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Category: Projects

Project management guide: Tips, strategies, best practices

Managing any project can become a slippery slope when your organization doesn’t have a solid grasp of all the moving pieces.

Project management can be a complex discipline to understand and navigate. After all, there are enough key phases, knowledge areas, and project management-specific terms to fill a glossary.

To simplify the key components of successful project management, CIO has put together this guide to understanding project management — the phases, knowledge areas, tools and more.

First, it is important to identify why the formal application of project management skills and knowledge should be a necessity for organizations: because far too many projects fail.

Project management definition

Project management is the application of specific processes, knowledge and skills, techniques and tools, as well as inputs and outputs that project managers and teams utilize to successfully meet project goals and deliverables.

Project management goals

As a high-level strategic body, project management professionals first and foremost help drive, guide, and execute company-identified value-added goals. 

These goals should include:

  • identifying and executing high-impact, high-visibility initiatives
  • building a framework that shows how the PMO or EPMO aligns with strategic enterprise objectives
  • acquiring the right people, knowledge, and skills
  • providing senior managers with simple, unambiguous information
  • reporting on what the business really cares about
  • highlighting PMO or EPMO achievements
  • ensuring the PMO or EPMO continue to evolve to support bimodal IT and digital business

Project management vs. change management

Change management and project management are often thought to be the same thing. They aren’t.

Here’s how they differ: Change management involves people, processes, and tools to effectively help organizations manage all the changes that occur, whether as a result of project initiatives, or other factors that might impact the business.

Project management also involves the use of people, processes, and methodologies to plan, initiate, execute, monitor, and close activities. But it is designed to meet an organization’s project goals, and hopefully overall strategic objectives.

Project management methodologies

Choosing the right project management methodology to execute your project is a vital step for success.

There are many different and, in some cases, overlapping methodologies and approaches to managing project complexities.

Here are some of the most popular project management methodologies (PMMs) in practice today, but it’s important to know more than one methodology (a hybrid) can be adapted to a project:

  • Waterfall
  • Agile
  • Hybrid
  • Critical path method
  • Critical chain project management

One of the most utilized methodologies is agile. It uses short development cycles called sprints to focus on continuous improvement in the development of a product or service. Originally it was adopted primarily within the software development industry. Today agile is being utilized in virtually most industries.


Successful organizations codify project management efforts under an umbrella organization, either a project management office (PMO) or an enterprise project management office (EPMO).

A PMO is an internal or external group that sets direction, maintains and ensures standards, best practices, and the status of project management across an organization.

PMOs traditionally do not assume a lead role in strategic goal alignment.

An EPMO has the same responsibilities as a traditional PMO, but with an additional key high-level goal: to align all project, program, and portfolio activities with an organization’s strategic objectives.

Organizations are increasingly adopting the EPMO structure, whereby, project, program, and portfolio managers are involved in strategic planning sessions right from the start to increase project success rates.

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Motivating the Mercenaries

Technology projects have long been staffed with a combination of employees and contractors, but now the balance is shifting toward a heavier reliance on hired guns.

If you’re a manager who’s being told to bring on contractors rather than hire full-time staffers, you need to be prepared for the implications of having a team that skews toward the temporary.

Your focus is on getting your projects done, regardless of who is doing the work. To get there, you’ll need to motivate your people to perform, no matter where their loyalties lie.

OK, I can hear your objections already: “I pay contractors lots of money to deliver. Their motivation is their own business, not mine.”

Sorry, but as much as you would like to think that you’re hiring a subservient bag of skills that will respond to your every command, you’re not.

Contractors are people too, and you don’t get out of the responsibility of managing and motivating them if you want to get your money’s worth. Some challenges come with the territory:

The traditional tools of motivation aren’t available with contractors. They don’t look to you for training, promotions, raises, bonuses or public recognition. n Contractors focus on fulfilling their contracted obligations. Driving the entire project toward success is beyond their scope.

They focus on serving you, the customer. That might not sound like an attitude that presents a challenge, but if you want contractors to really contribute to your project’s success, you need them to think of themselves as part of the team.

