Business leaders share their insights into successful project delivery, everytime. Get the inside scoop in our ultimate guide.
According to the Project Management Institute, 14% of projects fail. Of those that succeed, nearly 50% aren’t completed on time, 43% go over budget, and 32% deliver a product that doesn’t meet expectations.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We’ve condensed the wisdom of global project management experts and business leaders to create a 10-step process to ensure successful project delivery - so you can successfully deliver projects that satisfy stakeholder needs, create high-quality outcomes, and come in on budget and on time.
Make sure that all stakeholders understand and agree on what the project is supposed to accomplish.
The first step is to discuss the objectives of the project and achieve an understanding of what you need to achieve. Initially, this will be with the client. But it’s equally important to have these conversations with your wider project team too, once the scope and requirements of the project are known.
To ensure a smooth and successful video project, I always prioritize clear communication with my clients from the start. We discuss the deliverables, process, timeline, number of revisions, and pricing upfront to avoid any misunderstandings later on.
In your kickoff meeting with the client, establish their intended outcomes. Don’t limit this to talking about the deliverables they’ve asked for. Dig down into the business results they’re hoping to see if your project is successful. Understanding the objectives behind the brief can help you spot solutions the client might not have considered.
Once you’ve established what the client needs, record everything in writing so there is no ambiguity or room for dispute when it comes to invoicing. For example,
David O’Brien, The Project Management Expert, recommends conducting a ‘premortem’ at the start of projects. This goes beyond simply discussing objectives and deliverables, and delves into preferences about how you work together, and learning from past problems.
I always ask my new project stakeholders if they have participated in any projects similar to the one that we are about to start. If so, then I ensure that we undertake a 'Project Pre-mortem' together before we begin the project. During the 'Project Pre-mortem' we uncover not only what made their previous projects successful, but also what problems they had.
We document these and make sure to avoid them or work together to mitigate them by building mitigation strategies into the project schedule. Sometimes these issues will go into the Risk Register as risks, or signs and symptoms that risk might materialize. Other times they might be as simple as delivering the Status Report weekly at a precise time.
Outline the tasks that need to be completed and assign responsibility for each one.
This will help you assign resources efficiently, monitor your project schedule and budget, and provide team members with a transparent understanding of what they need to do, and when.
According to the PMI, companies that don’t have a project plan spend 28x more money than those that do. So it’s worth investing time in project planning.
Develop a comprehensive project plan that outlines the specific steps required to achieve the project goals, including timelines, milestones, and resources needed. Introduce any new technology or tools that will make the process run smoother. Make sure everyone involved in the project has access to the project plan and understands their role in the project.
Assign clear roles and responsibilities to team members to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them. Be sure to assign roles according to skill sets and capabilities.
Jamie Irwin, Digital Marketing Expert at TutorCruncher recommends creating a Work Breakdown Structure or WBS. A WBS divides a project into more manageable portions of work, which makes it easier to plan, execute and monitor.
One of the keys to a well-executed project is the Work Breakdown Structure. With each project, I draw out a WBS to help me organize the tasks. A visual work breakdown structure is useful for decomposing a large project into manageable chunks that can then be integrated into a project schedule.
A WBS helps organize and identify the essential task streams that should be tracked and reported in the project status. As a visual reminder of the big picture that needs to be delivered, I like to print up the WBS and hang it on my office wall.
A Gantt chart is a popular way to visualize a project timeline. It displays all the tasks that make up the entire project, with start and end dates, and the individuals assigned to them.
Check out this article from our Chief Operations Officer, Nicole, if you need to know more about how to create a project timeline.
Communicate regularly with stakeholders in the project - including your project team and clients.
Our experts all agree that communication is key. Clear, honest, regular communication between team members keeps your project on track by ensuring everyone knows what is required of them - and providing the opportunity to surface and solve any issues that pose a threat to delivery.
Communication is key to ensuring positive project outcomes. Establish regular communication channels with the project team and the stakeholders. Provide frequent updates on the project's progress. Be transparent about any challenges or issues that arise, and work collaboratively to find solutions.
You also need to communicate regularly with your clients. Without regular updates, clients may become frustrated by a perceived lack of progress, or develop unrealistic project assumptions. Frequent communication helps manage expectations while reassuring clients about the positive progress you’re making.
Establish a communication plan that includes regular status updates, team meetings, and progress reports’ advises Vaibhav Kakkar, CEO of Digital Web Solutions.
