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Goals may be a wonderful thing for some people, but in my experience, New Year’s resolutions and goals are often forgotten soon after the hoopla fades. What is far more effective is to enact project management system that are designed to improve your project success.

For example, if your goal is to lose weight, use smaller plates and put the leftovers away before you eat – to reduce the likelihood that you go back for seconds, or snack while you are cleaning up. If you want to write, set up a regular time and a place to do so. It may be mornings in a coffee shop or evenings in your home office. But stick to the system.


What’s more effective than New Years Goals? Enacting systems that are designed to improve your project success. Click To Tweet

Much has been written about smart goals – and the various arrangements of acronyms for creating them. My wish is that you move from focusing on goals to creating a project management system that works. Here is my “smart” system:

S – Start

M – Map

A – Agendas

R – Reliability

T – Teamwork

Start your projects wisely.

I can predict project success early. When the sponsor is disengaged, the vision lacks inspiration, success isn’t defined, and no one understands what the activities entail, the team is headed for the rocks.

Seasoned project managers announce a new project with a charter, and then go a step further – to fully define the project – because it improves project success.

Have you thought about all of these questions?

  • Do you have a compelling vision statement and team buy-in?
  • Is your project aligned with the corporate strategy?
  • Do you know what management, or your client thinks is most important: scope, schedule, costs, risks, or quality?
  • Do you understand how to keep your sponsor engaged?
  • Have you documented the success and failure criteria?
  • Are your success criteria measurable?
  • Have you determined both your scope inclusions and exclusions?
  • Do you understand the long-term benefits from doing this project and have a plan for measuring those benefits?

Do you have a system for starting your projects, so that you consider these questions? If not, you may want to check out this blog.

Create a project map.

Regardless of what you know about your project in the early days, you can create a map of where you want to go and how to get there. I like the analogy of thinking about a project like a trip. You may begin with a very vague definition of where you want to go, but as you plan, you learn more about where you are going and how you are going to get there.

For some trips (and projects) you may want to understand the entire journey before you depart. In others, you may want to get on the road and figure it out as you go. But the map is still there to guide you.

Part of your system is what that map looks like. It won’t look like a geography map. Will you use a mind-mapping tool, a classic work breakdown structure (looks like an org chart), or Trello cards? A picture is worth a thousand words, but I think the key is to have a system that allows you to attach more details to each part of the picture, as you learn those details.  

Standardize the agendas for standing meetings and checkpoint meetings.

One way to ensure that systems are followed is to standardize the meeting agendas for two very important kinds of meetings.

Standing meetings

Depending on the project and the speed with which you need to move, you may choose to do a standing meeting every day or just twice a week. Standing meetings are very short meetings, where three questions are answered:

  • What have you accomplished since the last meeting?
  • What do you plan to accomplish next?
  • And, what problems have arisen?

Standing meetings are not a time for discussing how to solve the problems that have arisen. That’s not to say that teams can’t make exceptions when the problem involves the entire team, but you run the risk that the meetings will soon grow longer, and people will begin to resist them.

Checkpoint meetings

I use this term in my Smart Projex software. Checkpoint meetings are a time when teams gather to assess accomplishments and attend to a number of project management needs.

I typically recommend that teams work in two-week sprints and bookend their sprints with a checkpoint meeting. Two weeks is sufficient time to accomplish some level of meaningful work. Depending on your situation, you may choose to invite your client to these meetings. If not, I would encourage you to send some kind of client update at the end of the meeting.

During these meetings, you should do seven things:

  • Review your end game – the what and why.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments during the recent sprint.
  • Identify and document the lessons that were learned.
  • Review what it’s costing the client.
  • Solve any new problems or designate someone to do so.
  • Identify and analyze the project risks.
  • Plan the work for the next sprint.

Stick to the process – be reliable.

Reliability doesn’t seem hard and yet, more and more, I see people who are unreliable. I read a post on LinkedIn recently that said job applicants are failing to show up for interviews. Who the heck doesn’t show up for a job interview?

Adjectives about the way we are supposed to behave don’t really sound like part of a system, so here are my rules of reliability.

  • Show up for meetings on time, and then, start and end on time.
  • Follow your agendas. Don’t skip steps like focusing on risks, and identifying lessons learned.
  • Schedule time on your calendar to solve problems.
  • Don’t cancel meetings without cause. It’s an easy thing to do but can quickly become a habit.
  • Finish assigned activities that will move your project forward.
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate.
  • Respond to the communications you receive. Face-to-face is better for difficult conversations.
  • Be present. Whether you are in meetings, one-on-ones, or working at your desk, focus on the task at hand, and don’t let technology get in the way.

Your communication system will depend on what tools you’re using to manage projects, and how much additional communication is needed. But, it’s typically more than you think.

Build better teams and re-use them on future projects.

Again, the question here is how to turn this from a goal into a system that works. Here are some ideas.

Think about your teams as groups that will stay together. They may be cross-functional teams with subject matter experts who are not working full-time on any one project. You can still change the way you think about teams. Set up a system with senior management so that strong teams are re-used on future projects.

Use standing meetings to build a culture that encourages early disclosure of problems and recognizes small accomplishments.

Use checkpoint meetings to give a public shout out to those who have recently accomplished big activities. Project managers should approach those meetings as a chance to coach teams on bringing better fiscal stewardship to a project, finding clarity on better ways of approaching the work, and agreeing on critical deadlines.

Designate milestones (you can call them whatever you choose) so you know when to celebrate success. Decide on how you will celebrate each success and plan early.

A smart project management system will help you move from aspiring to be better to actually being better. If you need help getting started, let me know.