Successfully guiding projects from initiation to implementation requires a balance of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques . One of the best ways to make sure a project has the best possible outcome is to understand the processes involved in effective management. Projects can be divided into six phases .
What is the project meant to do? This is the best time to explore the ramifications of the concept, the potential costs, who you’ll need on a team to make it happen and whether it will have sufficient support to be completed. You will need to identify potential benefits, recruit team members, catalog the resources you have and imagine what you want the results to look like.
For every suggested feature or result, the project manager should be willing to say “no” and keep a tight rein on the project scope. The more people who weigh in on an idea, the more likely it is that things will balloon out of control until the project has almost no chance of finishing on time or budget.
The initial stage provides big ideas and broad strokes. The second phase is about the nitty-gritty details:
- Define exactly what each requirement actually means, what tasks will have to be completed and what resources will be needed.
- Set expectations for all stakeholders. Make sure everyone knows what can be achieved and what the reasonable limitations will be.
- Think about the technology tools and support that will be required and identify obstacles that might arise.
- Ask the tough questions about workload, deadlines and team capabilities. Remember, when you go through the approval process your higher-ups may ask hard questions to decide whether you can move forward, so make sure you already know the answers.
The list of defined requirements that come from this phase will be your guide for the rest of the project, so try to be as accurate and exhaustive as you can. Once you have your requirements, it’s a bad idea to go back and change them, so make sure this is a list you can be satisfied with.
Now it’s time to take that list of requirements and create a solid plan. This is when models, simulations, charts and timelines are built to show the various tasks and how they come together in the end. If the project itself requires a design phase (such as in software development) it’s best not to start out favoring one design over another; let the team work together to come up with several options. As with the definition phase, once the design is chosen, changing to a different one later will waste a lot of work and resources. Make sure all stakeholders are aware of the design and timelines and can easily see where everyone is making progress on their parts of the project.
Once the project is near completion, it’s time to implement testing (if applicable) and create a launch/rollout plan. Small and relatively informal projects can occasionally skip a long development phase, but don’t overlook it entirely. Development is where the project manager learns what is actually needed for launch and spots potential problems. Unfortunately at this stage, many companies are pushing for a hard roll-out date and will pressure managers to skip the development phase. A smart project manager will hold out for as much testing and launch planning as possible to make sure the final results meet the project’s goals. This will save time and money in the follow-up phase.
This is the spit and polish phase. The project manager might be asked to sit with sales teams or clients to explain the new product or address concerns that came from testing. They will need to check with the team regularly to make sure the project will meet its deadlines. At times, difficult decisions might be needed, such as calling in outside help or removing requirements from the list. This can also be a time for planning the tasks in the follow-up phase.
Follow-up often doesn’t get enough attention. This phase includes providing proper documentation and training, and seeing to it that help desk or maintenance teams are prepared for issues that might pop up after release. Follow-up is the vital time to confirm your stakeholders are satisfied with your work. It’s also the job of an effective project manager to recognize and celebrate the hard work that your team put into it.
For every phase, remember to think, and think again, before you make a final decision. This might slow you down in advance, but if you pay attention to the details, they won’t come back to haunt you during the follow-up.