How to Keep a Project on Track, on Time, and on Budget
Budget and time management skills are essential requirements for project managers as they steward their projects to completion. Yet, these can be two of the most challenging aspects of the job. Scopes change. Schedules break down. Key assets can suddenly be removed from play. All of these unforeseen circumstances may demand more time from the team or more budget from the client. How to keep a project on track is a key aspect of project management. Ultimately, it’s up to the project manager to do everything in their power to steer the ship back into safe waters when things go wrong.
Thankfully there are project management tips available to help smooth the choppy waters and keep your projects moving forward correctly. Here are a few of our favorite tips for how to keep a project on track. Any of these, in the right combination, may mean the difference between project success and a project getting torn apart.
Set realistic goals to keep a project on track
Being ambitious is a good quality, and sometimes tight project timelines demand it. But when you can, it’s crucial to balance goals against realistic time frames for completion. Break your overarching goals into smaller, more manageable items and assign reasonable deadlines. This helps you keep better tabs on progress and avoids your team feeling overwhelmed.
You don’t want employees to burn out. You want to make sure people have enough time to complete tasks thoughtfully, instead of feeling rushed. People can’t do their best work consistently when they constantly feel under the gun. Pushing people too hard in order to make the project budget or schedule is a sure way to fail.
The other benefit to keeping a healthy balance between goals and time frames is that in the event you need to push harder at the end to complete the project on time, your team will be primed and ready to go. If you’re driving members hard throughout the project they will be less inclined, and less able to rally near the end. To keep your project on schedule, create realistic plans.
Require deep and consistent communication from your team
When learning how to keep a project on track, it’s important to look at team communication. While your team members are working to complete the project, they’re on the front line, seeing possible problems before anyone else. Rely on their insight and experience, and empower them to speak up. Make sure they understand that a continuous stream of useful information from everyone involved gives the team time to prepare for issues before they become critical.
Consistent, “safe” communication is also excellent for building team rapport, trust, and helps with morale. When team members feel supported and listened to, they’re happier. They work more collaboratively and commit more fully to the project, all of which help assure project success.
A project budget is often flexible and can accommodate changes as long as they aren’t sprung at the last minute. The more your team keeps open and honest lines of communication and understands that team members won’t be penalized for speaking up or be accused of being negative if they point out issues the better prepared the team will be to pivot and work around challenges.
To keep a project on schedule, be fully transparent with scheduling
It’s important as a project manager to know your schedules backward and forwards. You should be able to recite them from memory. However, if you’re the only one with that information, it’s going to be very difficult to keep your project schedule in line.
You need to include your team members as well. They need to be just as familiar with project schedules and intermediate and final deadlines as you are. You need to leverage your team as much as possible. Allow them to keep tabs, not only on their contributions, but also the contributions from the entire team gives them a more holistic view of the project. If a schedule is going to slip, it’s easier to catch it faster with multiple eyes watching.
One of the simplest answers to how to keep a project on track is to use project management software. Monday allows you to intuitively create detailed, flexible schedules that are easy to read and accessible to all team members. They can drill down to specific tasks or look at a birds-eye view of the entire project. It features excellent support for Agile development as well as standard project management models.
Plan everything and prepare for the worst
Risk management is a critical component of project management. Very rarely will project schedules play out precisely as planned. There is an inherent risk at each step. It’s important that project managers quantify these risks. They need to rate the likelihood that things will go wrong, and plan ways to prevent ill effects or mitigate them if they occur. No plan is bulletproof. The more closely you manage possible risks, the better you’ll be prepared when things go off the rails.
Project management software can help here, too. Asana, another customer favorite, has an intuitive risk management module built into its workflow. As project managers create schedules, they have the option to mark components and steps as risky, and then define the level of the risk. Then, inside the project risk management plan, all of the risky stages will be visible. There are also areas to input a prevention plan, a mitigation plan and necessary steps for each risk area.
This formal risk assessment structure helps project managers think their risk management plans out thoroughly, instead of just relying on their memories. As the project proceeds through the schedule, visible risk indicators will show where the risks sit and remind you of your plan to manage them.
On top of mitigating structural risk, project managers need to manage intentional risk. As an example, let’s imagine that a client was unclear on a specific project requirement. Unfortunately, they are now unreachable for questions. Proceeding without clarification would be risky. However, the project schedule will break down if you don’t. The project manager needs to decide which is the more dangerous move, forging ahead and possibly getting something wrong, blowing the project budget, or waiting and perhaps missing a deadline.
How to keep a project on track? Be prepared.
Being prepared for any and every possible eventuality is the best way to answer how to keep your project on track, on schedule, and on budget. Every project management tip eventually reduces down to this fundamental truth.
If you have your team keeping tabs on their contributions, communicating issues quickly and clearly, and you’re making sure they know what’s expected of them, your team becomes a great tool to keep you prepared.
If you’re scheduling realistically, looking for any spots along the path where trouble could creep in. By planning ways to prevent and mitigate these risks, you will be prepared for the worst random chance can throw at you. Being prepared is the best way to plan rock solid project schedules and project budgets that are nearly bust-proof.
Do you have any other tips for how to keep a project on track? Let us know in the comments below!