What makes a perfect project? Ask any project manager and they will all have conflicting answers. Some may quote cost-effectiveness, others may say delivery before the deadline and some may say planning. But do we really have a scale to measure how perfect a project is?

As project managers, we idealize the completion of masterpieces that signify our capabilities as leaders, innovators, motivators, and go-getters. We dream of raising the quality of any assigned project to perfection by making it state-of-the-art, completing ahead of schedule and in the most cost-effective manner.

While in reality, we find ourselves juggling factors like time, cost, quality, risk and stakeholder management to provide the best solution that we can. And this is tough to say but in project management ‘the best in current circumstances’ will usually be what you can expect. We’re not saying to set the bar low but it is important to understand the costs associated with perfection.

The Cost of Perfection:

While starting something new, the sky is the limit and we may end up aspiring for the picture perfect outcome. However, as project managers, we need to realize that while being ambitious is good, the relentless pursuit of perfection can lead to several problems. It causes delayed completion and excessive consumption of resources leading to an inevitable and avoidable increase in project cost. And that has inefficiency written all over it.

Guidelines To Manage Projects Efficiently:

Clients want projects delivered on time but they also do not wish to compromise on quality. So, how can we strike a balance between perfection and underachievement? Well, we present to you project management guidelines that will help you manage projects in the best possible manner while maintaining a balance among quality, time and cost:

Set Realistic Expectations:

As a project manager, it is your duty to thoroughly discuss the project with your client and come up with realistic objectives that can be mutually agreed upon. This is important as these objectives will generate expectations in clients as well as your team with respect to the project outcome and an ambitious goal can lead to disappointment for clients and demotivation among the project team. Here’s how you can set realistic expectations:

Set SMART Objectives:

Here, a good tip is to use the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound) approach to developing objectives. While deciding on all project objectives you need to ask yourself whether they contain all the elements of the SMART approach. This way you will end up with achievable objectives that will bind you to specific deadlines thus providing you with a framework for achieving milestones and evaluating performance. Another method is to break tasks down into small chunks and use time tracking to achieve small goals.

Use Work Breakdown Structure:

You should also compile a detailed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) containing all the tasks to complete, the people responsible and the time frame to do them in. This will allow you to identify exactly how much is done and what is pending.

Understand Project Trade-Offs:

For any project, our focus always remains on three key factors which are project time, cost and quality known as the ‘project management triangle‘. A Utopian scenario would be one in which these factors remain consistent, however, this is seldom the case and you will need to conduct several trade-offs between these factors along the way. Projects usually end up having to accommodate scope creeps as quality is the last thing you want to compromise on. Hence, here you may want to trade cost in for the time and request the client for additional budget to recruit more staff. If your client is adamant on the pre-decided budget; you would need to trade in quality. Here you should do as much as you can and communicate the same to your client. Hence, we see that trade-offs in quality are characteristic to projects.

Embrace Agile Project Management:

Agile project management will allow you to keep a finger on the pulse when it comes to project progress. In principle, agile management entails that project management teams should be tightly integrated via continuous communication and the project should comprise short-term deliverables. It also encourages daily or weekly meetings to discuss progress as well as dependencies. Any unearthed hurdles should be dealt with promptly and should be communicated to the clients to discuss the way forward.

By using agile management you will be able to transform your team into a dynamically functioning system. The key to making agile management work for you is to make quick decisions. Don’t wait for performance lags to become too obvious, deal with them as soon as you identify them. You may need to incorporate those hard to avoid scope creeps and will eventually need to increase your workforce to ensure timely delivery. Hence, holding regular meetings with your team as well as clients will enable all stakeholders to remain on the same page when it comes to project expectations.

Combine The 100% Rule And Pareto Principle:

The 100% rule states that all the tasks in the Work Breakdown Structure need to be accomplished in order to attain the desired project outcome. Whereas, according to the Pareto Principle; 20% of a project’s input is responsible for 80% of its results. In other words, there exist tasks in your project’s Work Breakdown Structure that is 20% of the total work but contribute to 80% of the project value. This principle finds its highest appeal in the optimum allocation of resources as well as time.

Now, to equip yourself with the best of both worlds and deliver the best that you possibly can, you should use a combined approach. While devising the Work Breakdown Structure you should incorporate all the tasks that the project requires. However, when it comes to allocation of resources you should use the Pareto Principle. Moreover, it is recommended that you place the most importance on the completion of the key 20% tasks so that if the going gets rough you are at least able to prioritize the most essential of a project. A word of caution here is that the Pareto Principle does not state that it is okay to take the remaining 80% tasks lightly; rather it merely gives you a way to prioritize your efforts.

Treat Clients Like Partners:

A great way to manage projects is to treat your clients as partners. You can begin by ensuring that you and your clients have the same expectations from a project and understand the associated risks. Then you can regularly update them on project progress. Inform them if you need to make a trade-off between quality, time or cost and let them decide. However, remember that as the domain expert it is your job to act as a tastemaker by guiding them with regards to what’s recommended. This will allow you to make collective decisions and there will be no surprises at the end of the project.

Perfectionism may seem like an ideal approach, however, it is simply impossible when we take real-life situations into account. Therefore, you can use the mentioned guidelines to manage your projects in such a way that you, your client and your team are proud of the outcome achieved, thus, establishing an alternative sense of attaining perfection in project management.

Andrea Bell


Andrea Bell is a blogger by choice.  She loves to discover the world around her. She likes to share her discoveries, experiences and express herself through her blogs. Find her on Twitter:@IM_AndreaBell

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