You get the most value when they focus their energies on what’s most important for the project rather than whatever you, the boss, requested.

So how do you motivate contractors? In some ways, it’s the same as motivating employees, but in other ways it’s not. Here are a few pointers:

Include them in all the project-related activities that employees in the same role would be included in. Keep them informed about relevant project and business issues. Involve them in the relationship with outside stakeholders.

Explain your expectations of them in terms of the role you want them to fill rather than the deliverables you want them to produce. They will interact with the team very differently when you explain that you want them to serve as the QA lead on the project rather than defining their work as developing and executing a test plan. Then manage to the behavioral expectations rather than only to schedules and budgets.

Acknowledge that you understand their concerns and aspirations as contractors. Let them know that you know that references and referrals are essential to their ongoing well-being.

Also, assure them that you understand that predictability is helpful for them; commit to giving them as much notice as you can about when you’ll need their services again or when you won’t need them anymore.

Your success as a manager depends on your ability to locate, assemble, organize, manage, and motivate people to deliver on your needs.

As the workforce continues to shift toward contingency arrangements, you’ll have to master the art of motivating people regardless of whether they are permanent employees or contract workers.

Begin by recognizing that it’s now an essential part of your job.

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Trek Bicycle Rides Project Management Tool to Efficiency

It’s that time of year when bicycle season begins in the northern hemisphere, and bike sales heat up right along with the weather.

For companies like Trek Bicycle, it’s a critical time of year. Because the cycling market is largely seasonal, its critical to get new products to market on time.

Until recently, that was a challenge for Trek.

Responsibility for on-time product launches was spread out among functions including product management, engineering, industrial design, and marketing and around the world from company headquarters in Waterloo, Wisc., to Germany, Holland, China, and Taiwan. And — quite literally — no one was on the same page.

Each group had their own set of preferred tools, from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides to Word.

Updates travelled by email, phone, word of mouth, or — sometimes — not at all.

Individual projects managers — often product engineers who begrudgingly took on the role in addition to their full-time job designing bikes and related gear — spent as much as a third of their time manually retyping timeline items from one system or another into emails to send out to team members or cobbling together reports for executives.

Teams were forced to attend staff meetings several times a week in an attempt to keep abreast of project statuses.

The lack of visibility resulted in missing time-sensitive go-to-market dates for a significant percentage of Trek products.

Not knowing when a new product — quite possibly a replacement for an existing item–would land could result in excess inventory and increased discounting — or lack of inventory.

Marketing and sales groups weren’t able to effectively plan promotions and events. And when a hot new product didn’t make it to retailers on time, Trek missed sales opportunities.

“All of our miscommunication cost Trek a lot of money,” says Kris Lamp, a decade-long Trek veteran.

But given the lack of shared information, no one is quite sure what percentage of new products were delivered late or their actual impact on revenue.

“The information was in so many different places it was hard to get a good view of how our teams were performing,” Lamp says.

New SaaS Program Management Tool Puts Teams on the Same Page

A few years ago, Lamp took on the newly created role of program manager and began looking for a single system that all employees involved in new product development could use.

“We needed to have a tool that allowed us to all see the same thing at the same time, wherever we are in the world,” Lamp says.

She was looking for one that was user friendly enough that users could see what they needed in seconds, freeing them up from administrative tasks to focus on more important development and innovation work.

Trek implemented the software-as-a-service program management tool AtTask, starting with one product development group and systematically rolling it out to others over time.

That the tool was hosted by the vendor was a plus as Lamp and her team — not IT — had to support it. (“IT’s project list was pretty long,” Lamp says, which is why her team sought out a solution on its own.)

The system made a difference almost immediately, keeping teams on track and making sure everyone knew what needed to be done next for a given project. “Early on it was just getting everyone connected,” Lamp says.

“It really helped people understand how their role affected the next person down the line whereas before they were disconnected,” Lamp says Creating reports for management was extremely easy.

And the system provided support for seven languages enabling a truly global rollout.

