8 ultimate project management techniques and principles
This article does not attempt to describe project management theory from books, but rather enlists my key project management techniques and principles based on years of practice.
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. An effective 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 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 the scope of this project? 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 it mean extra time estimates and the risks to be taken into account? For sure, yes. Will every developer consider it at the project initiation stage? From my experience, no.
I will not copy all the risk types from this reliable article, but please take them into account when analyzing the project scope for your next project and creating your 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 few developers.
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, all the best project management techniques will tell you it's worth reacting to them in a timely manner.
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 more efficiently, all the specifications need to be well-detailed during the team meetings so that any misunderstandings are settled before they occur.
3. Visualize progress to see the whole picture, use appropriate project management tools
On multiple projects, progress visualization 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 create a detailed plan, make predictions, and conduct risk management by setting specific statuses for certain project tasks (e.g. Code review).
- Easier workflow health tracking. Another helpful project management technique is making sure there are no large amount of tasks in one specific to-do column, while other columns have much fewer. Ensuring a balanced amount of tasks in each column leads to good workflow health.
- In most project management software, you will find user icons next to all the tasks in a project board to show people's involvement (see picture below).
The huge benefit of the Kanban Board is that a project manager does not need to spend time on maintaining it throughout the entire project life cycle, unlike the Gantt Chart that I am describing below.
If you need a reliable way to calculate the valid completion date of specific manageable tasks within one project, a Gantt chart is the ideal solution. It is one of the oldest project management techniques and was originally used in the Waterfall technique, but it can be easily used in Agile, let's say for visualizing sprints and tracking project progress.
For you as a project manager, the smartest advantage of Gantt charts is seeing the exact project timeline for any task. 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 your project life cycle, reconsider task priorities occasionally, discuss approaches with the team (about delivery strategy, server infrastructure, technology, etc), assist the team in resolving current problems, or make necessary allocations for needed project activities. This project management technique will help you avoid a bunch of popular problems that usually occur on the 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 and will contribute to his experience 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 correspondingly. 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 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.
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, planning, decision making, etc., should be a subject of prompt intervention by the management staff.
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 initially with your client than "surprise" them later.
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 not a technician at all, or just explaining to you some real case scenarios in a specific domain like fintech. However, you don't understand them, no matter how much research you put into them. Or your whole team overworks to demonstrate the best delivery they can, but the client complains that your work is slow anyway.
A skilled project manager should be able to resolve these and many other unique challenges in an elegant way, so 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 you more confidence when working on each next project.