The project management field keeps growing, and the demands on project managers keep growing, too. The great thing about project management is that there’s always room to improve workflows: You can always find new efficiencies, eliminate waste, and implement stronger tools and workflows.
People come into project management in all sorts of ways. You may be a new project manager, or maybe you’re just considering getting into the field. Perhaps your main job is something else, but you ended up with some project management responsibilities anyway!
No matter how you got to the discipline, these 11 tips will help you improve your project management and problem-solving skills to more effectively wrangle teams and workflows.
1) Understand the power of project scope
Every project must have a defined beginning point and ending point. Even more important, successful projects must define what is — and isn’t — between those two points. That’s a project scope: a big-picture view of project parameters that shows all project team members and stakeholders what’s included in the project and outside the scope.
Defining this scope is one major reason why project management is so important in business workflows.
Scope creep is an omnipresent threat to project success: You have the resources and timeline for the project as it exists on paper, and you don’t have spare capacity to do extra stuff. Yet that extra stuff always wants to creep in.
A well-defined scope is an immensely powerful tool for the project schedule, the project budget, and, ultimately, project success.
Ways to prevent scope creep
Scope creep is frequently listed as the most prominent reason for project failure, so effective project management builds the skill set to prevent it.
Try these tactics to eliminate scope creep on current and future projects:
Use clear, concrete, unambiguous language throughout the project scope document.
Implement a change request system so that inevitable changes in project needs can be vetted and approved, not snuck in the back door.
Keep the list of project stakeholders with approval power to a minimum — only those with direct interest in the project.
2) Have a gauge of your team members’ bandwidth
Resource overallocation is another threat to project success. When one or more project team members become overloaded with more work than can reasonably be accomplished, it sends ripple effects through the entire project and project schedule. Overload can also quickly lead to burnout and diminishing returns from the overloaded resource.
Savvy project managers keep a finger on the pulse of each member of the team. They know what kind of bandwidth each team member has and when individuals are at or near overload.
Tools and tips to monitor bandwidth
(P)MBWA: Project-manage by walking around (in other words, verbally check in with team members periodically).
Establish two-way trust and open communication so team members will tell you when they’re overloaded.
Use task management software like Teamwork so you always know who’s doing what (and how much).
3) Capture as many details as possible for project roadmapping
Building out a project scope, charter, roadmap, and any other documents needed for your project requires an immense amount of information. One common rookie mistake is underestimating just how many details you’ll need to track down. Another is failing to catalog those details in a way that makes them usable and accessible throughout the project.
Early on, make sure you ask tons of questions and gather all the necessary data so you can properly roadmap a project. Successful project management professionals know the answer to project questions when asked — or at least know where they’ve stored the relevant information.
Essential roadmapping tools
All these roadmapping tools — and many more — are available and at your fingertips within Teamwork. See what Teamwork can do to supercharge your project planning and roadmapping.
4) Establish open lines of communication
Team members need to know exactly who to communicate with: about common project problems, in general task reporting, and in any other situations where communication is expected. They also need to feel like it’s safe for them to communicate.
Successful project managers don’t just keep lines of communication open. They first establish those lines and make sure everyone on the project knows they exist.
More communication tips
Schedule recurring check-ins/meetings: Don’t assume people will proactively communicate; schedule it instead.
Clarify for your team what sorts of issues require communication.
Utilize tools such as Slack, Teamwork, and email for task-related updates: define a task reporting system that works for your team, then make sure people use it consistently.
Teamwork is a robust project management software platform that is very well integrated with the other software tools you’re already using. See all of Teamwork’s current app and services integrations.
5) Utilize the right project management tools
Managing projects isn’t getting any less complicated. You have multiple deliverables to juggle, complex projects with dependencies, project progress and project milestones to monitor and document, and so much more.
Doing all of this on paper or in a spreadsheet or two just isn’t feasible — especially once your business hits a certain point of growth. You need better, more focused project management tools to keep project information organized and accessible and to keep your time management in check.
If you’re at the stage where you’re ready to step up from spreadsheets into something more powerful, Teamwork is worth a look.
What makes Teamwork unique
Robust, powerful platform can handle multiple complex projects
Interface is easy on the eyes and easy to learn
Built-in tools help you track and manage client work and billables
Scale quickly with powerful templates and insightful resource management tools
6) Use templates, recurring tasks, and customizations to stay organized
Speaking of templates, using them is the smart play — especially if you’re a busy professional with outside responsibilities or you feel overloaded with too many projects.
Few projects or tasks should need to start from scratch. Start with a template to cut out some of the basic setup work, and then make sure you pay attention to recurring tasks. With intelligent project management software like Teamwork, you can set up recurring tasks so you don’t have to build each instance.
