Project Management

Project Management Tips. My Top 10

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11 mins read
Ben Willmott

Why use these tips?

In Project Management common sense goes a long way, so if it doesn’t feel right then there is usually a problem.

These Project Management tips are some of the key things that are vital for success.

Although these are fairly obvious, missing them off your plan and approach will impact your team and project in a negative way.  

Project Management Success Tip 1:

What’s gone wrong before and what did we learn?

Before you do any planning, actual work or just about anything, sit down as a team, or worst case on your own and think about crucial things you’ve learnt from previous projects.

Even if the project type and approaches are different, there are always learning to take into the new project.

If like me you work in a digital agency, or any environment where you have a client, there is always someone else to move onto that’s a priority.

Taking time to look at lessons learnt as a team, even if you’re a new team can provide you with fantastic insights on what not to do!

There are several ways to do this, but as a team, you can use the start, stop continue retrospective approach.

It’s simple and easy to use, and you’ll get so much out of just having 30 minutes to an hour together doing this.

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Project Management Success Tip 2:

Define the key milestones 

My main Project Management planning tip is highlight the key milestones that you’re aware of.

This doesn’t mean you have to know all of them at this stage, but any you can think of, write them down and then consider what you need to do to achieve them.

This is a great way to start building out your plan, whether you’re working in an Agile type project or Waterfall, there are always milestones you need to meet and work towards.  

Either on your own or as a team, using Mind Maps is a great way to ideate and build out the actions needed when working back from a milestone.

Doing this as a team on a big whiteboard puts the milestone at the centre, then you link and build out all the actions to meet that milestone from there.

Having everything linked and in front of you is the best way to figure out what’s needed. Read more about Maps Maps in my step by step guide in Mind Maps: My favourite note taking approach Blog.

Project Management Success Tip 3:

If the task is hard, do it first 

It’s natural human behaviour to procrastinate or put off hard tasks, but by doing this, you’re only making things harder for yourself further down the line, or just as bad, for someone else.

Completing the harder tasks early builds your confidence and free’s you to do more. Hard tasks typically take longer if you leave them to the end, as other issues attach themselves to them.

To stop procrastination, you need to start thinking of the positive and negatives impacts of not doing these tasks, on you or your team.

To do this, write down the task in front of you and then visualise or write down how you’ll feel when this task completed.

No doubt you’ll feel great, others will thank you for it, and your confidence will grow.

Now visualise or write down how you and others will feel if you don’t do this task now. So the impact on others, the project, your confidence and stress levels.

You don’t need to take long doing this, it’s all about making you think of the positive or negative impacts related to this task.

Knowing these impacts will give you the drive to tackle them now, plus the reasons to stick at them when they get tough.

Project Management Success Tip 4:

Find momentum tasks

So tip 3 is all about doing the hard tasks first, yes hard tasks are tough that’s why they’re called hard, but another approach to help you complete hard tasks is to create momentum tasks alongside them.

By momentum tasks, I mean ones that are typically quick or you know how to achieve them as you’ve done them before.

Doing these momentum tasks alongside the harder ones gives you the momentum to stay focused and positive for the longer harder tasks.

You’re not only ticking tasks off, but you’re also chipping away at the harder tasks at the same time,

The first thing I would do is label your tough tasks and your momentum tasks. Call them what you like but make sure they’re clearly marked.

Then when you hit a wall when working on a hard task, pick off a momentum task or two to get that drive and positivity back.

Just completing tasks, whether hard or easy, gives you a boost of confidence and often is enough to get you stuck back into that tough one.

If you hit a mental block, write down the problem in the centre of a piece of paper and start a Mind Map and see what you can come up with.

This helps break down the tougher task, and you’ll then be able to start chipping away it rather than looking at that one big thing you need to complete!

Project Management Success Tip 5:

Kill all assumptions!

This one is critical for a successful project as assumptions are project killers.

Sounds extreme, but I don't know many times when I had a problem on a project, I thought or said I assumed you knew this, or you were going to do this.

Assumptions are great sometimes at first as without thinking you assume that problem X or action X is being dealt with, but then a few weeks later someone else says I thought you were doing that?

It's so frustrating to hear someone say that, as all that was needed was to clarify who owned that problem or action.

To kill all assumptions, you need to train yourself to look for them continually. At first, you sound a little too diligent, but over time people will thank you for it, plus others will start to mimic your behaviour without realising it.

First, you need to look for anyone on the project, which may have made assumptions.

This isn't always as easy as someone saying I assume X or Y, they're the easy ones to spot. Look out for comments like 'Yes X gets delivered next week, or when that Y gets completed, we can do Z. Start asking questions, who booked that delivery for Y, what day is it coming, what's being delivered etc.…

Also, add a note on your laptop or monitor saying "Any assumptions today?" Keeping it front of centre like this is a great reminder to check in on yourself, not just others.

