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Manage your project from start to finish with these five tips

Managing any initiative means juggling costs, time, and more to deliver what the customer wants. Here’s how to make sure your results make the grade.

Production manager leading production team meeting in casual office environmentBy definition, a project manager’s job is to manage budgets, timelines and scope. If you make a change to any of these elements, it affects all the others. So you have to be tough. (Getty Images/Hero Images)

These days, project management has become so popular that the term is almost becoming a buzzword. But there is good reason for the buzz. Businesses need to keep innovating with new products while staying within budget and on schedule. Project management is a way of helping them do that.

Technically, the United States-based Project Management Institute defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” And those projects can span any number of fields, from accounting and finance to engineering.

Whatever the project may be, it requires careful management of a number of elements, including time, cost, quality, procurement, people and risk (see the Project Management Institute for a full list.) Here are some key ingredients for a successful project. [Also see, 3 project management software tools the pros prefer]

1. BUY-IN

You need to have an engaged and empowered project sponsor, says Emily Herczeg, senior manager of competitive intelligence at Rogers Communications in Toronto, Ont. “Having a sponsor who is willing to champion a project and to advocate for its needs at senior levels is fundamental to the project’s success,” she says.

2. STRONG REQUIREMENTS MANAGEMENT

Whether you are developing a new software program or organizing a relief effort, you need to start with a well-organized series of high-level requirements that can then be broken down into component parts in order to come up with a final service or product.

“If your requirements aren’t well defined from the outset, your project can easily go off the rails at any time,” says Marcos Aurelio Salvador, a professional engineer for core engineering, requirements management, at Bombardier Inc. in Montreal.

3. A RECOGNITION THAT EVERY PROJECT IS UNIQUE

As Salvador explains, you can never have exactly the same requirements for two projects. “If all the requirements were the same, you wouldn’t be designing a different product,” he says.

For example, let’s say Bombardier is developing two different commercial aircrafts—one for 110 passengers, the other for 140. “The two projects might have 70 of the same requirements, but the remaining 30 per cent will define the difference between the two.”

4. SOLID RISK MANAGEMENT

Any project can run into delays, cost overruns, or other factors that might cause it to miss the agreed-upon targets or deadlines. Project risk management provides a process for identifying and analyzing those threats beforehand, and then developing a response. “Basically, it allows us to mitigate or even remove the risk,” says Salvador.

5. STRONG DIRECTION

By definition, a project manager’s job is to manage budgets, timelines and scope.  If you make a change to any of these elements, it affects all the others. So you have to be tough. “You can’t say yes to everybody,” says Michael Burns, CPA, president of 180 Systems in Toronto. “Sometimes you have to play the bad guy.”