Keeping your team on track is one thing — keeping them productive is another. Especially if your company has a small team or works with a range of freelancers, you might find yourself struggling to keep projects on track. If this sounds like you, “project management” is likely a phrase you’ve heard a lot.
But what is project management? It seems elusive, something that implies complete command of a project’s status and resources. Sometimes, the phrase simply describes the infrastructure you need to get projects done, whether that’s the ever-expanding email thread or a full-fledged “project management app.”
Either way, to be an effective project manager, you need to understand the principles of project management. Then, design a system that supports your team. It’s easy to fall victim to the promises of well-marketed apps or productivity books, but a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work. By following the guidelines below, you can create a project management methodology that empowers your team to do its best work.
The Project Management Philosophy
As we discussed in our post “The Three Project Management Methods You Should Know,” you have multiple options for developing a project management workflow. What’s crucial to understand here is that despite these variations, the core of project management is the same:
- Align project phases or stages to ensure a logical order.
- Communicate with all involved with the project.
- Optimize the use of resources.
In all project management methodologies, these are the essential characteristics of what it means to manage a project. Any system that ignores one of these elements is doomed to fail.
When implementing a project management methodology, the key to success is to find a way that meets those core functionalities yet suits your team and deliverables. For example, the Agile methodology focuses on an iterative approach that responds to stakeholders’ input. That means that an Agile project manager needs to adjust project phases as needed, communicate feedback to the team, and cut out bloat to ensure the project stays on track, even if things change.
What App to Use?
There are dozens if not hundreds of project management apps on the market, from ultra-flexible platforms such as Trello and Asana to client-focused portals such as Basecamp to robust SaaS providers such as Wrike. Choosing the best option can be daunting, especially because most of these apps can be used with different methodologies.
To choose the app that best suits your team, think about what you need to prioritize. Different apps have different features in areas such as priority sorting, task assignment, subtasks, delegation, dependencies, project timelines, etc. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your team need instant access to dozens of files?
- Do you have multiple people collaborating on a single task?
- Are your team members in the same office or spread apart?
- Do you need to track daily activity on projects?
- Are your deadlines shifting or rigid?
- Do your tasks depend on other tasks to be completed?
- Do your clients expect to sign off on each draft?
- Does your team collaborate on projects or does each member have their own projects?
Knowing exactly what you need to manage is crucial to understanding what you need to assign and track in a project management system.
Setting Up a Project Management System
Once you select an app, it’s time to get everyone on board and set up your current projects. In our experience, team members tend to want to use apps differently. While some variation is okay, it’s important that everyone feels comfortable enough with an app to use it daily. A project management app that’s used inconsistently will only cause project delays.
Set up project templates to help people know what to expect. We also advise that you establish naming conventions and other rules to guide your team members’ use of the app. Above all else, pour everything into the app: Don’t let some projects linger in email threads or sticky notes. Your team members are likely to retain old habits and reject the new system.
Remember, your templates, conventions, and rules should mirror your methodological approach. It might be helpful to explicitly identify project phases or dependencies in your task naming or labeling to help cement the idea.
Then, check in on the app as often as possible. Be on hand to answer questions, and encourage your collaborators to ask for feedback and share any suggestions or concerns.
Project management can alternately refer to apps, methodologies, daily tasks, and a reigning philosophy. However, the core purpose is the same: To increase the efficiency of a project while ensuring that it gets done.
Once you’ve got a strong project management system, you can see gaps that need to be filled and inefficiencies that can be fixed. Need to get some tasks off your plate? Give Lyra Creative Studios a ring.