I’m this close to earning my project management professional certification. After months of study and 11 grueling tests, there’s just a final review standing between me and PMP status. So yeah, project management best practices are pretty much seared into my brain for good.

I’m going to spare you the hundred-page readings and lost shut-eye. Here are the steps I’ve learned to guarantee project management success.

• Define your project’s scope. Meet with clients to get a crystal-clear understanding of what the project should accomplish. Consider presenting a project histogram, with data pulled from similar, previous projects, to show down to the minute how your team’s time will be spent.

• Determine available resources. For Atomic, this means meeting with developers and designers, and getting clarification from our sales team on budget specs.

• Check your timeline. Our target duration for web design projects is 13 weeks. But sometimes clients need sites sooner. That may mean asking developers to work weekends. Give your team the heads-up as soon as possible, and adjust the schedule accordingly.

• Summon your team. For us, that’s a designer, a developer, and an SEO lead. Talk about expectations for the project, and decide who’s responsible for what. Address any concerns team members might have.

• Make a checklist. Here, you’ll rely on your team’s expertise. Divide the project into “programs” (design, development, SEO), and create a detailed list of what needs to happen at each stage.

• Develop a plan. Now that you know everything that needs to get done, who, and how they’ll do it, it’s time to get planning. (We like to use Basecamp for this.) Establish milestones for accomplishing big tasks. Give clients an idea of what to expect when—and if increased budget or time will be needed.

These steps will give you a solid starting plan. Now you have to actually stick to it. A few tips to aid you in your quest:

• Know that things will go wrong. Your project plan is your guide—but it’s okay to stray from it when hiccups happen. Just keep your project’s overall scope and resources in sight.

• Document everything. I mean everything. If you stray in the slightest from your master plan, write down what changed and why. This will help you convey time and budget changes to clients—and help you plan better for future work.

• Keep everybody in the loop. Monitor your team from beginning to end. And keep team members informed of the latest—successes and problems. Make sure everyone knows what everyone else is working on, so you can celebrate together when you’re all finished.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be on your way to project management success. You can take my word for it.

Got a beast of a project to take on? Never fear—Atomic’s project managers will see you through.

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