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Project Management

8 Ways to Make Your PM Life Easier

Nathan Gilmore
September 12, 2012
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This is guest post from author Brad Egeland.

Managing projects is difficult enough. Projects generally fail to one degree or another at a greater than 50% rate and the project manager—and team—are constantly under pressure from all sides to perform and deliver. The customer wants satisfaction and functionality. The executive team wants the project profit margin realized or exceeded. And the PMO director wants to see full utilization from his project managers and from the delivery team on each project. Lots of responsibilities for the PM to ‘please’ others are always going on with not a lot of recognition and a constant threat of failure—many times due to things way beyond the control of the project manager and team.

So, if we can make our lives easier as we try to maintain a handle on these projects we manage, let’s do so. What can we do to streamline our project management? What can we do to keep our teams fully engaged on OUR project as they are being pulled many different ways by other project responsibilities and assignments from their own department supervisors? And what about the customer – how can we keep them engaged and focused and get them to fulfill their responsibilities on the project as well?

I’ve come up with a list of my top 8 ways we as project managers can make our PM lives easier—and hopefully the lives our or project team members and maybe even our project clients.

#1 Formally kick off the project.

Gather as much info from the account manager as possible, draft a schedule that shows key milestone dates, put together a formal kickoff agenda and conduct a formal kickoff meeting with all key stakeholders on the project. The statement of work and your draft project schedule should drive this meeting. The key is to set expectations going forward on the project—it must be done right and this meeting is the time to do so.

#2 Meet at least weekly with your internal delivery team.

Whether you work next to your project team or they’re located 2000 miles away, meeting regularly—at least weekly—with your team to keep them engaged, get the latest progress updates from them and prepare yourself for the weekly customer status meeting. I recommended meeting with your team the day before your regular weekly status call with the project client.

#3 Monitor the budget weekly.

Watch the budget closely and forecast and re-forecast it weekly. If you’re watching the project budget all the time then it’s not likely to ever get more than 10% out of line—and it will be much easier to fix than a 50% overrun.

#4 Spend appropriate time on risk management.

Gather your team and customer together early on and identify the potential risks on the project—and then plan how to avoid or mitigate those risks. Doing this early during planning means you’ll be more prepared if any of these risks become a reality.

#5 Closely manage issues.

Manage ongoing issues as outstanding tasks on the project. Delegate and assign them—make the act of reviewing issue status part of the weekly status call. Unchecked issues can bring a project to a halt.

#6 Hold weekly status meetings with the project customer no matter what.

Sometimes there just isn’t much new info to cover in a status call with the customer. Resist the urge to cancel or postpone the meeting. Hold it anyway—keep the momentum going. You always want to avoid making the customer feel like they are out of touch with the project.

#7 Regularly send your project status info to your executive management.

Keep your executive management team informed of your project status. They may not read what you send, but at least you’ve sent it. And if you need them to knock down a roadblock for you on a project, it will be that much easier.

#8 Always assign tasks to the customer.

Keeping your busy customer engaged on the project can sometimes be a problem. Avoid that scenario by always finding tasks—no matter how small—to assign to them so they know you’re expecting updates from them during each status call.

This was a guest post by author Brad Egeland

Project management milestone examples

Milestones make it easier to keep projects on track by calling out major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables. Here are a few examples of project milestones you might include in your plan:

  • Start and end dates for project phases
  • Key deliveries
  • Client and stakeholder approvals
  • Important meetings and presentations
  • Key dates or outages that may impact your timeline

Let’s dig a little deeper and explore 3 specific examples of how using project milestones can benefit your projects.

Monitor deadlines

No plan is ever complete without a list of deadlines! The best way to make them noticeable is to use the project management milestones and deliverables technique. What does this mean? Make the deliverables project milestones!

Why do this? Well, it’s no secret that not everyone wants to pore over your beautiful project plan to find key dates. Most people—your teammates included—want a top-level view of key dates and events. Milestones are great for this purpose because they’re called out in a special way—usually with a diamond—in project plans.

While you should list the tasks and effort leading up to a project milestone, be sure to present the milestone at the end of those tasks to signify a delivery, or even a presentation of, the deliverable.

Here's an example of how Washington Hyperloop uses milestones to track an important deadline in their project.

Spotlight important dates

Are there days from now until the end of your project that could impact your project in some way? Maybe your team will need to be out of the office for a mandatory training. Maybe there’s a board meeting you’re expected to attend.

It’s important to keep all of these important events in mind when you’re planning a project because they could possibly impact your project schedule. So why not include them as project milestones so you can track them all in one place?

In this example, the team’s off-site strat-op meeting has been added to the project plan as a milestone so work can be scheduled around it.

date milestone in gantt chart

Identify potential project bottlenecks

Many projects rely on the work produced by external teams or partners to make forward progress. If you’re not tracking those external factors somewhere, there’s a great chance you’ll forget to follow-up on it.

That’s why it’s important to list these deliverables as project milestones if you’re working on a project that depends on someone or something outside of your project. Here’s an example of what that might look like for a client approval.

deliverable milestone in gantt chart

Want to hit major milestones on time more often?

We’ve got a free class to help you get everyone on board with your plan! Register for Plan Up: How to Create and Sell a Winning Project Plan to see why planning sets the stage for project success, and get a free Guide to Project Planning when you sign up.

How to create a project milestone

Creating milestones for your project plan can be simple, especially with TeamGantt. Once you’ve mapped out your overall process and plan with your team, you can easily add tasks, identify gantt chart milestones, and determine task owners. Adding a milestone (or converting a task to a milestone) is very easy in TeamGantt.

Once you’ve signed up for a TeamGantt account, here’s a quick video on how to create milestones:

Project milestones are easy to create and even easier to track because you’ve called out the most important points in your project.

How to share project milestones with clients and stakeholders

Want to give clients and stakeholders a high-level view of the project? Simply follow these steps to share a PDF of key project milestones in your gantt chart.

1. Filter your project by milestones.

From your gantt chart view, click the All Dates menu at the top of your gantt chart, and select Only Milestones from the drop-down.

filter gantt chart by project milestones

2. Export your filtered project to a PDF file.

Navigate to your project's Menu, and select Print/Export PDF from the drop-down.

export gantt chart with project milestones to PDF

Customize your PDF settings, then click View PDF to complete the export. From there, you can download and/or print your PDF to share with clients and stakeholders.

share PDF of gantt chart filtered by project milestones

Who would have thought such a critical step could be so easy?

Hit every project milestone with ease

TeamGantt makes it easy to create, track, and collaborate on all your project milestones so nothing slips through the cracks.

You’ll have all the features you need to ensure projects finish on time and under budget—from drag and drop simplicity and team collaboration to customizable views and workload management.

Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in a simple and intuitive interface your whole team will love. 😍

Give TeamGantt a free try today!

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