Project Management Success Tip 6:

Ask lot’s of questions 

Sounds easy to do right, but if you’re in a room with your team and a client, you want to show you’re in control and you know what you’re doing, especially if you’re a Project Manager.

You also don’t want to be interrupting the attendees all the time with questions.

If you have a gap in your knowledge or a nagging doubt about something, then be brave by asking a question but wait for the right time.

It’s always easier to assume (see point 5) that everyone knows what they’re doing and you don’t want others to think you don’t know what you’re doing.

But if you don’t ask, then you don’t get or learn, or worse case a problem occurs further down the line.

Take questions offline where appropriate. This isn’t contradicting the above, but don’t be that person who’s continually interrupting to ask questions. You either find your moment or just write your questions down and ask that individual separately.

The key is to ask the questions, that doesn’t mean you have to do them all at once.

Project Management Success Tip 7:

Just talk more

Nothing new here, but still I see so many people send an email to ask for something, chasing up for something you haven’t had a response on, or just passing a problem onto someone else rather than just talking to the recipient.

This might seem like the easiest option at the time, but emails can get misinterpreted.

Either by how they’re communicated, so the sender might have wanted to keep it brief as they’re worried about the recipients time, but the email then came across as blunt or rude.

Or the opposite, you add loads of detail as you think the recipient will appreciate all the work you put in for them, but they just wanted a few bullets as they’re super busy.

Additional tip: Ask your colleagues how they like to be updated, bullets, detail, just chat etc...

The classic problem with emails is when the recipient takes action on the email you sent, only for you to say that's not what I meant! You read it back, and you then realise how they could have read it that way.

I’m not saying don’t use emails anymore, but pick and choose when to send them, and this isn’t just to avoid the inbox pile up! Before you send the email, think about the following things.

  1. Can I just speak the recipient about this, and if yes when?
  2. Could this email be misinterpreted by the recipient but I still need to send it? If yes add can we speak, so I clarify what I mean etc...
  3. Could I just message them on Slack, Skype etc.…
  4. Could the action/problem on this email be solved in the next 24hrs, if yes, shall I hold off sending in case it is
  5. If you do email, add what you think the actions needed are as well. This is really useful for the recipient as they can either confirm or add to them

Project Management Success Tip 8:

What’s the worse that can happen?

Ask what’s the worse that can happen regularly to yourself and to the team.

This sounds dramatic, but you’ll be amazed at how useful this question can be. The answer could pretty unlikely, but it’s still worth checking how you can prevent anything going wrong on your project.

As a Project Manager, you need to be planning for success and disaster, so getting the balance between the two is vital.

Ask questions like what would stop you achieving this task, is there anything that could go wrong with this? Has any got any doubts or nervousness with this approach?

If your project is going well, don’t sit back and relax and ride the wave. Spend some time doing some worst-case scenario mapping to see where you or your project can improve.

There are always new things you can learn, or the team can try and improve upon. As suggested before, use Mind Mapping for these worse-case scenarios.

It might trigger 10 possibilities but 9 of them you chuck out as the risk is so low, but there may be that one that jumps out at you that you haven't thought of before.

Project Management Success Tip 9:

What do you really want from this?

Maybe not a blunt as this, but exploring what each team member wants to achieve from the project can really help you create a successful outcome, project approach and team environment.

This may differ from things like

"I really want this to go well so I can get a promotion"


"I'm hoping to learn how to do X from this project"

No matter what the reason, knowing what each individual wants from the project for themselves can you help you as a Project Manager.

Project Management Success Tip 10:

Building relationships with the team

Don’t fall into the trap as seeing the project team as resources, they’re people.

You should always be asking them "how you can help, anything they’ve been struggling with, how you could you improve yourself, what could we improve upon in that last workshop etc."

Building these professional relationships and helping each other out, all results in higher team performance in the long run.

You might also need help at some point after you’ve made a mistake and you’ll need your teammates to help you out.  

This isn’t some fake cold approach to get others to work for you or work harder for, this is real relationships building, and this starts with building trust between you and the team.

The greatest way to build trust is to show you genuinely care and put the effort in to learn about your team and the project.

Learning can be building up your knowledge of all aspects of the project so you can interact with each individual project team member to understand their needs and to help them when needed.

You also need to understand their situation, skill set and the outcomes they’re looking to achieve.

The more you can help them, the better they’ll become and the greater the relationship you can develop.

More planning help?

My posts on setting goals for work and how to achieve more in a week than ever before really supplement these tips.

They provide the direction and structure so you can personally  perform to the high-levels needed as a Project Manager.

Ben Willmott
Ben is the founder of the PPM Academy, which provides training and coaching for project managers at all levels of experience.

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