How to Lead a Project

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Author and columnist Harvey MacKay once said, "If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail." Nowhere is this more true than in project management. A successful project leader must be able to juggle many balls while dealing with a diverse team of people, and strategic planning, assessment and measurement is at the heart of it all. If you put together a meticulous plan, communicate clearly to your team and measure progress along the way, the path to a successful project is almost certain.

  • Define your objectives. Before you can begin to lead any project, you must work closely with your customer to be sure that you are on the same page when it come to what is expected out of the final deliverable, and that the customer's expectations are reasonable. Create a project definition document that gives a topline overview, states the agreed-upon objectives and includes project scope, any assumptions and risks, how you plan to approach the project, what pieces of your organization will eventually work on the project and estimated cost and duration estimates. Do not begin a project without this document signed by the sponsors or customers and any key stakeholders.

  • Plan, plan and plan some more. Jack Gido and James Clements, authors of "Successful Project Management," say that, "Taking the time to develop a well-thought-out plan before the start of the project is critical to the successful accomplishment of any project." Begin your planning by breaking the project down into a series of smaller buckets, identifying tasks within each one. Include clear milestones in the planning, which will help you assess whether you are on track or not as the project progresses. Include costs that you will incur each step of the way, and estimated man hours for each task.

  • Assemble a team to work on the project based on the man hours and skills needed that you identified during the planning process. Clearly communicate the overall goals, objectives, scope and budget, as well as their individual roles in the project. Ensure that each team member has the budget and resources to get the job done. Use RACI charts as needed so that it is clear who is responsible or accountable for each milestone, as well as who the contributors are and who needs to be informed of progress.

  • Create a schedule for regular communication with the team. For long-term projects, one formal team meeting per month may be sufficient, moving to once each week as the project progresses. In the very last weeks of a project, you might find that daily meetings are necessary. Be accessible at all times for each and every team member to answer questions.

  • Measure the project's progress frequently. Your job is to complete the project on time, within budget and to the stakeholders' expectations. Many projects, however, suffer from budget bloat and scope creep. Jason Westland, author and CEO of project management firm Method123, says that the project budget should be a living part of the project that you review on an ongoing basis with the team and key stakeholders throughout the life of the project. If you assess progress regularly and communicate with your team effectively, you should be able to identify problems with budget and scope early and make the necessary corrections.

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