Manage a project of any size

Sean Sinclair, Principal & Chief Operating Officer
March 2014

This article was originally published in the March 24, 2014 issue of Mainebiz.

Whether you are building a bridge, designing software or planning your wedding, good project management can mean the difference between happy customers or delays, cost overruns and ulcer-inducing stress.

Here are tips for managing any project, no matter the complexity.

1. Understand expectations

Listen to your customer. Whether you are managing a project for an external or internal client, understand what he or she wants at the end. Document that understanding. Make sure he or she sees that written documentation, agrees and preferably signs it.

Once you have that understanding, revisit it periodically together. It is not unusual for a client to change their mind once the project is under way. Who hasn’t started to paint a room one color only to quickly reconsider once we saw that hue on the wall? Continue to ask your customer to confirm what he or she ultimately wants in order to avoid having to switch directions too late in the game, when changes are costly and frustrating.

As I like to say, your customer does not need to watch you cook, but he or she should agree on the dish at the start and taste it periodically before serving.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Remember to be honest and timely with updates, especially when the news is bad. It is always best to be the one to convey bad news to a customer, no matter who is at fault. If you come forward and frankly explain that something has happened that will impact the scope, cost or schedule of a project, it will foster more respect and trust in the long run. Communicate early, and come prepared to discuss the impact and the resolution of the issue. Waiting too long to tell the boss there is a problem is a recipe for mistrust, lost confidence and failure.

3. Break it down

What if you are asked to be the project manager on something you have never done before? This happens frequently, especially in industries that thrive on innovation. If you are doing something that has never been done, how can you develop a budget, timeline and plan? The answer is to break the project down into tasks that you can understand and treat them each as a mini-project. For example, I do not know how to build a house, how much it would cost or how long it would take. However, I can identify the tasks that are part of home construction, and figure out their cost and duration. I could figure out how to build, for example, a bathroom by determining how much the materials, plumbing, electrical work, permits and labor cost and how long they each take. I could then extrapolate that cost and schedule to each bathroom in the house and I am on my way to a project plan for a completed home. I hope builders will forgive my overly-simplistic analogy, but the point is that any complex project can be broken down into finite tasks that can be managed.

4. Beware scope creep

Remember the most fundamental precept of project management, also known as the Triple Constraint. Simply explained, every project has three constraints: time, cost and scope. If one changes, the others are impacted. Because of this reality, you must quantify the impact of any change your client requests. If your scope is to build a two-lane road, and your customer decides three would be better, then it is time to discuss what this change means for time and money. Is your customer willing to accept that the construction could take longer? Or, will your customer pay for extra labor to finish the expanded project without changing the deadline? When discussing changes to the scope, cost and timing of a project, an effective project manager will be clear about the impact of changes, will be flexible and will always get approval of changes in writing.

One final thought: celebrate success along the way. Enjoying each milestone of a project keeps you and your team motivated and energized. Do not wait for the end of the project to start enjoying the process.

Disclaimer of Liability: This publication is intended to provide general information to our clients and friends. It does not constitute accounting, tax, or legal advice; nor is it intended to convey a thorough treatment of the subject matter.