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The 10 steps to successfully managing a project

Businesses operate by planning and executing a series of never-ending projects, though we may not always see it that way.

Everything from running a successful marketing campaign, to taking over a rival company, is essentially a project that requires the same rules to be followed.

So here are 10 steps that will help you to manage projects that run smoothly and deliver the goods.

Firstly, you identify an objective involving stakeholders in creating a draft plan that’s broken down into a series of steps. Once you have consensus on an agreed outcome, with everyone involved aware of their roles and responsibilities, you can then move forward towards executing the plan.

Clearly, the more complex the objective, the more detailed thought and planning will be involved but managing any project, no matter how big or small, requires the same understanding of that simple formula.

Mistakes, when they occur, can often seem hard to predict and identify, but they can generally be ascribed to a failure in one or more of those elementary stages.

Many of the problems arise because few of us are taught the two main skills necessary to execute a project;

  1. Management and
  2. Communication.

We go through school, college and university working alone, writing essays and completing assignments, and when we enter the world of work, suddenly we’re expected to communicate what we’re doing, to collaborate and negotiate and, later, to manage and lead others, often without having had any guidance or training.

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According to a 2016 report by the Project Management Institute, some 37% of projects that fail, do so because of inaccurate requirements gathering – or poor planning – while 41% are due to changes in scope introduced midway through the project; also a failure of planning and sometimes of communication.

Whatever their cause, project failures are bad for business because, invariably;

  • They cost money to put right;
  • They tie-up resources that could be deployed more profitably elsewhere;
  • They can disappoint and alienate customers; and
  • They can impact negatively on the reputation of your company or organisation.

No-one becomes an expert project manager overnight – expertise comes with experience – but there are several ways in which you can improve planning and mitigate risk to ensure that, as far as possible, you’ve taken all reasonable steps to prevent things going wrong

1. Define your goals

Even if you’re the only person working on the project it’s essential, at the outset, that you comprehend the objective. Projects that start with woolly and ill-defined goals quickly become mired in confusion and indecision because there’s no visible target at which to aim.

As project manager, you should understand clearly and precisely what you hope to achieve and communicate that with your team. Keep asking questions until you’re clear everyone’s in agreement with the project’s goal.

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2. Understand the scope of the project

Avoid ‘scope creep’ by identifying what changes your boss or client wants to implement through a project.

Rather than implementing a series of instructions, as project manager you may be able to achieve the same outcome by doing less, more strategically. Evaluate how the proposed changes will impact budget and deadlines before deciding how or if to implement them.

3. Ensure you have access to the right skills

One of your first tasks as a project manager should be to evaluate what competencies are needed and ensure you have access to them. If your team doesn’t possess all the skills required, you may have to train some members, outsource those skills or bring in others.

4. Assign roles and responsibilities

Make sure every member of the team knows the extent of their roles and what areas of the project they’re responsible for delivering. You can then direct your team toward common goals and achieve buy-in from team members who understand properly what’s expected of them.

5. Do a proper risk audit

All projects have risks. Take some time at the start to identify what might go wrong to potentially derail the project and put in place plans to cope if the worst should happen.

6. Make sure you have a plan B

Accept from the start that mistakes will happen. Things may not go according to plan and assumptions you’ve made may turn out to be wrong. Identifying challenges and having a back-up if your plans start to unravel should ensure you avoid disaster.

7. Keep communicating

Lack of communication is one of the most common causes of projects failing, because of misunderstandings, missed deadlines and confusion among team members.

Being approachable, encouraging dialogue and keeping everyone up to speed on progress are essential to keeping a project on track. You will also find that effective communication improves morale.

8. Be realistic about deadlines

Over-promising delivery times won’t impress your boss or client, it’s more likely to make them edgy because they’ll recognise you’ve been too ambitious. It will also make your team members stressed and resentful and risks sapping morale.

Instead of demanding the impossible, make a realistic assessment of what’s achievable and add a bit on in case things go wrong. Under promising and over-delivering is always the better option.

9. Don’t skimp on your budget

Projects that don’t have the necessary resources will, invariably, fail. You can’t do a proper job without the right skills and tools and those things need to be paid for.

Underestimating the size of your budget might make you popular with the CFO in the short term but you’ll look unprepared and lacking in judgment when you crawl back asking for more money.

10. Keep stakeholders engaged

Disinterested stakeholders can slow a project or even bring it to a halt. Communicating openly and encouraging feedback from everyone involved in the project will keep them focused and more determined to succeed.

This guide has been exclusively written for ByteStart by Ashley Marron, CEO of East Kilbride-based Barvas, a management software tool for small and medium sized businesses.