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Project management tips for beginners: A simple, effective guide

An interesting distinction exists between ‘job’ and ‘project’. According to marketing expert Seth Godin, the latter is more open, dynamic and less about obligation. In fact, a lot of us have projects totally unrelated to our professional lives. It might be to learn how to cook Thai cuisine, run a 10k, or practice meditation every evening. But many of us do get assigned projects as part of our working lives. If it’s the first time you’ve headed up a team and task, it can feel a little daunting. But with these project management tips for beginners, you’ll be feeling like a natural-born leader and trailblazer in no time!

Before diving into project management tips, what basics do we need to know?

Know the demands on your time

Considering there are so many types of projects you might be working on at a given time, both in your personal and professional lives, leading a project can feel like a balancing act. Before you even start to think about the new project you’ve been assigned, it’s worth really nailing down what else is going to be required of you during the same time period.

You can’t sketch out a realistic timeline and assign duties effectively and fairly if you don’t take into account other responsibilities. So have a detailed calendar (colour-coding can help!) laying out all of your different deadlines, commitments, and activities. That way, you can plan out your project with the rest of your life in mind. It might be really important work, but one of the most vital project management tips is to avoid letting the project take over your life. Similarly, don’t expect that you’ll even be able to allow it to take over your life! Realistically, the rest of the world keeps spinning, and you can’t expect to dedicate months solely to one project.

 

The Triple Constraint

As if juggling different projects weren’t enough, each individual project is its own balancing act. That’s because of an idea known as the Triple Constraint. Essentially, this is a theory that every project is constrained and defined by three factors, creating a triangle of constraints.

Despite the technical name, the theory is very straightforward and intuitive. The three factors making up the Triple Constraint are, unsurprisingly, cost, time and scope. Presumably, in a more figurative and less professional project, the cost might not always be monetary. But as this theory is typically applied in the context of project management tips for professionals, cost is generally understood as the budget allocated to the project and expenses it will create.

According to the triple constraint theory, at least one of the three elements will place a constraint on the project – usually all three. Before putting proverbial pen to paper and making any plans for the project, you’ll need to be very clear on expectations and capacities for all three factors. Know exactly how long you have to deliver on the project, how much money you can spend, and the precise expected outcomes.

 

Every action…

Crucially, a change to any of the factors can trigger a change in another, just as altering a corner of a real triangle would change its overall shape. This, too, seems common sense. If your budget suddenly shrinks, the scope of the project might need rethinking. If the timescale doubles, you might adjust your budget to pay people for longer, to rent meeting spaces and so on.

It makes sense that understanding the triple constraint triangle is a crucial first step in giving project management tips. To efficiently manage any project, you’ll need to keep a close eye on each of these elements throughout.

Planning ahead is also key. As you think about each step of the project, have an idea of what each ‘leg’ of the triangle will look like. How much money will you have three months down the line? What deliverables will you have achieved? Equally, have a Plan B for if things change. For each stage, it’s a good idea to prioritise in case you’re running out of time. Consider how you’d pare back if you’re burning through your budget. How would you use an unexpected windfall if your boss funneled extra funds into the project? As with anything, preparation and vigilance are key elements of project management tips for beginners.

 

The most important tip for project management is communication

Experts consistently agree that good communication is the number one indicator of success. This doubtless isn’t news to you. We’ve been saying for years that strong communication is vital for any endeavour. And with the plethora of affordable communication tools available – and more springing up all the time – there’s no excuse for falling out of touch.

Your team may have members from different areas, both figuratively and geographically. You might need a graphic designer, a copywriter, a financial expert, somebody with IT expertise… The possibilities are endless! Every project has unique demands, but most fuse different specialties. That means your workplaces might be on different floors or even buildings. And with the growing trend towards flexible and remote work, there’s a good chance impromptu catch-ups as the kettle boils won’t be how you stay on the same page.

 

It can be as easy as picking up the phone

Maintaining open channels of communication doesn’t need to be a complex, tech-heavy operation. There are great digital communication services that integrate all kinds of different tools. Basecamp, for example, will create progress charts, group chats, instant messages, message boards and much, much more. Tools like this can be really useful in ensuring good workflow and synchronisation throughout your project. But sometimes, you want something simpler.

That’s where teleconferencing comes in. Conference calls have loads of benefits for businesses. One is ensuring easy, convenient and effective communication is always available. And with WHYPAY?, it really is always available. With reservationless conference calling, you’ll be able to arrange an emergency meeting if there are sudden changes or developments in your project.

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By choosing WHYPAY?, you’ll also avoid cutting into the ‘cost’ corner of your triple constraint triangle. WHYPAY? provides genuinely free conference calls, for which neither hosts nor callers incur any charges whatsoever. Plus, because we make it so easy to schedule conference calls in your calendar software, you can have recurring audio meetings as often as you need. And that’s an important tip for project management: make sure you do have regular updates scheduled throughout!

 

Communication is as much about attitude as tools

Just having good channels of communication doesn’t guarantee people will feel comfortable expressing themselves. From the first moment of the project, you want to create an open and honest atmosphere. Emphasise that everybody should feel able to express their opinions and feelings. And – crucially – deliver! It’s not enough to just say it. You should be listening to everything every team member says, and genuinely considering every idea.

That doesn’t mean trying out every kooky or unrealistic suggestion that might be made. It means not writing something off straight off the cuff. Consider it seriously, and talk through the realities of implementing it with the team or the person who suggested it. It might seem obvious to you why an idea can’t work, but if it were obvious to them they wouldn’t suggest it. Dismissing it out of hand will make them feel small and silly. This can foster ill-will and resentment, which are not conducive to productivity. Worse still, you’re passing up a vital teaching opportunity, which is a cardinal sin for any leader. If you don’t explain why that idea wouldn’t work, how can they understand what will work?