[Want to make sure you get your messages across? Discover the art of overcommunication.]
Identify potential risks and develop a plan to mitigate them.
When you’re in your project execution phase, you need to manage risks effectively. Risks are variables that impact project performance, cause delays, and reduce productivity - all threatening your project schedule, budget, and deliverables.
Every project has potential risks associated with it. It’s important to assess what those risks are and take measures to manage them.
Typical risks in project management can include
Remember that risks come from every angle and can strike at any stage of the project implementation, so it’s important to monitor risks throughout the project lifecycle - not just at the start. This is where different risk management tools are useful.
David O’Brien explains his approach to risk like this.
My projects can be complex and so I focus on mitigating risk a lot. In addition to the Risk Register, which is reviewed weekly, I also trace secondary and tertiary risks to work out the impact of mitigating the initial risk. Using a simple Pivot table on the Risk Register, I create a Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS) and look for areas within my project that I may have overlooked. Next, I graph all of this in a chart based on Impact and Likelihood, this allows me to visualize the preferred mitigation strategy and communicate the risks more effectively. Finally, I track the risk over time and graph them in a Risk Burndown chart.
Keep track of the project's progress and make adjustments as necessary to stay on track.
Project tracking is the act of monitoring the progress of your project against your project plan. It’s how you track your project KPIs and know if you need to take corrective action to protect your project outcomes.
Part of the project control process, project tracking involves:
Project managers typically build project status reports - or pull them from the project tracking systems they use - to access and interpret project metrics.
Qualitative project success metrics you can use to track project progress include:
David O’Brien explains how he uses Earned Value and Earned Schedule metrics to keep his projects on track.
Earned Value makes sure that my projects stay on time and budget. It gives you enough time to take corrective action if you predict that the project has gone off-course.
Earned Value’s lesser-known sibling is Earned Schedule. That focuses on the project schedule and ignores money completely. It allows the project manager to predict the real likely end date for a project.
With every project having a start and finish date, this can always be mapped from 0% to 100%. However, a team may not be able to provide their deliverables at the same linear rate. In some instances, most of the value is delivered near the end of the project. Using milestones, it's possible to track your process and determine whether the project is on track.
[Read more about how to track project progress]
Utilize project management tools to improve transparency and efficiency.
The Project Management Institute recommends the use of PM software in their Project Management Book of Knowledge - the industry’s definitive guide to delivering project success.
Some of the benefits of project management software include
Collectively, this helps you mitigate project risks, increase productivity and profitability, and deliver better outcomes for clients.
Project management software also saves you time you’d otherwise spend manually planning, monitoring, and reporting on progress.
Wellingtone’s recent State of Project Management report found 47% of businesses don’t have access to real-time project KPIS and 50% spend one or more days manually collating project reports each month.
Eliminating these unnecessary manual tasks frees up your project managers to focus on value-adding activities like client liaison and troubleshooting.
Another benefit that is often overlooked is better aligning your delivery and sales teams, as Runn's co-founder Nicole explains.
Success measures for delivery teams have traditionally included bringing in a project on time and on budget, and making the client happy. In contrast, sales contracts are often commission-based — a successful sales manager is one who brings in sales! Naturally, this leads to the sales team trying to fill the pipeline with more and better-paying work and signing on new clients fast.
Sometimes, in the rush to fill the pipeline, Sales may not not be taking into account whether the work is a good fit for the agency from a strategic point of view, or whether the team has the capacity or required skills to get the job done. In my past experience as a project manager, I often found a lack of shared vision and goals, and rarely did I experience joint accountability to deliver a project successfully, from the sales pitch to project handover. That can undermine client outcomes and satisfaction.
With Runn, we’re trying to provide the solution to that issue by providing a single central place for all stakeholders to collaborate. Sales can see capacity for delivery. Delivery can see financials. HR can monitor utilization and plan recruitment. It’s about bringing everyone together in service of exceptional delivery, healthy teams, and client needs.
Encourage collaboration, communication, teamwork, and autonomy.
In any professional services firm, your people are your biggest asset. So our experts had a lot to say about leveraging people power for project success 🙂
One of the key roles of a delivery manager or project manager is to ensure their team works well together - and to provide everything they need to optimize their productivity and creativity.
In many cases, the quality of the project team will determine whether or not the project will be successful. Finding the correct individuals for the project and organizing them in a way that encourages teamwork and collaboration is necessary if you want to guarantee that the project team will be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their job.
