The not-so-secret fear of any project manager is for their project to fall under the “spiralling time and budget” curse. So, how can you avoid this sad fate? Based on my experience, I have found five things that most successful projects have in common. These are by no means the only important ingredients for project success, but without them, the likelihood of failure increases exponentially.

  1. Start with a good framework (or the “80/20 rule”) as every project is different. That’s actually not true; every project may have unique requirements, but the methodology, the delivery process and, let’s face it, most of the tasks, are pretty similar to a previous project. As a general rule, about 80% of most projects are almost identical to a previous implementation of a similar service, and only 20% are different.

This 20% is clearly crucial, it’s the difference between delivering to the customer a blue, four-door saloon car or a red, two-door coupe. Starting from a robust framework model that makes the standard 80% as easy and effective to implement as possible, means not only the ability to deliver consistent services, but also to concentrate attention and energies on that crucial 20% that makes real difference for the customer.

  1. Get the documentation structure in place. A project result is only as good as the documentation that drives and supports the deliverables. Find or create templates, instructions and guidance to create all the documentation for the project. This will avoid an enormous amount of time wasting and will make sure that all team members know what they need to do, how they need to do it and the exact output that is required.
  2. Right people in the right place. It’s important to have the right people, but equally important to place them where they can work at their best. Select based on experience, personality, business sense, qualifications or any other metrics you want to use, but think about how to manage your resources in the most effective way.
  3. Selectively micromanage. Too much micromanagement is obviously a bad thing as it creates bottlenecks, delays and tension within the team. On the other hand, Project Managers need to be involved and to know when intervention is required to keep things on track. It’s a fine balance that needs to be achieved, but the PMs have a vantage point on the whole project that other team members lack, and they need to use it to zoom-in and help when a task is particularly critical, a resource over-stretched or there is a conflict of some kind between different activities.
  4. Control “during”, not “post”. The ability to find mistakes when they occur is crucial, but even more important to spot hem BEFORE they happen. A mistake means re-work, re-testing, re-approving. It means delays, going over budget and probably impacting the rest of the project too. So, spotting errors before they happen, can be the difference between success and failure.

To do so, the project managers need the tools and the skills to control the project’s tasks and activities while they happen, in the same way a head-chef controls the making of a dish and doesn’t just taste the results. The project manager’s experience is fundamental in dictating what parts of the projects can benefit from heightened supervision. An efficient risk log can be a good tool to support this supervision, but ultimately it’s the PM that needs to decide where particular attention is required.

Following these five tips will not guarantee the success of your project, but will definitely go a long way towards reducing risks and uncertainties, especially if you select an efficient professional services automation (PSA) software tool.