Important Steps to Ensure Project Success

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A project manager walking up stairs.When you start out on a brand new project the end can seem an impossibly long way away. However, the very first days are no less important than any other stage along the way.

In fact, the entire project lifecycle is filled with essential steps which you simply can’t afford to miss out. The list below isn’t exhaustive but it does cover some very important areas.

Step 1 – Find Out What It Is All About

I realize that you are unlikely to go into a new project without finding out anything about it. The point I want to make it that it is too easy to not give this step the respect it deserves. The most important part for me is that at the outset of the piece of work you are perfectly entitled to ask basic questions such as, “What does this button do?”, “What does this acronym mean?” and “Who are you?” However, if you let this stage pass you by and then start asking things like this after a few months of the project then the stakeholders are going to lose faith in you pretty quickly, while you start to feel bad about asking such silly things which you should really know the answer to by now.

Step 2 – Get a Team Going

The team you have around you is a vital aspect of the project. You will need a good blend of skills and a lot of enthusiasm in there if you are to make a success of it. You can obviously train team members and get them motivated as it goes on but you need to be sure that you have at least a reasonable starting point to work from. Hopefully you will have the chance to get involved in the recruitment process, as this is when you can make sure that you obtain the team members you really need. The next phase is to get them up to speed and contributing as soon as possible.

Step 3- Get Organized

This is quite a broad heading as it covers an awful lot of things. Getting organized on a new project means pulling many strands together in a short period of time. This can seem daunting at the start but once you get into it is – in my opinion – the most rewarding part of the whole process. This is when you get the chance to create things such as project plans and business cases. It is also when the full purpose of the project should become clear in your head and when you get to clear up any lingering doubts or issues. That’s not to say that after this stage it will be plain sailing but you will feel a lot more in control of the work once you get past it.

Step 4- Stay Focused

For me the biggest challenge can be to keep my focus, especially on a long and tiring piece of work. There are some tricks for doing this and you might want to ask some of the more experienced project managers around you for some advice. Personally, I like to switch tasks on a regular basis and organize some away days to keep my attention on the job at hand. The focus of your team also needs to be a concern of yours and hopefully you can keep them on the right track as well.

Step 5 – Test and Sign Off

Once you get your solution sorted out (I know I skipped a stage or two there but I wanted to spend more time on the ones which are really important and which often cause a problem) you will need to test it. The approach you take will vary depending upon what you are actually testing but it needs to be pretty exhaustive. I enjoy this phase too as I started out as a tester but I understand that some other people get bored to tears by it. Remember to keep all of your results nicely cataloged and easy to access. Finally, the project sign off should be a moment of triumph for you, although a lot of the time it comes simply as a relief. It may be only a few weeks after the successful conclusion of the project that you start to fully appreciate how great a job you just did. Enjoy the feeling of having got through all of the stages and you can then begin to look forward to doing it all over again on something completely different.

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Add Open Body Language to Your Project

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A project manager is standing in front of his team members with open body language.I don’t claim to be an expert on body language, although I do remember being given a course on it a number of years ago. However, I have been in enough meetings and spoken to enough different types of people to have an idea what someone is unconsciously telling me when we are face to face.

Body language which is negative or difficult to interpret can cause a lot of problems in your projects and it is something which you might not even be aware of. The following are a few of the best tips I have come across to help you turn this issue to your advantage instead of it being a problem.

Be Open and Welcoming

If you think about it you probably already know perfectly well when you are giving out an open, welcoming vibe and when you appear negative and hostile to others. This is particularly important in meetings and workshops but it is also a big factor to bear in mind when it comes to any sort of face to face dealings you might have with your stakeholders, your bosses, the business experts and your project team. The classic hostile look of crossed arms and defensive body position is something which you will definitely want to avoid, although it is a pose we can easily slip into without even realizing that we are doing it. There are a number of ways of opening up your body language in a welcoming way which will let others relax and see that you are open about bringing them into the piece of work. If you go online and check for body language tips you will find plenty of step by step guides and photos to help you achieve this quickly and simply.

Show Your Honest Intentions

Another danger with the body language you display on your projects is that you might appear to be attempting to hide the truth. Any body language expert will tell you about some of the nervous hand and eye movements which give away the fact that someone who is telling an untruth. However, if you are simply nervous about running the meeting or about some aspect of the work then you might make this kind of gesture without even being aware of it. While you are looking for details of how to appear to more open and welcoming to the people you deal with you should look at this aspect of body language as well. If you are being completely honest with the people you are dealing with then you won’t want some sort of misunderstanding to make think otherwise. Maintaining good eye contact is a find start here and while this can be difficult for some people to master consistently it is definitely something you need to be able to do at your meetings if you are going to come across as being as honest as you are.

Deal with Cultural Differences

One of the most fascinating parts of modern project work is the fact that it can put us in contact with colleagues and customers from all over the planet. This makes the job even more interesting than it would otherwise be but there is also a potential drawback. This is the fact that body language and hand signals are interpreted differently all over the world, so you could misunderstand people from other cultures and they could misunderstand you as well. The first example I can think of was when I had to talk to an Indian colleague to ask him to do me a favor. As I set about explaining what I needed done he began to shake his head in what I took to be a “no” gesture, which seemed really rude as I hadn’t even asked him to do anything yet.  I almost gave up on him at this point but I kept going and he agreed to do what I asked with no problems at all. It was only later that I discovered that Indians tend to shake their head from side to side when they are listening intently, which doesn’t mean to say that they are giving you a negative answer. When it comes to your own body language, you could easily be misinterpreted by people from other cultures if you do something as simple as make an “ok” sign or hold up a certain number of fingers. If you are going to be dealing with foreigners on your project then it makes sense to do a bit of research on the body language they use in their country.

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