26 August, 2019

10 Tools for Better Project Management Results

One of the commonest reasons clients ask me to deliver training to smaller organizations is because the directors or owners recognize that they need to get better Project Management results. Too often, they find that their projects over-run, go over budget, or fail to delight their clients or customers.

Often their recognition becomes urgent. A client has complained about disappointing or late outcomes, or the financial losses are becoming unsustainable. In these cases, I am often asked for a quick-fix.

Whilst there is no shortcut to good Project Management practices, it is certainly sensible to focus training on the basics. In past articles, I have looked at the basics from the point of view of:

I have even produced my

10 Tools for Better Project Management ResultsBut Now, it’s Time to Talk Tools

So, we are going to take a look at how you can get rapid Project Management results, using my top ten tools.

Ten Tools to Help You Get Better Project Management Results

Please note that this is not about Project Management software.

Many of the Project Management tools I am going to talk about are available as a part of different software tools. But I am not aware of any piece of software that does all of them. This seems a shame, and I shall be looking at Project Management software sometime in the future.

Each of these tools represents a simple idea

Each one solves a simple Project Management problem and provides a simple model to help you understand and control one aspect of your project. Using each tool on its own will improve your Project Management results. Introducing this full set of tools and using them properly can create a step-change improvement in your Project Management Results, for any organization or any Project Manager.

Which tools you should introduce first will depend on what the problems are with your Project Management results. So, for each of the tools, I will highlight the problem it solves and what it will allow you to do.

1. The Time-Cost-Quality Triangle

It’s also known as the Iron Triangle, Triple Constraint, or Triangle of Balance. The Time-Cost-Quality Triangle is the best way to understand your sponsor’s, boss’s, or client’s priorities. Use this tool when you need to be clear what matters most to your client. This way, you can be sure to protect the right things (time, cost, or quality) when the unexpected happens. The Time-Cost-Quality Triangle will make your choices clear. It is, therefore, the tool of choice for a rational discussion about priorities, with your client. It is especially valuable when you understand that the T-C-Q Triangle actually has four corners, as I make clear in our training videos!

Time-Cost-Quality Triangle makes your choices clear. It's the tool for rational discussion about #project priorities Click To Tweet

2. Project Brief, or Project Definition Document

Do you find yourself getting part-way through your projects, and still being unsure what exactly your project is about? Use a Project Definition Document as the means to crystallize precisely what your client wants. And crucially, use it as a tool to get a formal sign-off from your client, so that you can move into planning your project with confidence. This early part of your project is what will establish the foundation for the Project Management results you will get.

If you don’t have a Project Brief you can rely upon, which is sufficiently clear and precise, then you are setting your project up to fail, from the start. You can find more detail in our earlier article, Clear Project Brief.

You may be interested in our Project Manager’s Project Definition Kit – an innovative course and resource kit, so you can take a jumble of ideas, needs, and requests and turn it into a well-defined project.

3. Business Case

For commercial projects, your proposal should form a part of your prospective client’s business case. Some clients will develop their business case themselves. Sometimes, they will use the Project Team to help them to develop it.

Either way, a business case is a vital tool to set out what the project’s outcomes will look like, and what the costs and challenges will be. Without it, you will not be able to foresee whether the project is viable, or even desirable. You should prioritize introducing business cases into your project process if you sometimes find that your Project Management results are not justified by the amount of effort and disruption it takes to create them.

Do take a look at our Great Big Guide to the Project Business Case for more detailed information.

Prioritise business cases if #Project results aren't justified by effort and disruption it takes to create them Click To Tweet

4. Milestone Table

A Milestone Table (or another form of Milestone Chart) is the tool to use when the schedule is a priority for you.

On time-driven projects, start out by listing the key deadlines that your project needs to hit, to succeed. Then consider intermediate milestones that will let you track progress, and celebrate your team’s successes along the way. Also, use your milestone table to build contingency into your plan.

Experienced Project Managers know that your Project Management results are usually closely linked to what you plan for. So, by planning around the deadlines and including contingency, you will start to lock in the results you want.

5. Stakeholder Communication Plan

Have you ever done a good job managing your project?

You have the right Project Management results, but people are still not happy?

The reason for this is poor stakeholder engagement, and the tool of choice to fix this is a Stakeholder Communication Plan. The value of this is that it systematizes a vital part of Project Management that often gets shunted to one side when you are under pressure. By explicitly planning what messages you need to deploy throughout your project, and when and who needs to deploy them, you build in control.

Because events will overtake all of your plans, remember to update you Stakeholder Comms Plan whenever you update any other aspects of your plan or controlled documents.

