Dozens of new project managers start their first
project, a daunting prospect. Here are my tips for
surviving life as a project manager.
Rule 1: Develop a Strong Business Case
Ensure you have a strong business case for your project, with high-level
support from your sponsor. The business case is the justification for the
project and should list the expected benefits. This is something everyone
involved in the project can focus on, and the reason the project is taking
place. Projects move us from one state to another by delivering a change,
product or other required outcome, with the business case explaining why.
Rachel Agheyisi, an economist and Executive Director of Report Content
Writer, says "A good story is memorable. A case study is essentially a
success story. A well-written business success story is arguably one of the
most effective ways to create a visual image of achievable results in the
mind of a prospective client." Ensure you have a good business case study
for your project.
Rule 2: Define Critical Success Factors for
Define with your customer the critical success factors that
will make the project a success. Ensure they are
measurable, for example 'a 15% cut in the cost of raw
materials by the end of 2011.' Use these factors at the
end of the project to measure your success. This is what
counts and the 'must have' items the project needs to
deliver. All other issues are secondary to these as the
critical success factors effectively form the contract with
A favourite question of mine, is "In 25 words or fewer,
what would you define as the critical success factors for
Rule 3: Create a Good Project Plan
Time spent planning is time well-spent - as the saying goes. Ensure you have a
project plan with enough detail that everyone involved understands the
projects direction. A good project plan provides the following benefits:
Clearly documented project milestones and deliverables.
Valid and realistic timescale.
A way to produce accurate cost estimates.
Detailed resource plan.
Early warning system, providing visibility of task slippage.
A way to keep the project team focused and updated on progress.
Lack of planning will lead to problems. Ensure that you build in contingency to
any estimate. I recommend between 10-15 per cent. I prefer to be a little
pessimistic and deliver early, rather than too optimistic and deliver late. Be
careful though; adding too much contingency and under running an estimate is
just as bad as overrunning.
Rule 4: Manage Expectations
Managing expectations is the number one activity of a project
manager. One-way to do this is to break projects down into smaller
chunks or subprojects with frequent milestones and deliverables commonly know as the 'Agile' approach. This way you manage
expectations by making regular deliveries, and letting the customer
see work as it progresses. This approach ensures the project delivers
to the customers' expectations by giving them early visibility of what
you are building, and allowing them to feedback questions and
To quote actor Bruce Bennett, "All clients' needs and expectations are
vastly different." Don't assume you know your customers' needs, even
if you have run similar projects - find out what they are!
Rule 7: Say No!
The most valuable and least used word in a project manager's
vocabulary is 'no'. Never promise anything you know you can't
deliver, this will guarantee problems later. Stay strong no matter
how important the person in front of you is - they'll thank you for it
later. If they don't perhaps you are in the wrong job. If saying 'no' be
firm and prepared to justify the reasons behind your decision.
Rule 5: Keep Your Team Motivated
A motivated team will go the extra mile to deliver a project on time, on
budget and to the right quality. Keep your team motivated by involving
them throughout the project, and planning frequent milestones to help
them feel they are making progress. Communication is important here
- so let your team know when they are performing well, not just when
they are performing badly.
Lee Iacocca, best-known for his revival of the Chrysler Corporation in
the 1980s, said "Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two
people, but you can't be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the
next guy down the line and get him to inspire his people." Keeping
your team motivated pays dividends.
Rule 6: Communicate and Never Assume Anything
There's an adage, 'never assume anything', and this is especially true
in project management. Good communication with customers, endusers, your sponsor and especially the project team is important for
Does everyone in the team understand you?
Do they know exactly what is expected of them or have you assumed
Do they communicate well with one another, with the customer and
with other departments?
The importance of good communication cannot be overstated, so
ensure you are talking to all of your stakeholders continuously. Don't
assume people understand what is expected of them.
Rule 8: Avoid Scope Creep
Scope creep is one of the most common reasons projects run over
budget and deliver late. Customers will often forget the extra work
and effort you have put in. Ensure that you set expectations at the
beginning of the project and clearly define what is in and out of
scope. Record it in the key project documentation. Don't assume the
customer will read and understand these documents. I recommend
that you spend at least an hour with the customer to walk them
through the project and ensure that they understand and agree the
scope. Don't continue without firm agreement.
Rule 9: Identify Risks to Your Project
Nobody likes to think about risks, especially early in a project.
However, avoid risk management at your peril. I recommend that you
produce a risk log with an action plan to lessen each risk. Send your
risk plan to all the stakeholders of your project and spend time to talk
to them about the risks. Knowing what action you will take, should the
worst happen, is a great stress reducer.
Rule 10: Close Your Project
By definition, projects have a finite life. A project that isn't closed will
continue to consume resources. At the end of a project agree with
the customer whether the critical success factors have been met.
Ask them to sign-off, otherwise fix any areas of deficiency. I like to
use a Customer Acceptance Form, which I lodge with the PMO. At
this point you may like to ask your customer to fill out a customer
satisfaction survey. They may have valuable information that will
help you improve for future projects.
The job of project manager is a challenging one; however it need not
be stressful if you follow these 10 golden rules. Good luck in
surviving life as a project manager!