Essential project management DOs & DON’Ts

I need to manage your expectations on this one: if you’re a PRINCE2 PM guru you’ll be familiar with what follows. If you work on projects but your specific skills aren’t in that area, this post is for you. One of Zoomly’s many bite-sized workshops is ‘How to manage projects’ and it’s about the essentials – as is this post.

There are some basic DOs & DON’Ts it’s all too easy to fall foul of when it comes to project work, and participants often say they’re only obvious once you know them. I’d add a cheeky qualifier: they only work when you do them.

DON’T use jargon
TLAs can bedevil projects. We can assume that everyone speaks the same jargon, that terms mean the same thing to others as they do to us. Not so: I had to probe with an overseas client who asked for my ‘offer’, to learn that what she meant was a detailed proposal. ‘Schedule’ or ‘Timing plan’? ‘Stage gate’ or ‘Due date’? If you work with lots of different teams and organisations, the language will vary. It’s well worth establishing a glossary.

DO be specific
What results are sought? What does ‘good enough’ (and gold- or sub-standard) look like? How many? For how much? By when? Ensure that standards are clearly defined and agreed. Only then can you scope out the precise steps that the project will need, so that it’s completed to expectations. Without a clear scope of work, your budget will at best be an educated guess.

DON’T assume everyone ‘just knows’
Assumptions can be far more damaging than jargon. Someone might be new to this team, the organisation – or the type of work this project’s about. There’s also the unspoken assumption that everyone knows ‘how things get done around here’ – the cultural norms of the workplace. This is where templates, guides and checklists are really handy; they can be updated at the end of each project.

DO visualise
Back when I worked in an ad agency, a particular department was very fond of producing timing plans that were basically a list of dates with a few words of description (much of it jargon). When projects are visualized – for example in a Gannt chart – the impact of a delayed decision is clear to see. Be sure to factor in all the steps along the way; it’s easy to miss out some ‘surely that’s basic’ stuff (assumptions again).

DON’T rely on email
Poor communication often comes up when derailed projects are examined. I think over-reliance on email is a recipe for that. We assume our message has been sent, received, opened, read, understood and acted upon – even if the recipient hasn’t responded. Use email if you must, but use it well, and apply the tips below here for varying the media.
See ‘Defaulting to email? Beware’ for more.


DO vary the media
Several Zoomly clients are getting great results with chat channels such as Slack (no, I’m not on commission). Messages are shorter, clearer and reach the right people. Incorporate video calls that can be recorded and shared to those who couldn’t make it or are in different time zones. For face to face meetings, try holding at least part of them standing up. Try these tips for better meetings. 

DON’T tolerate scope creep
If you’ve got a clear, agreed scope of work, budget and a visual plan, you’ll be equipped to deal with extra requests and ‘could you just…’ Your client may indeed like a prototype for the conference, and you’d be delighted to provide one – so long as they approve the extra work, time and money that’s beyond the agreed scope. Don’t beat about the bush: “it’s beyond our agreed scope for the project – let’s look at some options”. Here’s a humorous take on scope creep from Entrepreneur.

DO record meetings
The best way to do this is right there and then: grab screenshots from the magic whiteboard, use a flip chart to write up who’s doing what / when and take a photo of it to circulate and/or upload to a shared folder. Video calls can be recorded.

DON’T skip the wrap-up
Projects that lack a formal kick-off meeting are off to an unsteady start, but it’s my experience and observation that these happen more than do formal wrap-ups. Both are essential: the kick-off will cover the scope of work, budget and timings, along with stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities. The wrap-up reviews what worked well and not so well, what has been learned and how processes can be improved in future. More tips on wrap-ups here.

DO share
Created a new and better way of getting something done? Found a communication tool that saves everyone’s time? Learned lessons the hard way on a recent project? Won a prize? Share what’s working and what’s not – and what you’ve learned.

You may find this post useful: ’10 tips to manage stakeholders’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’.




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Image credits: Workplace @ prettyvectors – DepositPhotos, Business meeting in top view @macrovector – DepositPhotos

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