Here’s a comprehensive article that may help you: How to Plan Your Stakeholder Engagement Campaign

Value of Comms Plan: systematizes vital part of #Project Mgt that gets missed when you're under pressure. Click To Tweet

6. Linear Responsibility Chart

A challenge I was once set by a client whose project was failing, was to find the reasons and put it right in a day. The answer was easy, once I realized that the problem was role allocations. People were not properly briefed on their tasks. There was overlap, duplication, and confusion about what to do. Some tasks were unallocated.

For this problem, one tool stands supreme: the Linear Responsibility Chart. It helps you, as Project Manager, plan sensible role allocations, and balance workloads fairly. It communicates these clearly to everyone, and you can even use it to cost your project. Parents shouldn’t have favorite children, but if Project Managers are allowed favorite tools, this one is mine.

7. Risk Register

Things go wrong. If this is the main cause of your projects failing to deliver the results you planned, then you need a Risk Register and, critically, you need to use it in a disciplined way.

Look, it’s simple. You are spending your organization’s (or client’s) money. You are hazarding their reputation and their businesses. And you might affect the relationship they have with their clients. So, you have an absolute responsibility to manage these risks diligently. Active risk management is non-negotiable if you want to be in control of your Project Management results. And your risk register is your primary tool.

Risk management is non-negotiable if you want to be in control of your #Project - your risk register is the primary tool Click To Tweet

8. Stage Gate Process

Do you sometimes get to the end of a project and realize you should have stopped it, or changed direction, ages ago? You may not have got to the end, but if you ever reach a point where someone is saying

‘What’s going on? This doesn’t make sense anymore.’

…this means you need to stop, take stock, and review your options.

Stage Gates, Project Gateways, or Boundary Gates are the tool to use to compel these reviews at key points in your project. At each review, you can check the Project Management results so far. If the results are what you expected, ask whether it still makes sense to proceed as planned. If not: re-plan, and re-review.

We have a detailed article that you should read: ‘Why the Stage Gate Process will Make You a Better Project Manager’.

9. Status Reports

There are a lot of good reasons for writing regular status reports. Communication is important, as we saw above. So too is creating an audit trail, because you need to create transparency, to be fully accountable. But often, the simplest reason is the most compelling. If you find your projects sometimes seem to go from ‘fine’ to ‘failing’ without warning, it may be because you are not monitoring often enough. The more often you check how your project is faring, the sooner you will spot problems and the smaller they will be when you do notice them. So, creating a frequent cycle of project reporting to compel you to monitor, will often pre-empt minor problems, and reduce big issues to manageable ones.

We have two long-form articles that will give you different, but complementary, perspectives on project reporting:

Change Control

When things are going well, one thing is more likely to compromise your Project Management results more than anything else: changes in scope or specification. The reality is that situations do change. Operational managers, client team members, or even your boss will spot new opportunities, or maybe underlying problems with your project. So they will want changes. There is nothing wrong with this. Problems arise when you, as the project manager, default to one of two unhelpful approaches:

  1. The all-helping approach of saying yes to anything…
    And then seeing your projects go over budget and often behind schedule, despite delighting clients with your flexibility and customer care
  2. The cautious approach of saying no to anything…
    Because where is the authority for delays and cost over-runs? It is safer to deliver as promised on day 1.

What really matters is that you take full control of every change request. You need to evaluate its costs and benefits. You need to secure a decision from the right person who can authorize the change. And, critically, you need to document that decision. If you are delivering your Project for a third-party client, this also means getting a signed contract variation, to secure the additional time and budget it will need.

This is Change Control:

For more information, refer to our guide: ‘OnlinePMCourses Guide to Project Change Control‘.

Who is in Control of Your Project Management Results?

Project Management is all about introducing control to a complex, uncertain, and fast-moving situation. These ten tools are each designed to increase your level of control. If you need to improve your Project Management results, I suggest a simple four-step process:

  1. Inventory which tools you already use.
    …And check that you are using each of these effectively.
  2. Determine the major causes of poor project management results on your projects.
  3. Identify the most important one or two tools to introduce
    …And build those tools into your Project Management Process.
  4. Stabilize and Review, then go back to #2

You might also like to consider how much is the right amount of documentation, to get better Project Management results. Too much, and you will risk tying yourself up in the bureaucracy of your documentation. Too little, however, and you may not create the accountability and transparency you need. This is the topic we cover in a related article, The Secret to Getting Your Project Documentation Right.

What are Your Tips for Getting Better Project Management Results?

Let us know your own tips for getting superior Project Management results, in the comments section below.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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