Likewise, you owe your team honesty in return. Be transparent about your expectations, about the timeline, how demanding the project will be and so on. You need to be equally able to praise and reprimand. That way, people will know exactly what works, and what they shouldn’t be doing.

 

Learn how to read people to make sure the other tips for project management are achieving their goals

A huge part of communication is actually unspoken. In fact, the figure has been put as high as 93% by psychologists. That means just 7% of what we say is conveyed through our words!

Genuine camaraderie and support are vital to the success of any venture. People need to be willing to share the workload, lend a hand, and voice their opinions. So if somebody is feeling uncomfortable, isolated, confused, exhausted, or unfairly treated, you need to be able to spot it straight away. If there’s tension between team members, they likely won’t want to tell you about it. You have to be able to pick up on signals that they’re passing without words – without even realising it.

There’s no magic solution or snazzy digital tool for this unfortunately. Part of this might just be reading up on what our body language means. If you’re opting to integrate audio meetings into your schedule, you won’t even have this to go off sometimes, so you should also check out our guide to vocal cues so that you can really understand if the rest of the project management tips are working.

 

 

Make sure your team supports you

The previous step is a crucial part of this tip for project management. If you don’t know what’s going on in their heads, you won’t know if they really support you. Worse still, you won’t know if they’re feeling happy and productive. And no project can achieve its full potential if the team doesn’t mesh well.

Having the rest of the group united in their distaste for the leader can be particularly difficult. Show how much you value each team member from the get-go. As we mentioned, they all bring something different to the table, and the whole thing could come crashing down if you lose anybody. It might seem a bit out of place in a list of tips for project management, but kindness really is golden.

So prioritise their needs as well as the project’s. Consider them and their other responsibilities when drawing up your schedule. This is where a flexible approach to work can come in. If it’s possible, it can be a good idea to allow some work to be done remotely, and at times that suit each individual – particularly tasks that are largely done individually. You can supplement this solo work with meetings (whether you meet in person or on the phone). And while managing remote staff brings its own challenges, we have advice for that as well as tips for project management!

One small but significant step you can take is choosing your tools wisely. Things like not opting for a conference call provider which uses premium-rate numbers can make a big difference. Otherwise, you’re expecting your team to pay for the privilege of participating in its own meetings. If you want your team to know you value their time and money, hold your meetings with a conference call bridge like WHYPAY?.

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If you’re reading project management tips, you know you aren’t infallible and all-knowing

So don’t try to appear that way! This is another important part of gaining your team’s support. While leadership and confidence go hand in hand, and you want to command your team’s respect, you don’t want to come across as arrogant. There’s no need to create the impression that you know everything, even if you only want to reassure them.

From the first meeting, you should be asking them questions. As we’ve said, most project teams are made up of people from different specialties. Every person around the table will know something you don’t. Asking them about it shows that everybody is there to learn, it shows you value their expertise, and it tells them you don’t think you’re better than the rest of the team. Being able to acknowledge and address the gaps in your knowledge is a huge tip for project management and an important leadership trait.

Likewise, be open to taking suggestions and feedback from the rest of the team. If somebody corrects or criticises you, don’t just flare up in rage or try to remind them of their ‘place’. Instead, engage in open and productive conversation, and thank them for their feedback – whether you agree with it or not. Otherwise, the efforts you made to create an open and honest atmosphere will be wasted.

 

A simple tip for project management is to write everything down

This can either sound like a pointless waste of time, or exasperatingly obvious. But it’s actually really important. There’s no point having regular, productive meetings in which lots of progress is made and ideas shared if you then forget it all! Writing things down means you’ll have a record to look back on if you encounter the same problem twice. You don’t want to have to spend time figuring out the solution all over again. It also avoids arguments about whose job a task was. And it’s a great way of tracking progress.

Again, technology can lend a hand. Even something as simple as teleconferencing can help. After all, WHYPAY?’s free conference call recording makes taking meeting minutes easy. By recording the call, you’ll be much more present and attentive during the meeting, and then you can listen back and make notes of what was covered. You can even download the recording to have the full meeting if any doubts arise!

And keep all your early versions of documents. Every time you make a change, you can save it as a new document. This means if disaster strikes, you have lots of back up versions. If somebody changes their mind, you won’t have to start from scratch. And it can be a useful insight into how the project progressed and developed.

 

Project management tips outlast the project – write your post-mortem!

The project finishing doesn’t mean its management has. After everything’s been finalised and delivered, sit down and write up a detailed and honest report. Ask for feedback from the rest of the team and the people the project was for before starting, too. Find out what leadership skills the people you were leading think you had, and what you need to work on. Again, make sure you’re receptive to constructive criticism as well as praise!

Of course, it’s definitely not all about you. Think back over the whole project, particularly any high or low points. Were there moments of panic and disaster? What were some big breakthroughs? Did unexpected challenges arise? Was there a simple but powerful tool which made the whole process easier? Did one just waste time and cause confusion?

This is a really important tip for project management, as for all aspects of life. They say hindsight is 20/20 for a reason: looking backwards is a great vantage point for seeing the bigger picture, and connecting events with results. You’ll be able to connect dots that before seemed unrelated. And with added knowledge and distance, you’ll be better equipped to see what worked and what didn’t. Your future projects will gain tremendously from that.

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