Even when you prepare your projects down to the minute and cost every task, something unexpected pops up and leaves you pulling your hair out. That’s why starting out with a flexibility matrix for project management is crucial in riding the wave of hiccups and interruptions that are part and parcel of any business venture.
Flexible project management requires effort in a number of areas, which we’re going to cover in our seven keys to succeed. We’ll look at the structural strategies that act as a framework, and go into detail on the cultural shifts that allow teams to embrace flexibility in their tasks.
You can't be flexible if your team is rigid and there are a plethora of ways this manifests itself in.
The first port of call here is on your team's capabilities. While your dream team would probably include experts in every area, most teams don't actually need that. Sure, you need to demonstrate expertise in your industry, but in supporting roles you can go more general.
Hiring staff that can wear many hats is an essential element of flexible project management as it gives you freedom in your scheduling. With multiple people able to do the same job, you don't have to shape everything around one person's availability. You can react faster too. For most unexpected hiccups, it's your big-picture team members, not your specialists, that you want in the crisis room.
Therefore, when building your team, consider whether it is absolutely necessary to get that legendary social media strategist on board, or if an all-round marketing profile might be able to cover many bases to a satisfactory level.
Away from the hard skills, strong qualities such as responsibility and accountability allow you as a manager to leave tasks to others and focus your attention elsewhere. Delegation is a key part of agile project management, and you want members of your team that can turn on leadership mode when called upon.
Some people are natural team players, but you can also make an active effort to foster strong connections with team building activities. When every individual is invested in the team as a whole, you can rely on them supporting each other and putting in that extra effort to keep your project on track.
Once you’ve got your team together, flexible project management needs the right software to bind everybody together. It allows you to tweak your approach to client demands, work from multiple locations, and quickly launch responses to unexpected challenges.
Your cloud-based headquarters will be agile project management software, where you lay your plans and keep your records on a team-wide Kanban board or Gantt chart. You can get some serious detail down in every task card that a verbal outline just can't handle. Rather than spraying out loose instructions across a bunch of email threads, you can detail every step of the task with deadlines and resources all in one place where everyone involved can see it at a glance. This helps to clear up all the mess of misheard instructions or siloed working.
While this strict approach sounds rigid and uncompromising, being methodical about your tasks is an excellent technique for flexible project management as it sets a solid, predictable foundation that cuts out wasted time and frees up your team's headspace. But what really makes modern project management tools a secret weapon in your arsenal is the stream of task-based conversation that pings a notification to all interested parties for every update. Now there's no need to call a meeting or send a mass email; you can change direction quickly and get instant confirmation that your team understands their new instructions clearly.
With project management software as your platform, you can enhance the quality of your work with other interconnected tools, like shared collaborative documents, a project intranet, and a range of communication channels. Although agreeing on a communication policy is ideal for efficiency, having the option to react and adapt at a moment's notice is a real luxury of flexibility in project management. For example, if you have an urgent update for your client but they're not answering their phone — send them an instant message that they can quickly read at a glance. And if you can't make that meeting in person, join by video call from your smartphone.
Equipping yourself with tools is one thing, but it's only half the battle. Without a strategic approach to project planning, you're likely to crumble as soon as you run into issues. Anyone who has reached deadline day only to realize they have overpromised on their timings will be more than aware of the importance of flexible project management.
Just as you give yourself a little extra time at the airport, (unless you like living dangerously) you should overestimate the time your projects will take. We don't mean adding on a few extra months and never securing another contract. It's all about promising what you can actually deliver and saving your clients from deadlines creeping away.
In practice, this simply means not filling your team workflows to the minute. You'll always need extra time to answer questions, clarify instructions, deal with sickness, and resolve conflicts, so leave a little free time each week to absorb issues as they arise without them putting your project into peril. And hey, if everything's going to plan, you can use this free time to work on a little added value for your clients.
Paradoxically, any flexibility matrix for project management needs to be rigid in certain areas. Nowhere is that more true than in risk management.
By taking a methodical, pedantic approach to your risk management, you're able to roll with the punches without too much stress. Start off by getting together with your team and your client to explore potential issues that could go wrong and categorize them in the following risk management responses:
Don’t tempt fate: some tasks are better left out. When there is a high risk and low reward, remove it from your workflow.
If you can’t avoid a high-risk task, find ways to reduce the danger. This could be sourcing more reliable providers, or creating contingency workflows to launch at the click of a button.
With big projects, you can’t be an expert in everything. In these cases, it’s best to transfer responsibility to an external collaborator who can guarantee success.
The opposite of elements you should avoid, there are risks you can accept because it is not worth investing resources in reducing that risk.
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When communication breaks down, projects fail. Therefore, a major part of flexible project management is creating a relationship of transparency and trust with your client. Take time at the start of each project to get a deep understanding of their expectations and goals, and create an environment of open, two-way communication as your project progresses.
In practice, this means laying out a communication plan at the start of your project. Offer your clients a series of video meetings for updates and suggestions, as well as a phone number or instant messenger option for emergencies. This kind of communication allows you to address and resolve any issues early, rather than letting problems grow until they become unmanageable.
Looking to the future, this kind of flexibility in project management creates long-lasting professional relationships. As a result, you’re more likely to get repeat business and a reputation for flexibility in your work.
As you’ve got the right software, you can make regular team meetings part of your flexible project management strategy, no matter your working structure. Without having to be in the office, everyone involved can receive notifications in advance and even join by video call while they’re out of the office.
Stand-up meetings are at the core of agile project management, and they’re a great habit to get into. The concept is simple: a daily meeting of no more than ten minutes, where each team member gives a quick update of their own progress, and draws attention to any roadblocks. As a manager, this gives you a real-time understanding of how your project is going, and allows you to be agile in how you react to difficulties.
You can enhance flexible project management with longer, more in-depth meetings to mark milestones, or “sprints”, for the more agile-minded leaders. By compiling a set of tasks into a sprint, you can focus all your energy on the tasks at hand, before signing off on them and moving onto the next sprint. Pin these meetings to your team calendar on a recurring basis at the start of your project so it’s one thing off your mind that all your stakeholders can incorporate in their routines.
This small effort in the short term means you avoid wasting time and resources further down the line by redoing entire chunks of your project. It’s a great motivator too. Checking off each sprint is a great excuse for a mini celebration to boost your team’s morale.
Your projects don’t exist in a vacuum, and to see progress in your organization, you need to assess and reflect on your projects. With the right project management software, you can assess team and individual performance. This requires very little effort: all your data is saved automatically and you can draw out customizable reports for post-project analysis.
A key element of analytics lies with time management. By setting achievable deadlines for each task and looking back at whether they were reached or not, you can either adjust the expected time for tasks, or address the underlying problems of inefficiencies. With a focus on constant improvement, every project should become more predictable, more efficient, and more flexible.
But analytics isn’t just a task for the end of your project. Stand-up meetings are a great opportunity to identify problems in your workflows and make adjustments as you go. Rather than creating an exhaustive list that contributes to a huge amount of work at the end of your project, we’d recommend making changes directly into your project templates. This way, the issues are fresh in your mind and your future workflows will be ready and waiting for your next project.
As you can see, flexible project management is at its best when it combines great leadership, agile strategies, and tech solutions to optimize your working practices.
Unfortunately, we can't give you the skills to be a world-class project manager overnight, but we can give you all the tools you'll need all on one platform.
Bitrix24 gives you total flexibility through a project management mothership with native integrations to communication channels, cloud storage and documents, personnel organization, and much more.
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