Lamp kept customization to a minimum in the beginning. But as the company began to use the system and see what the possibilities might be. “We started to think bigger.

They created more customized views, imported more data, developed more detailed reporting. Trek’s test labs all over the world, for example, began using AtTask to better coordinated which new products go to which labs and when.

The company’s prototype lab and mold lab shop (which makes the tooling used to build Trek bikes) soon followed suit.

There were change management issues. “It was hard, but one thing that we did pretty well is we kept communicating to team members way ahead of time that this was coming and this was why,” says Lamp.

“We also received a lot of management support and they communicated to employees that using the new system wasn’t an option.”

Better Business Process and Delivery Rates — and ‘Time’ to Create

Trek’s on-time delivery rates have improved more than 20 percent, and new processes enabled by the system are contributing to the bottom line.

“It allowed us to communicate issues better than before, helping us resolve problems and deliver product on time,” Lamp says. Having product in stock on time is worth millions of dollars.”

Today, there are 800 different projects being managed in the system — and they’re proceeding more smoothly than when the company had just a fraction of projects in play. But the biggest benefit, says Lamp, is that it gives everyone “time to create.”

The keys were taking the time to select the right tool and get everyone prepared for it, starting small, and keeping things simple in the beginning.

“You can’t start with everyone or everything. You’ll go crazy and you will fail,” Lamp says. “Start with one team and work through the problems. Add functionality as you go.”

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How to Keep Projects on Track

A Fortune 500 company recently learned, within the course of eight weeks, that six major projects were in trouble. In each case, the traffic light went directly from green to red, skipping a yellow warning. The CIO felt blindsided.

Executive management wanted someone to blame. Project teams felt the pressure, and the project management office was asked to explain how this could have happened.

The problems didn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But IT leadership can fix problems only if they’re known. And problems that fester are more difficult to fix.

Unfortunately, project staff can feel strong but subtle pressure to keep problems to themselves. They worry that they won’t be perceived as team players if they report any concerns.

Less experienced staff can feel an unfounded optimism that convinces them that the project team will be able to recover from missed deadlines by working harder.

In the case of the Fortune 500 company cited above, all six failing projects had executive sponsors who were politically powerful and known to attack bearers of bad news. Nobody wanted to raise a red flag and admit that their project was in trouble.

Here are some things that IT management can do to identify problems in a timely manner:

Require realistic project plans. And be prepared to defend them. Not always easy, but crucial. Teams at another Fortune 500 company came under intense pressure to cut project costs, so they reduced the time and budget allocated to training, testing and change management.

Those cuts resulted in poor quality and low user acceptance. Project plans without adequate time and resources are doomed from the start. Agreeing to them dooms you to paying a price later.

Use agile project management. The agile approach breaks projects into small pieces and requires tight collaboration between business and IT staffs, so problems are easier to spot.

In addition, agile projects produce frequent, visible deliverables, which can keep a small problem from turning into a huge problem.

Listen to the messenger; don’t shoot him. The tendency to punish the bearer of bad news was a phenomenon recognized by Shakespeare and Sophocles.

As far back as the fifth century B.C., the chivalric code in China prevented the executions of messengers sent by an enemy.

Sadly, many of today’s executives have still not learned this principle, or don’t practice it.

Make sure employees know they will not be punished for raising concerns, even when other project members deny problems exist.

An angry reception stops the flow of useful information. If you have traditionally been a messenger shooter, take steps to reform, and get the word out that you’re ready to listen.

Review projects periodically. Project managers often resent formal project reviews (internal or external), believing they take time away from “real work” and provide limited value. But good reviews help project teams step back and re-evaluate project status.

The review process should not be adversarial; it should focus on identifying and addressing current and potential problems.

While a comprehensive review cannot guarantee success, it can significantly mitigate risk.

All projects encounter difficulties. You need to make sure they turn into bumps in the road, not lethal crashes.

Give your project every chance to succeed by seeking information through every available channel and at every possible interval. Make it safe for people to sound the alarm.

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