There are lots of ways to think about your project plan. You could think of it is a compass that will point you in the right direction. Or that it is a living creature that will grow and change (although hopefully not too much).

In fact, you could also think of it as a set of promises. When it comes to delivering the project you have to make those promises a reality (while moving in the right direction and nurturing an evolving organism).

As management guru Peter Drucker once said: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

In other words, the only way it will happen is by progressing each task. Then, before you know it, you’ve delivered what you said you would.

If you’ve planned your project effectively, you should see the benefits when you start to deliver the project. However, if you’ve not ticked the right boxes at the start of the process, for example, if you’ve not included someone important in the planning stage or have not considered something crucial before the project progresses… well, you should brace yourself for some trouble ahead.

Monitor the progress

Make sure you are on top of your tasks and, if other people have tasks, check with them regularly to make sure they are on track. Pay attention to your milestones, such as the completion of a phase or deliverable.

If you or other team members are encountering problems, make sure you address them as soon as possible to minimise any delays.

Report on the status

Whether weekly or monthly, you may need to report on progress to key stakeholders – such as your boss.

You should only be reporting on the highlights – the top level deliverables or milestones. A colour-based system can help:

green for ‘everything is great and we are on schedule’,

amber as a warning (but stakeholders don’t need to panic – the projects team is dealing with it)

red for there is a problem and you need help from the wider stakeholders to resolve the issue.

Deal with any changes

With the best will in the world, changes are inevitable. Even if you’ve done everything right when planning, you may encounter unforeseen problems or spot opportunities – and responding to these will have an impact on your project.

You may need to draft in more people to help, reduce what your project will deliver or you may have to accept that the project will run late. Crucially, you should let your key stakeholders know and get their approval.

There may be occasions when a need for a number of changes hit you at the one time. In an ideal world, you would deal with all of them as soon as possible. But that isn’t always possible. The trick here is taking a step back and prioritizing. To help you make the right decisions, consider focusing your time on what’s most important in terms of lasting impact and urgency.

Complete the project

Once the last task is complete, and you’ve delivered everything that is expected, then the project is complete. Remember to congratulate yourself and the team on the big achievement. You’d be forgiven for popping a bottle of bubbly. But spraying the team with that bottle like you’ve won a Grand Prix probably won’t be forgiven.

A simpler and easier approach to project management

The above information is just one step in a six-step process that makes managing projects from start to finish simpler and easier.

The Six Step Guide to Practical Project Management strips back professional project management processes to the absolute basics without sacrificing the vital ingredients for a successful project – to hit your deadlines, stay in cost and deliver big benefits to your organisation (and career).