5 Best Practices for Effective Project Management

We are in the business of design, whether that be a bridge, a highway, a park, an airport, or a building. Design is all about providing solutions, and part of the solution is the successful delivery of that solution.

Through good project management, we can enhance the design process by making the process of design and the experience of that design process efficient, comprehensive, and rewarding – for clients and ourselves.

So, while there are many attributes of sound and successful project management, I would like to focus on 5 key Best Practices that, if consistently applied, should net greater project success.

1. Planning (Pre-Proposal)
Before any project begins, before you even submit a proposal, there must be a thorough understanding of what the project is and how best to deliver it.  This clarity is best achieved through the development of a detailed Project Workplan. A proper workplan, much like a proper contract, is not complete if it doesn’t define Scope, Schedule and Fee.

2. Negotiation
Negotiation is about coming to a common understanding on the responsibilities of the parties to an agreement.  Ambiguity is fertile ground for conflict over the life of a project.  Therefore, basing a contract (and the related negotiation) on a clear definition of your proposed approach to the delivery of a project adds both credibility and clarity to the negotiation process.  In addition, consider this: The client responds to your proposed fee by asking for a reduction. In the absence of a detailed workplan supporting your proposed fee, you could very well agree to a reduction. But if there’s no correlation between the fee and scope, the scope will remain unchanged – resulting in a lower profit margin.

3. Clearly Delineate Client Goals (And Regularly Reaffirm Them)
The number one reason identified by insurance companies and risk management consultants for claims is the client assertion that its expectations were not met.  The best way to reduce the likelihood of this occurring is to establish (from the very beginning) what the client’s goals and expectations are.  Document your understanding of the client’s goals and communicate this back to them for verification, and then regularly test those expectations and goals for two reasons:

  1. To ensure that you and the client are still on the same page
  2. To give the client the opportunity to re-evaluate its goals and expectations periodically in the event there is a need to alter them. Remember, any such alterations may be grounds for additional fee.

4. Defining Project Leadership Roles
How often have you heard: “I thought he was going to do that?” Or, “You want me to do that?”  It’s amazing how often this is the root cause of errors in (or incompleteness of) design work.

We would all agree how important this is when referencing our deliverables. But now apply that to those responsible for the leadership of our projects.

If leaders aren’t clear what their roles are (or what is expected of them) how can we feel comfortable that aspects necessary for leading a successful project are being applied?

Finally, clearly define both the individual roles of leadership (e.g. Project Manager, Project Designer, Project Architect, Principal In Charge, etc.) and the expected collaboration of those roles in the delivery of a project.

5. Regular Monitoring the Plan
Think of your workplan as a ‘Set of Instructions’ for delivering your project.  Just like the set of instructions to assemble your child’s new bike, you read each step, complete it, review the step to confirm you included all the screws and springs, and then read the next. Using this approach in managing your project achieves major goals:

  • It makes sure you are doing all of those things necessary, and for which you are obligated, for delivering the project
  • You’ll recognize when you are deviating from those agreed instructions (when you are doing something outside your scope of work).

Again, you can’t stop at these 5, but integrating these with other sound Project Management processes will improve your ability to deliver successful results.

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About Bob Stalilonis

Bob is the Senior Solution Architect at Deltek with 34 years of AE industry experience. He has both his CPA and MBA. Additionally, Bob is a speaker on AE best practices.
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