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7 Critical Elements of Project Management

A good portion of the world has no idea what Project Management even means nor do they care. There is another portion of people that THINK they know what Project Management means and they are convinced they need it but don't really know what that all entails. Then there are those that do truly understand at various levels what this means and how proper application of it can be a game changer.

If you were to Google it, you would see references to PMP, Project Management Professional Certification and PMBOK, The Project Management Body of Knowledge. You would see references to Prince 2, Agile/SCRUM and there are certainly more advanced certifications. I have a secret- no company follows any of these to a "T".

I don't think they should either, I mean, let's face it, adaptability is a huge element of Project Management and admittedly, one I struggle with. But in addition to adaptability, there are some things that can't be thrown by the wayside when it comes to project management, whether it be a bastardized version of a formal methodology or an ad-hoc plan by the person nominated by management to "get this done" in addition to all their regular work responsibilities and in between crushing candy on Facebook.

Let's dive in!

Communication & Transparency- People PLEASE! If you do NOTHING else, please keep regular communications coming. Saying nothing is a project killer. Also, please use various mediums. Don't just send an email blast to a group of people and assume everyone gets the message. Use two way communications also, feedback is important if for no other reason than people feel they are heard and got to say their piece. And don't forget your follow up. There is nothing more frustrating than someone saying, "That's a good point, let me research that for you" and then fail to circle back to close the loop. You will assuredly lose any trust you may have gained.

Expectation Management- The formal methodologies call this Stakeholder Management but to me that always sounds like babysitting the Corporate Kindgergarten. Let's call it like it is! Set expectations early and set them firm. Tell them what you can get done, when it can get done by and how much its going to cost. For goodness sake, Don't be optimistic! Something will ALWAYS happen and if, by chance, it doesn't; you deliver early and become a hero. If you hear by word of mouth that someone has an unrealistic expectation, bring it immediatley to your Steering Committee and get that corrected. You don't want to be considered a failure because someone invented a deadline that you never agreed to.

Empowerment - This is a tougher one. Different industries are more comfortable with giving their PM's different levels of autonomy. I have worked on projects where I had complete authority to do whatever it took to get something achieved and I have worked on other projects where I had little to no authority, to the point where I wasn't even allowed to send an email on my own. You can't help this, it's culture driven. However, if you establish this early on from your Executive Sponsor you will know what your boundaries are. Don't try to figure it out as you go along, its messy and can lead to embarassment. I would say, it actually should be a question in your job interview. Me? I don't want to be a backseat driver unless I know the front seat driver has a clue what they are doing. Lesson learned for me!

Assemble A Good Team- A good team can make or break a project. One of the first things you should do in your initiation phase is to identify all of the roles, create a job description and desired skillset. Be specific as far as what you expect. You CAN go as far as to say attendence at weekly meetings, progress reports each Friday, etc. Include everything. Don't be afraid to tell your sponsor that you want a pool of people to pick from. This isn't always possible of course but if its on paper then at least the team member can see what is expected of them from day 1. Again, set expectations but this time for your own team.

Money talk- This may sound like a no-brainer but trust me, it's not. Have the money talk, its part of your initiation process. Ideally, there should be a general idea before you are even assigned the project but practically, you won't know what the budget should be until the planning process is complete. You need a high level figure and a burst tolerance set at the onset. Also, find out how the organization handles internal people's time. Are they considered "free" for project budgeting purposes? If not, that is probably your biggest cost driver.

Risks & Issues- Managing a project without identifying, tracking and mitigating issues and risks is just irresponsible project management. The Devil is in the Details! It's not enough to write them down and file them away, they need to be addressed regularly and mitigation plans need to be put into place. They should be front and center of your Steering Committee meetings and with your project team.

Lessons Learned- Okay so this is not always available, right? Wrong. Just because your organization does not formally log and record lessons learned doesn't mean the information isn't out there. Find someone else in the company that has done something similar and (OMG!) have a CONVERSATION. Ask the Steerco, "has anything like this been done before? How did it go?" If that isn't available, go online! There are tons of threads out there and PM's love to tell war stories. Engage someone you never met, you'll be glad that you did!

Formal methodologies will tell you that "Execution" is the biggest phase of a project and in many cases it may be, however I think the "Planning" phase is actually the most crucial. If you manage to address the issues above you can get through it successfully regardless of the industry, size, complexity and your level of formal Project Management education.

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