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How to Lead a Successful Project: 9 Best Practices

Excellence in project management is like the glue that binds the pages of a book. Utilizing proven best practices to lead a project team will help keep key components from fluttering off in the wind.

At Boost Midwest, clients see their project meet its objectives and goals when we leverage these 9 best practices and similar strategic solutions:

1. Define the project life cycle and milestones.

A successful project begins with defined and mapped phases, deliverables, key milestones and sufficiency criteria for each team involved. How these are defined depends, in large part, on the project itself. A huge benefit of establishing these first is then all teams are working from the same set of expectations and goals, leading to consistent processes and methodologies.

2. Have stable requirements and scope in place.

Documenting your project’s requirements, objectives and scope contributes to everyone knowing their piece of the project. This can and should happen early in the life cycle of the project. For a common understanding among stakeholders of what the project requires and its overall scope, include answers to these questions:

  • What actions does the project require?

  • What product/service, system or result will be produced?

  • What are the goals and benefits?

  • What are the deliverables?

  • What are the performance standards?

  • How will success be measured?

  • How will the quality and completeness of deliverables be determined?

  • What are the constraints that may impact the project?

  • Are there any cost, time or performance limits, and what are the project’s priorities?

  • What are the risks to be aware of, and will they arise from the project or the product?

3. Define the project’s organization, system and roles.

What is the role of the project manager, functional managers and team members? A successful project will have each specific role, tasks and deliverables identified and defined, so everyone knows what they are accountable for and to whom.

  • The functional manager provides functional policy, procedural guidance and the right personnel, and maintains technical excellence. In other words, the functional manager is behind the “how” and the “who” of the project.

  • The project manager plans, organizes, staffs, evaluates, directs, controls, and leads the project from start to finish. So, the project manager is responsible for the “what” and “when” of the project.

  • The project team members contribute to the project’s objectives, complete deliverables, provide expertise, help establish and meet the project’s needs and document processes.

Along with leadership and people skills, leading a successful project includes implementing an excellent communication system and involving your team members, along with maintaining any and all reporting requirements outlined in the project.

4. Remember quality control.

Keeping tabs on quality during a project’s life cycle is often overlooked but ultimately important to the success of the project. Identify the standards and criteria for each phase of the project, for both the product and the process. When leading a project, “quality” means making and meeting agreed-to commitments, while also looking for any improvements that may be possible.

5. Plan the project commitments.

Plans should be based on the capability, capacity and resources of the company and people involved, not on an ideal that isn’t grounded in reality. Plans are more than schedules because they address all nine elements of best practices in project management. Planned commitments include:

  • Planning the project.

  • Scheduling the project.

  • Allocating resources and staffing.

  • Budgeting.

6. Track and analyze.

An efficient approach for handling exceptions in the project is to have a specific exception process in place. Then, any deviations from the project plans can be reported and resolved. Successfully leading a project means regularly compiling reports and holding regular team meetings to identify if and when objectives, deliverables or quality may not meet their targets. With an exception process, schedule slips, cost overruns, open issues, new risks and identified problems can and should be dealt sooner rather than later.

7. Make corrective action decisions.

Without a clear procedure, corrective action can have many outcomes, and not all may be in line with your company’s overall objectives. Sometimes tradeoffs must be made. Should the project costs increase to save time? Should the scope be smaller to save time? Even the project’s performance objective can be changed, although this can cause a ripple effect in other areas. A successful project leadership will know how to manage any necessary tradeoffs while still maintaining a pathway to successfully complete the project.

8. Take charge of escalation and issues.

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. Therefore, problems are often not reported in time to most effectively and efficiently address them. Having an escalation procedure in place is key to catching issues before they prove disastrous to the project cost or schedule. Documenting the “when” and “how” in an escalation procedure will make team members less likely to sit on any problems that arise.

9. Create a change control system.

Late changes in projects can disrupt schedules, raise costs, affect quality and cause re-work to be performed. Like an escalation procedure, having a formal system of change control and management in place can help avoid or mitigate negative outcomes from late changes. “Changes caused by scope creep must be resisted, and change control is needed to prevent these problems,” warns Project Management Institute, a nonprofit association for professional project management. So, establishing control over how work is authorized and how changes are approved plays an important part in leading a successful project.

At Boost Midwest, we believe it takes specific tools and knowledge for outstanding project management. Read why we believe in using a project manager here. (


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