On every project there are a few instances where some great planning, nice preparation, solid experience, and good decision-making can really make a difference. From my experience, those are the key points were we – as project managers – set expectations, guide the team and the project customer, keep tasks and goals aligned, and basically stay on the ‘best practices’ path to ensure proper oversight and information dissemination.

To me, this narrows down to four key activities: When the PM acquires the project, when the project is formally kicked of with the team and customer, during preparation for and execution of customer testing or user acceptance testing (UAT), and when the solution is actually deployed and the project team makes the handoff to support. These are critical times where – if not handled properly – a good project can go bad. It’s not like producing a deliverable document with some typos. If, expectations aren’t set properly at kickoff, the project can really get off on the wrong foot. If UAT isn’t well planned for and executed, the end solution may not be anything close to what the customer wanted. The risks are high during these touchpoints…they need careful attention from the project manager.

Let's examine 4 situations where you can improve and contribute to a successful project.

When the project manager takes on the project assignment.

If your organization is such that account managers close the deal and transfer the project off to the PMs in professional services, then I know what you’re going through and I feel for you. The key is to get as much info as possible from the account manager that worked with the client…learn the quirks and get every piece of information possible. You never know what will end up giving you an edge on the project and what small piece of information can help you define a critical requirement correctly leading to the proper final solution being delivered months later. And it’s very critical at this point that the project manager begin taking all of this information and refining the draft project schedule into something real that he can manage against – and that he begin sharing that schedule with his team (if it exists yet) and management using a collaborative tool like Seavus’ Project Viewer.

Formal project kickoff with the customer.

Likewise, the project kickoff is one of those defining moments where milestones are often set, assumptions are confirmed, and the next stages of the project are scheduled. The experienced project manager doesn’t let this event pass without making a very positive and professional impression on the customer and project sponsor and ensuring that everyone knows he’s in charge and exactly how he intends to run the project. Set expectations at this meeting and then be prepared to meet those expectations throughout the engagement.

Customer testing or UAT.

Most customers are actually fairly ill-prepared to perform testing. Yes, the probably have some end users who will happily participate because it’s in their best interest to do so…this will be part of their job going forward so it’s of great interest to them. But accessing those individuals and planning this out with the customer is likely going to take some effort on the part of the project manager and team. Many customers aren’t really prepared for user acceptance testing (UAT) and have no experience preparing test cases and test plans. Your team can help guide them through the process, but you can’t do it for them – otherwise you’ll have a very biased team – intentionally or unintentionally – preparing all the test cases. Not good. Follow best practices and get the client prepared, but don’t do the work for them….it could come back to haunt you at deployment time.

Solution deployment and handoff to support.

This may seem like a ‘take the money and run’ moment, but it definitely is not. Even if the project has gone poorly and the last customer check has been cut and put in the mail, you still can’t just phone it in. Some of the best referrals and ‘next business’ comes from how you handle the final moments of the project. If the project has gone well and you stumble at the finish line, you may wipe out a whole year of good karma with your customer and lose any chance of recurring business with them or a good referral. Conversly, if it’s gone poorly up to this point, but you stick with it, conduct lessons learned and have those tough discussions and make a smooth handoff to support, you just may show the customer that you’re worth another try. Never burn a bridge just to get a bad project over with.


The bottom line is, as project managers we need to do a lot of things well on our projects in order to be successful. And there are certain ‘key’ activities that happen on nearly every project where we must be in control, plan well, and handle our project, the team and the customer with consistency and authority. These are the four that I consider to be the most critical. I definitely welcome your input from your own project experiences.