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 BUSINESS & FINANCE ⟩ STRATEGY

Follow This Project Management Checklist


for Foolproof Launches
Esther Cohen— September 9, 2019

A project management checklist makes it easy to stay on top of your projects. Learn how to create one
in this guide.

The start of a new project is a time of excitement and anxiety. You have an entire team waiting for your
direction and stakeholders who look to you for results. You’re eager to start, but you also worry
whether you’ve covered all your bases.

This is where a project management checklist comes in handy.

A project management (PM) checklist grounds your PM approach. It offers direction as well as a sanity
check. A well-crafted checklist will not only show what you have to do, but will also show you what you
haven’t done.

I’ll share a detailed project management checklist below. Use it to bring some order to the chaos of
agency projects.

Project Management Checklists vs Methodologies


Most mature project management organizations follow some variation of a project management
methodology. This methodology might be partially self-created, or it might be based entirely off an
established methodology such as IPM (Integrated Project Management).

What a methodology does is give you a detailed guide to running projects. It holds your hand
throughout the project management process, showing managers exactly what to do at what stage of
the project.

If you’re following IPM, for instance, your project would follow this path:
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Checklists are different. They’re not meant to guide you throughout the project. Rather, they’re meant
to stop you from missing crucial steps.

As Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto writes:

“Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are ef cient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most
dif cult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot y a plane. Instead, they provide
reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professional using
them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”

If a methodology is a book, a checklist is two pages of one-line items. They cover only the most critical
and important steps.

Focusing on these critical steps can cut down on mistakes and missteps. If you’ve ever gone halfway
through a project before you remembered a missing deliverable, you need a checklist.

In fact, research from complex, high-skilled elds such as aviation and medicine show that a checklist
can cut down on errors. One study found that when checklists were used in the operating room,
surgical errors dropped from 11% to 7%.

So while your agency should ideally move towards adopting its own project management
methodology, you still need a checklist to complement it.

What Makes a Good Checklist?


All useful checklists have one common quality: brevity. They cover key issues in as few points as
possible. A checklist that runs into several pages is a checklist that isn’t ful lling its purpose.

This brevity forces you to focus on the most important aspects of project management. What
constitutes as “mission-critical” in your projects? What can you absolutely not afford to miss?

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The answer to these questions will reveal a lot about your agency and your approach to project
management. What you choose to include in your checklist acts as a compass of your agency’s
priorities.

Besides the standard items (such as budgeting and resource management), consider including the
following:

Any deliverable that a stakeholder has speci cally requested as a top priority

Steps or processes you’ve missed on more than one project in the past

Processes that have constantly come up as an individual or organizational weakness during


internal evaluations

It’s a good idea to limit checklist items to 15-20 at most. Organize them under headers so they’re not
overwhelming.

For great examples of checklists, see the aviation and medical elds. The aviation eld, in particular,
obsessively follows checklists and offers a good structure to follow.

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An example of a ight checklist (Image source)

With that out of the way, let’s cover some crucial items that should be on every project management
checklist.

10 Steps for a Foolproof Project Management Checklist


As I noted earlier, the actual items you include in your project management checklist will depend on
your priorities as a project manager and as an agency.

That said, there are some items you should include in every checklist, such as:

1. Create a vision document


Whatever you might call it – “vision statement”, “project charter”, etc. – every project needs a clear
vision to tie everything together.

Capture this in the form of a vision document. This should be a wide-ranging document that covers:

The project’s objective and intended impact

The client’s current status in the market and how the project will change it

A broad overview of the tools, technologies, and people you will use to deliver the results

2. Identify and understand stakeholders


Managing a project often boils down to managing stakeholders, especially if you’re doubling up as the
account manager as well. A clear understanding of stakeholders, their needs, and their priorities is
crucial for running a successful project.

In your stakeholder research dossier, cover the following:

Stakeholder type (internal, external, third-party)

Stakeholder priority and in uence on the project

Key deliverables associated with the stakeholder (in terms of approvals)

3. Specify the project’s scope

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Constant change requests, unmonitored scope creep, poor understanding of deliverables – these are
among the top causes of project failure.

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Mitigate this problem by creating a project scope statement. This statement should identify:

The nal deliverables

The criteria for evaluating whether a change request is within scope or out of scope

Your process for dealing with out of scope change requests

The decision-making hierarchy for dealing with scope change issues

Your process for recording and tracking change requests

4. Create a project plan


As we discussed earlier, a project plan is a “plan of all plans”. It covers the broad objectives, vision, and
deliverables associated with the project. And it guides you on creating plans for all other project
activities (such as communication, risk management, etc.).

