The Essential Project Management Best Practices for Digital, by Jenna Koval

Attempting to identify the “Best Practices in Project Management” is no small feat. Often, role and responsibilities change from place to place, project to project, and differ people to people. That said, I’ve learned a better approach to being a trustworthy project manager that can be applied to digital program management strategy.

Project management: a better approach for digital projects

Since Project Management is a gigantic, ever-changing topic, I’ll focus on three classic themes that I encounter most often as a Project Manager for digital programs:

  1. Expectation Management
  2. Communication
  3. The Iron Triangle

1. Managing expectations

Managing expectations of a digital program is possibly the single most important piece of Project Management. Expectation management is how we communicate our process and technology timelines, build trust and ultimately lessen thrash. Digital program expectations are identified, set and potentially re-framed multiple times within a project’s lifecycle.

In practice, I have learned that humans thrive on predictability. So communicating when, how and why things are happening, increases the degree confidence in whomever you are delivering to in t business or IT.

In life, things change all the time. We are constantly competing with Murphy’s Law. Let’s face it, nobody wants to hear that you are delivering a week late, or that the budget is a thousand dollars short. So how do you avoid this? Effectively managing expectations includes: communicating early and often, providing solutions, and always looking at the positive side.

  • First, communicating early and often. Raising the flag internally and informing others is the best way to do this. The single easiest way to mismanage expectations is to not communicate them and surprising people at the last minute.
  • Next, propose a solution. When identifying an issue people want to hear solutions. Whether the solution is eating in to your project padding, or adding in some additional work free of charge, by presenting people with options you are lessening the uncertainty of change.
  • Finally, try to communicate all changes in the most positive light. Remember to be genuine in your delivery, listening to the stakeholder’s feedback. Positive, accommodating and sincere delivery go a long way when communicating changes.

All and all, this is how I like to approach expectation management. Just remember, if all else fails, just be honest and realistic. Sometimes as Project Managers we have to have difficult conversations, and it is in those moments where the true nuance of the role takes center stage.

2. Communication

Communication plays a major role in project management of digital programs. Communicating effectively and your communication style is integral to a digital project’s success and your interpersonal connections’ with people across IT, the business and third parties.

In order to communicate effectively you must understand your audience and the intent of the conversation. By asking yourself, “What is the purpose of the conversation/meeting/etc.?” and “what am I trying to accomplish?”, you will have a better idea of what you are trying to achieve with the interaction. The conversation is then driven by a goal, which creates purpose.

Next, let’s focus on communication style. As Project Managers, we deal with a wide breadth of personalities. In my experience, the best managers are the ones who can identify different personalities and alter their communication styles to accommodate an individual’s needs. In practice this is so much easier said than done. Interpersonal relationships are at the core of successful digital project management, so be aware of how you are communicating with people, and how other people are communicating with each other. Be open to adjusting your communication style, even if it does not seem natural at first.

All of this said, communicating effectively and your communication style play an important role. There is no “right” way to approach communication. Just be true to yourself and be flexible when approaching conversations. In my opinion communication is the most challenging, yet the most critical piece of being a successful digital project manager.

3. The Iron Triangle

In business, there is a concept called the Iron Triangle. This concept addresses the tension and intrinsic connection between Resources, Time and Scope, and their effects on Quality. Let’s first look at each of these items independently and then all together to explain how they are linked to Project Management.

1. Resources — Resources are what it takes to produce the deliverable (i.e., the cost or the man power). Resources are often tangible and necessary to a project.

2. Time — Schedule is in essence the time you believe it will take for your digital team to produce the deliverable.

3. Scope — The scope of a project is comprised of the feature(s) and functionality that is agreed upon as the deliverable. While there is no standard measurement for quality– it is very subjective — know that quality is affected by the way you (the project manager) work with the resources, schedule, and scope of the digital program.

Let’s look at an example

Say you and your team are approaching a deadline, and you know that you are going to be working down to the wire. You do not have enough staff to reach the finish line without working substantial overtime. How do you fix this? You can:

a) ask for more resources,

b) ask for more time, or

c) you can cut scope to complete the deliverable.

So what will give? If you ask for more for resources, you run the risk of the client expecting more in return. If you ask for more time, you run the risk of angering the client in terms of cost (more time = more dollars). And if you ask the client to cut scope, your client might feel as though they are not getting what they initially paid for.

To mitigate this unfortunate situation, you can use expectation management and stellar communication. When I look at the Iron Triangle, I recognize that scope, resources and time will always be dynamic: therefore, the various aspects of the Iron Triangle are good to keep in the back of your mind when you are considering making changes to your project plan to meet the needs of your digital program. As the project manager, you participate in an ongoing negotiation of the three constraints. It is simply a fact of life. Being aware of how the aspects relate to one another is probably the most effective way to “work” the triangle. Knowing the ins-and-outs of your digital project and your team is the best ways to leverage the Iron Triangle to play to your advantage.

All of these core themes — managing expectations, communication, and the Iron Triangle — are HIGHLY interconnected. They are ubiquitous in most digital projects, often occurring simultaneously. Therefore, one could say that negotiating expectations, communicating well, and navigating the Iron Triangle separate the good project managers from great project managers.

Conclusion

I stated when I first started this blog, “Often, roles and responsibilities change from place to place, project to project, and people to people.” Well, that sentiment is still true. I hope that by identifying some key themes that I have either justified your own experiences, or provided you with some useful insights to apply in your digital engagements. Although there are often similarities, each project is as unique as the people contributing to it, and when we truly embrace the unknowns and anticipate a project’s needs we become most effective. I leave you with the words of Peter Drucker (educator, consultant and business visionary), “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

Are there project management best practices that worked well in your digital programs?
 Share a few.

Opinions expressed in this blog are of the author and may not represent Cognizant’s point of view.

Jenna Koval

A born and bred Midwesterner, Jenna grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. She moved to Missoula to attend the University of…

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Originally published at digitally.cognizant.com on August 4, 2016.