Seven keys to successful project management

By | 4 minute read | January 10, 2019

After 20-plus years of IT project management for IBM, I’ve thought considerably about what makes the difference between successful and less successful projects. Whether it’s a server migration, software installation or another IT project, the factors that make a successful or troublesome client engagement are fairly consistent, and the project manager plays a critical role in ensuring an effective completion. The success of a project — on time, on budget and to the client’s satisfaction — usually boils down to how well the project manager executes the following seven elements:

  • Kickoff
  • Identifying team players
  • Escalation process
  • Tracking
  • Reporting
  • Meetings
  • Documentation

Let’s break these down.


The kickoff is one of the most important aspects of starting a successful project. When planning a kickoff meeting, the project manager should first engage with the account team that’s already familiar with the client and its business, and then with the project manager from the client organization. As a group, this team can identify the key participants and create a kickoff agenda that sets clear expectations for everyone involved in the project.

Identifying team players

Ideally, the start of the project is the best time to identify all team players. This includes stakeholders, sponsors and core team members.

  • Stakeholders are those who have a major interest in the project succeeding from a business perspective. This group often includes high-level management people who want to understand the value of the project for the overall business.
  • Sponsors are those who initiated the project. They are typically invested in the underlying technology and want to see a specific solution succeed. Sponsors are highly valuable to the project manager because they know the history, the landscape of the business and the political theater.
  • Core team members are the architects, managers and technical people from organizations involved in the project. They serve as technical advisors who can help the project manager find the right resources and address unforeseen technical challenges.

Escalation process

The escalation process, which should be laid out very early on, comes into play when team members aren’t fulfilling their requirements and the project manager needs to escalate the issue. The first step is typically a conversation with the resource. Often, as a project manager, you won’t have the power to make someone do their job, but you can create a process for escalating issues to their first- or second-level reports in the event that a simple conversation doesn’t get the issue resolved.


Tracking is an essential component that, if executed properly, contributes to a successful project delivered on time and on budget. This is the primary way a project manager keeps the project moving, by setting deadlines for each task and checking in with resources ahead of time to make sure they’re on target. I recommend that no task extend longer than five working days; otherwise it should be broken into subtasks.


Project reporting can be broken down into technical reporting and stakeholder reporting.

  • Technical reporting is done with the sponsors and core team members and should recognize achieved, immediate and future milestones. It will give team members a sense of accomplishment as well as clarity on the direction and purpose of the project.
  • Stakeholder reporting should focus on the business results at a higher level. I recommend a system marking each project milestone as either green, yellow or red status to indicate whether it’s on target, facing challenges or missed the mark.

For all reporting, it’s essential that a project manager and all team members be completely honest and take responsibility for any issues the project is facing.


Regularly scheduled meetings are critical for a successful project. I suggest weekly meetings for technical status and monthly meetings for updating executives and stakeholders. Successful meetings rely on thorough and accurate reporting.


Thorough documentation is all about covering your back. If something goes wrong in a client engagement and the project is severely impacted, you need to be able trace back the details through established documents to appropriately assign responsibility. When false accusations or blame-shifting begin, having thorough documentation is of utmost importance.

Make or break

This list is certainly not an exhaustive description of all that’s involved in project management, but these seven components are the ones that I’ve seen make or break the success of a job. Project management is as much an art as it is a science, but these building blocks will help you stay on target to meet the project requirements within budget, on time and to the client’s satisfaction.

If you’d like to read more detail on these keys to successful project management, download the full whitepaper.

IBM Systems Lab Services offers a wealth of experience and proven expertise on IBM Systems solutions. If you’re looking for support on an upcoming IT project, contact us today.

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