Michael Hess, eCommerce Strategy Lead at Code Signing Store, agrees.
Most seasoned and successful leaders will agree that if you have the appropriate team working for you, you've already won the war. Having a project team that is well-equipped, experienced, and skilled to just get things done will make it easier to direct team members and maintain control of the project. Members of a project team are more likely to go above and beyond to make sure it works out if they feel loyal, committed, and excited about their work.
Cultivating a healthy team environment - where team members feel happy, engaged, trusted, and motivated - helps them pull together towards a common goal and deliver the best results for clients.
It is important to know your individual team members to enhance performance. Some of the members need structure, the others need to work for two days straight and then rest. As long as the work is completed in excellence, with everyone checking in their quality work, it is best to adapt to them.
Giving your team members autonomy in the workplace, rather than micromanaging their every move, is important. It lets them bring their unique expertise to bear on the project and can deliver more creative outcomes.
To keep your team motivated, Linda Murray Bullard recommends celebrating team achievements.
Recognize and celebrate milestones and successes throughout the project. This can be something as simple as recognizing a team member at the start of a meeting. This helps to keep the team motivated and engaged and can help build momentum towards achieving the project goals.
Another way to keep your team motivated is through your resource allocation and utilization practices. Resource management software can be highly beneficial here.
Effective resource allocation matches people to tasks that they have the skills to complete. This ensures they’re able to do their job well, but with scope to stretch and challenge them a little, to stave off boredom and give a sense of accomplishment.
Resource utilization is about using your resources fairly and equitably. Ensuring individual workloads are manageable and work is distributed equally between the team. This reduces several project risks - including burnout, bottlenecks, and intra-team resentment.
Have you ever heard the saying that people problems can make or break a project? Well, I've been there and done that as a Head of Delivery!
Let me tell you about a time when I managed a project for an intelligent assistant startup. Our client was an energy-switching service provider, and let's just say the project wasn't exactly a walk in the park.
When I first joined the company, I quickly realized that each team was working in their own silos. Communication breakdowns, handovers, miscommunication, and rework were all too common. To make matters worse, we were dealing with some major issues that had nothing to do with the project itself - arguments with the customer over contractual obligations, misaligned organizational vision and strategy, and a strained relationship between the Head of Design and the CPO.
Now, you might think that scheduling more team communication sessions would have solved the problem. But let me tell you, the issues were deeply entrenched, and I knew we had to address them head-on before we could make any progress. So, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work developing rapport with all the stakeholders, building a more cohesive leadership team, and creating opportunities to discuss and resolve the underlying issues.
And you know what? It worked! Once we had addressed those people problems, getting everyone to work in cross-functional teams and use a single project management tool became effortless. We even delivered the project ahead of schedule, and the client was thrilled with the results.
As a Head of Delivery, I know that delivering successful projects requires more than just technical skills. It's about solving difficult people problems and organizational issues, building trust with stakeholders, and fostering collaboration and communication. And when you get it right, the results can be truly amazing!
Be open to changes and adapt the project plan as needed to ensure successful delivery.
Change happens - it’s unavoidable - and you need a way to manage it effectively. That means managing it in such a way that your clients are happy and your outcomes are still high quality, but without blowing your budget or schedule out of the water.
Our first tip is to always build buffer time into your project schedule so you can absorb any minor schedule slippages without it impacting your overall delivery date. You should also plan for the unexpected - which is easier said than done!
Some of the curve balls I've had to deal with recently include suppliers who didn't deliver on time to a pandemic that stopped everything. This is why I think it's very important for everyone to be able to see a plan that spells the intent behind the goals, instead of the steps to take.
This can save everyone a lot of trouble because it makes the process clear and persuades everyone to have a sense of ownership over their part. So when curveballs happen it is easy to identify who is in charge, what went wrong, and how the team can help the person lagging.
When the unexpected does happen, Yeremia Poco, Co-founder and Director at Eggplain, says it’s important to communicate the impact of that clearly to the client, without delay, and agree on the best way forward.
While we strive to ensure everything goes smoothly, sometimes unexpected things can happen. For example, the client might ask for something outside of the initial agreement, or I might realize that the project needs more resources than I originally estimated. In such cases, I make sure to communicate clearly with my client and explain the situation. We discuss any budget changes and get the client's approval before proceeding.
When project changes come from the client, it can be challenging to manage. You don’t want to push back too hard and undermine your relationship. But you also don’t want to accept changes unquestioningly, as this can lead to scope creep, spiralling costs, and more.