More organizational tips
Document absolutely everything and keep a logical system so you can quickly find even the most obscure detail.
In team meetings, let the experts do their thing while you act as note-taker, scribe, or whiteboard professional: you take the notes and let your awesome team members stay focused on what they do best.
Keep project data in one centralized system. (We’re not saying it has to be Teamwork, but… it should be Teamwork.)
7) Automate tasks whenever possible
How much of your day is taken up by writing or forwarding incredibly basic emails (such as task completion emails)? What if you never had to do that again? How much more time could you devote toward project goals?
Good news: This is exactly what automation can accomplish.
Just like templates, automation can save you significant chunks of time — every single time a repetitive manual task occurs. Automation may sound intimidating or scary, but with the right tool it’s actually quite easy to set up.
To do this well, you’ll need a powerful software tool. Excel isn’t going to get you very far.
How to automate recurring tasks in Teamwork
Navigate to either the List or Table section of a project.
Click the Automate button in the top right. (Don’t see it? You need to be either an administrator or standard user in the company that owns your Teamwork account.)
Select a pre-built automation from the gallery from the categories on the right, or build a custom automation using the button at the top left.
Set your When and Then triggers, toggle the automation to Active, and click Create.
See more detailed instructions on automating recurring tasks in Teamwork.
8) Define and create standardized processes
One of the hallmarks of effective project management, standardized processes can transform chaotic organizations and teams where everyone seems to be pulling in different directions into synergistic ones. With no standardized process, teams, project managers, and individuals often innovate in unhelpful ways, doing things in whatever way is best for them with no regard for what’s best for the broader organization.
By defining standardized processes across the project life cycle, you’ll align all teams on a common process that everyone understands.
Helpful resources for streamlining workflows
Map all activities within a workflow (even if you don’t have a consensus on order or ownership).
Conduct a process review to identify variations and disagreements about the proper workflow
Use RACI charts to determine ownership and accountability for various tasks (as well as define those tasks and roles).
Train teams on the resulting new, standardized workflows.
9) Have a plan and process for managing challenges
Rule #1 of project management just might be that every project (and every team) will face challenges of one sort or another. Project managers often become problem solvers by default — there’s no one else to do it, and the project won’t succeed without solving the challenges.
So, since you know projects will encounter challenges, make sure you have a plan for how you’ll manage them as they come up. Also put in place a process team members can use if they encounter a challenge: It shouldn’t be a mystery how to present or escalate a project challenge.
Common project management challenges
Missed deadlines: Teams consistently miss deadlines for deliverables, milestones, and individual tasks
Communication issues: Lack of communication, unclear communication, and arguments or hostile communication can all threaten a project — and fall to the project manager to solve
Statement of work (SOW) complications: Stakeholders don’t agree; lack of clarity in the SOW
Budget limitations: The project budget is set and cannot flex, but project realities require more spend
10) Aim for progress over perfection
You won’t become a master project manager overnight, and the team members you manage won’t ever reach perfection, either. We’re all human, which means we’re all imperfect. But being human also means we can all make steady progress.
That’s the real goal of team development — steady progress, even if it's slow, means long-term improvement.
Tips to keep learning and iterating
First, understand that no project plan will be perfect. As you move to the next one, iterate: Keep what worked and ditch what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment with project management methodologies, including agile methodologies like Kanban and scrum. Already deeply popular in software contexts, agile methodologies have doubled in use in non-software businesses over the past year.
11) Set achievable goals & milestones
For our last tip: Make sure the goals and milestones you establish (for your teams and for yourself) are realistic. It’s easy to overestimate how much individuals and teams can accomplish. So many factors can drain productivity, and a necessary project change can instantly derail a perfectly crafted schedule.
What’s more, if you consistently set goals just out of reach, you could demoralize your team and ultimately lower productivity even further.
Metrics used for tracking progress
Percent complete: Tracking progress across the entire project keeps the end goal in focus
Earned value: How much of a contract’s value you’ve earned thus far; useful for keeping money and profit in mind. See the more complex formulas that feed into earned value calculations.
Milestones complete: Useful for breaking down large projects into smaller segments and measuring progress over time
Teamwork is the perfect project management tool for beginners and veterans alike
Project management is a growing field, and demands on project managers keep growing in complexity along with it. These 11 tips can help you achieve more success and work more efficiently, but ultimately you need the right project management software tool to leverage these tips to their fullest potential.
Teamwork is the ideal choice for project managers looking to enhance their workflows and upgrade from spreadsheet methods. Whether you’re new to project management, a veteran, or anywhere in between, Teamwork can transform your capabilities and drive results.
See Teamwork for yourself: Sign up for free today!