-specific issues, such as low performance of one or multiple developers. That's especially true for more complex projects.
In such cases, the owner might fail to (or be unwilling to) discover these issues on the project. Or may know about them, but do nothing. Yet, it's for sure one of the best project management techniques to react to them in a timely manner. This will save dozens of hours and tons of effort in the long run.
Any working environment will only get healthier if you keep things organized. Everything that could possibly go wrong, will go wrong. So what's the point in ignoring the problems if they show up later anyway?
Lastly, even if you understand the customer requirements well despite hazy specifications, you cannot expect your project team to be on the same page as you are. To achieve the project goal, all the specifications must be well-detailed at the program evaluation and review stage during the team meetings so that any misunderstandings are resolved before they occur.
3. Visualize progress to see the whole picture, use appropriate project management tools
On multiple projects, progress visual representation is an important project management technique that allows you to immediately see project progress, spot any dependent tasks and plan other important tasks. In a project management methodology, the most popular ways of visual representation are Kanban Board and Gantt chart. Some key details are provided below:
Kanban itself is a project management methodology with its own rules. It is well described in this article. I will talk about its visual aspect only, from the perspective of understanding the project workflow. In Kanban Boards, you have different statuses (columns) and a set of tasks in each column, which are moved from left to right systematically, upon changing statuses.
The key things you can see in Kanban Boards:
- It helps to create a detailed plan, make predictions, and conduct risk management by means of setting specific statuses for certain project tasks (e.g. Code review).
- Easier workflow health tracking. Another helpful project management technique lies in making sure one specific to-do column is not overloaded with tasks, while other columns contain fewer. Ensuring a balanced amount of tasks in each column leads to good workflow health and better work breakdown structure.
- Almost in every project management software, you will find user icons next to the tasks in a project board. They show people's involvement in a more visual way and thus project managers can spot task dependencies more efficiently (see picture below).
The huge benefit of Kanban Boards is that a project manager does not need to spend time on maintaining them throughout the entire project life cycle, unlike the Gantt Chart that I am describing below.
In project management, you always need a reliable way of calculating the valid completion dates of specific manageable tasks within one project. A Gantt chart is an ideal solution. It is one of the oldest project management techniques that was originally used in the Waterfall technique, but now it can be easily used in Agile, let's say for visualizing sprints and project progress tracking.
For you as a project manager, the smartest advantage of Gantt charts is seeing the exact project timeline for any task. It might be really useful in identifying task dependencies and seeing how the project progresses. However, it requires spending additional resources on chart maintenance, as you have to constantly reestimate each task separately.
4. Always be aware of priorities, approaches and current problems
Throughout the project life cycle, reconsider task priorities occasionally, discuss approaches with the team (regarding delivery strategy, server infrastructure, technologies, task dependencies, etc), assist the team in resolving current project problems, or make necessary allocations for any new project activities. This project management technique will help you avoid a bunch of common pitfalls that usually occur on a project.
5. Split the responsibilities correctly to avoid demotivation among the team
If project managers assign more complex projects to a developer than his skills level allows him to accomplish at the moment, it is normal as it will contribute to his growth. But if all the tasks related to e.g. administration, automation or infrastructure are assigned to a web developer, then you should expect his demotivation about the job he is doing.
In project management, to ensure a balanced work breakdown structure, the above-listed types of tasks should be assigned to other team members, such as an IT administrator, DevOps expert and an infrastructure expert. In addition, it is always better to assign new employees (who you trust) to those smaller tasks than exploit your current team member. If there are no trusted people available, then the problem lies more in recruiting than project management. My recommendation is to start cultivating friendly relationships with experts in different fields. It is highly useful to always be able to have specific/untypical tasks done within a project schedule just because you have the right people at hand and can assign those smaller tasks to them. Even in extreme project management, it is always recommended to have someone qualified for non-typical tasks.
6. React immediately in critical situations
Project managers should never hope for luck. If the problem occurred, it cannot be ignored or postponed for later. Technical problems can be resolved by lead developers or tech leads. However, everything related to organization problems, resources planning, task dependencies, decision making, etc., should be a subject of prompt intervention by the management staff who should be able to apply suitable project management techniques depending on the situation.
7. Work with the budget carefully
When working on any project tasks, whether big or small, respect your client's budget and inform in advance if you feel that one task requires more resources than you estimated initially or if there are certain unplanned task dependencies. It is always a winning project management technique to agree on all the time estimates upfront with your client than "surprise" them later. Dividing the project into distinct phases and work packages is the most reliable evaluation and review technique that will help you plan resources more carefully.
To work with project budgets more accurately, a critical path method (CPM) can be used. It is useful for analysing and planning mid-to-high complexity projects. It allows you to determine which tasks are the most critical and how to schedule them in a way you can meet the deadline at minimum cost. These tasks are called critical because if they take longer, the entire project will take longer to complete. This is the reason why the critical path method is very helpful for project managers. With its help they can estimate project duration more accurately, spot any task dependencies, identify risks, create more realistic project schedules and thus budgets. Program evaluation and review is made easier, smoother and more accurate.
8. Be a superhero project manager - grow your soft skills
To manage the project successfully and achieve smooth project completion, the importance of soft skills cannot be underestimated. I mean communication, empathy, stress-resistance, leadership, and others.
Let's say you have difficulty getting some precise details from the client. This is because he is either a non-technician at all, or just explaining some real case scenarios in a specific domain like fintech. However, you don't understand them, no matter how much research you put into that. Or your whole team overworks to demonstrate the best delivery they can, but the client complains that your work is slow anyway.
Skilled project managers should be able to resolve these and many other unique challenges in an elegant way, so that both parties are left happy with the result. By implementing tried and tested project management techniques that are proven to work, you will contribute to not just your current project's success, but will also get more confidence when working on each next project.
An ideal project management technique - can one size fit all?
Being a good project manager is not just about following specific project management principles and rules. Very often, certain situations require immediate actions when you need to find a solution to some problems on the project. No matter which party caused this problem, the customer or the development team, it needs to be addressed. All the project managers at EcDevStudio are trained to serve as problem-solvers for the customer, not just an intermediary. Out of many project management techniques described above and even more, we never try to find a one-size-fits-all scenario. Each project is unique, so the project management principles and other approaches need to be selected accordingly.
In our team, even the choice of the most suitable project manager is made based on some project specifics: technologies to be used, UX focus, etc. Let's say, if the project needs to start with the design stage and the customer deeply relies on excellent UX, we will definitely assign it to a project manager who is a former UI/UX designer. If you are looking for a team you would find comfortable to work with, contact us for free a consultation.