Brad Anderson, Executive Director of FRUITION consultancy, says a change management process can help you handle modifications, agree priorities, and resolve conflicts to successfully complete the project.
When carrying out a project, it's important to stick to the plan and adjust as needed. Handling requests for changes while a project is in progress means making concessions and solving conflicts. Better project management is possible with a well-thought-out change management methodology. Because they have to balance so many different interests and forces, project managers need to be diplomatic and know how to solve conflicts.
David O’Brien goes further. He suggests that having a specific change request budget can control scope creep and stop it undermining project profitability.
One of my projects suffered from scope creep. When one of the project milestones was missed, we agreed to create a Change Request budget, which we capped at $50,000. Each Change Request was sized and costed in advance.
This allowed the client to make the hard decisions as to what they really wanted and allowed the team to focus on their work, without being distracted by the next clever idea. This change in process allowed the clients project to be delivered on time, much to the delight of the project stakeholders.
Go the extra mile to delight clients and share successes along the way.
We’ve already discussed the importance of clear and regular communication with clients - to manage expectations, control costs, agree priorities, and more. But client liaison isn’t just about communicating the facts and stats of project progress.
As Sarah Walters, marketing manager for The Whit Group agency, explains, clients aren’t just interested in KPIs and progress reports.
It's also about making sure your clients know how much you care. We make sure to communicate with our clients regularly and let them know how much effort we were putting into their project. It isn't just another project for us—we are fully invested in making it a success.
This approach can improve your overall relationship with the client, making it easier to have difficult conversations when needed, and also improving your chances of an ongoing relationship.
We recently delivered a project to a very happy client who runs a medical office. They were happy because their web app looked and functioned great, of course, but even with a flawless product, a client could be unhappy with your performance. A big part of why they were happy is because we under-promised and over-delivered.
We gave them a very long timeline and delivered in a much shorter time. We promised them that their app would be mobile responsive, but during our demo, we also showed them how good the SEO and accessibility are. We also cleaned up a bunch of bugs they complained about in passing for no extra charge. As long as you always under-promise and over-deliver, you have a much better chance that they'll walk away from the project with something nice to say about you.
By ensuring that clients are satisfied with the project's progress and final outcome, project managers build trust and credibility, leading to future opportunities and referrals.
However, David O’Brien highlights the importance of keeping clients informed and excited throughout your project, not just saving successes for the end.
Clients are satisfied when their projects are delivered on time and on budget. But they’re also happy when you surprise them along the way. People remember the start and end of an event the most. I make sure that these are exciting and memorable. But people tire near the middle of a project, so I make sure to build in and celebrate memorable milestones around the middle of the project as well.
Evaluate the project's performance and feed that into future projects.
Speaking of projects ending, once your project is complete, you might be tempted to move straight onto the next one. But Vaibhav Kakkar, CEO of Digital Web Solutions recommends taking time to reflect.
When the project is complete, conduct a final review to ensure that all project goals have been met. Document any lessons learned and share them with the team to improve future project delivery.
This post-project review is often called a project post-mortem. It’s an opportunity to assess how the project went - and use what you learn to improve future projects.
Your project post-mortem should answer questions like
Some of these questions are subjective. But you can answer others quantitatively, by looking at your project metrics. For example, by comparing your actual schedule against your forecast, to understand schedule variance.
Without a project postmortem, you can’t learn from your mistakes. You risk repeating the same project problems ad infinitum, losing money - and possibly clients - as a result. Whereas teams that conduct a review at the end of a project can apply that learning to future endeavours.
For example, equipped with information from a postmortem process like schedule and budget variance, you can improve your future project forecasting. This leads to more realistic budgets, timeframes, and client quotes in future. Which, of course, can contribute to better outcomes and profitability.
Successful project delivery requires careful planning, strong project management, and a commitment to continuous improvement. [At the end of a project] we celebrate our successes and learn from any hurdles while delivering the project successfully.
We suggest you do the same 🥳
We hope this expert round-up helps you ensure successful delivery of your next project. 💪
While you’re here, you might want to check out Runn. It’s resource management software with powerful project planning tools built in.
Hundreds of professional services firms trust Runn to manage resources and projects. Features include:
You can start using your free account immediately. No credit card needed. Just sign up with your email address and explore the system. Import your own data to really test it out - you’ll not be disappointed.
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