If you’ve followed the project management checklist above, you already have a clear understanding of
the project scope and vision. Tie these together in a short project plan. This plan should at least cover:

Project scope

Quality standards and their evaluation (i.e. project scope quality)

Resource plan

Milestone schedule
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5. Breakdown the work to be done (WBS)


Your project scope statement tells you what deliverables have to be created by the end of the project.
But it doesn’t tell you the components you’ll need to create these deliverables.

For this, you’ll need a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The WBS shows you all the “work” that must
be done in order to create the nal deliverables.

If the nal deliverable is an e-commerce website, the “work” would include a user management system,
a payment gateway, and a CMS. All of this would be captured in the WBS.

Creating a WBS isn’t mandatory – lots of smaller agencies thrive without using one. But if you’re
dealing with complex projects, consider it a must-have part of your project management checklist.
You’ll not only know how to better map your deliverables, but will also have a better understanding of
your resource requirements and scheduling.

Check out this article to learn more about the WBS and how to use it in your projects.

6. Develop a project budget


It’s a rare project that fails because the agency didn’t have the right skills to nish the job. More often
than not, projects fail because the agency failed to deliver on time or within budget.

Dealing with this second problem requires creating (and sticking to) a project budget.

Budgeting is one of the most important parts of project management so consider this a must-have on
your PM checklist. It’s also one of the toughest parts of your work so make sure that you understand
the project thoroughly before you attempt it.

Your approach should be to go from rough estimates to a nal budget.

Estimate the cost of the project based on the objectives and goals outlined in the vision
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Fine-tune this estimate based on the project scope statement

Estimate the nal cost based on all the components covered in the Work Breakdown Structure
(WBS).

This way, you can achieve a high degree of accuracy.

7. Create a resource plan


In most agencies, you’ll rarely have complete access to all your resources for a project. More often than
not, your resources – people, equipment, software – will be used on multiple projects simultaneously.

To manage effectively, you need to:

Make sure that you have adequate resources for each project

Make sure that resources are distributed ef ciently across all projects

The latter is particularly important when dealing with people. You can’t schedule too many different
types of tasks within a short time frame (you have to consider the task switching penalty). Nor can you
allocate so little time on a project that the resource never truly “gets” the project’s goals.

This is where a resource plan can help. This document lists all your resources, how they are currently
placed, and what how you can better utilize them on the project.

Using a tool like Workamajig can make the process much easier. Workamajig will show you exactly
how much time you’ve allocated for each resource on a daily/weekly/monthly basis at a glance.

8. Create a communication plan


As a project manager, communicating clearly is a core part of your brief. No project can or should
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This communication plan should cover every stakeholder or event you might encounter throughout a
project. It should have separate provisions for identifying stakeholders and their preferences. It should
also cover key events (recurring as well as one-off) you might have during the course of a project, such
as kickoff meetings and progress update meetings.

9. Chart a project timeline


If overshooting the budget is one way to fail a project, falling behind on the schedule is another.

Solve this problem by creating a project timeline, also called a project schedule.

Your project timeline lists:

All the tasks required to create each unit of “work” (refer to the WBS)

The estimated time required to complete all these tasks

The people who will work on each task – refer to the resource plan

You can summarize the timeline in the form of a Gantt chart.

To learn more about creating project timelines, refer to our task management guide.

10. Create a risk management plan


A key resource leaves your company halfway through the project. An important outside contractor
goes bankrupt. A big loss in the client’s companyGuide
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Anything can – and often does – go wrong during a project. Yet, only 26% of project managers adopt
risk management practices. This, in itself, poses a serious risk to any project.

To solve this problem, add a risk management plan to your project management checklist. This plan
should identify all the current and future risks to the project, the likelihood of their occurring, and how
you’ll deal with them.

For instance, your data might show that your agency has a 10% annual attrition rate. This means that
on average, one member of a 10-person team might leave the company during a year long project.

You can factor this threat into your risk management plan and come up with contingencies. Maybe you
can have freelancers on standby, or maybe you can distribute your work in such a way that the project
doesn’t destabilize at an individual’s departure.

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Creating a project management checklist is a great way to make sure that you always start on the right
foot. A well-de ned checklist will help you gure out what you need to do at any stage of the project. It
will also help you catch any serious lapses before they derail the project.

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