The complete guide to managing projects right (and building employee engagement)

There is a clear correlation between good project management and employee engagement. This insight came to us after years of observation while working as consultants on digital projects.

We found that well-managed projects energised and motivated employees, leading to increased engagement, better teamwork and increased positivity about the project’s success.

In our opinion, the key to completing a project successfully is not just blind adherence to processes and policies but the ability to bring together and nurture a team whose members really enjoy what they do, and who the organisation equips with the vision and resources to efficiently complete the job at hand.

There is a clear correlation between good project management and employee engagement.

Success is linked to employee engagement, says research

High employee engagement leads to higher levels of performance and job satisfaction, improved attitudes towards customers, increased faith by individual team members in the team’s collective competence, and greater commitment towards the organisation – all of which contributes to the success of projects and organisations, according to both academic studies and industry research.

Conversely, the lack of employee engagement hurts a company’s overall financial performance, organisational culture and growth.All this emphasises what industry experts have been saying for years: Organisations must steadily and consistently work towards building employee engagement to be successful.

According to research, there are three kinds of employees:

Employee Engagement

Engaged Employees

Those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.

Employees that are not engaged

Not engaged

Lack energy. Go through the motions. Give work their time not effort.

Employees that are actively disengaged

Actively disengaged

Unhappy and cynical. Drag down the rest of the team.

The top drivers of employee engagement include “clarity on the organization’s priorities, getting feedback, having the opportunities to use their skills, and career development...” says a 2013 study.

These top drivers are components of good project management.

Essentially, team members who know what to do and whose organisations equip them with the tools and resources to do their jobs well are more likely to contribute meaningfully to projects, work well in teams, and register higher levels of engagement than those working without any clarity on what is expected of them.

Follow the four key steps elaborated upon below to ensure successful projects and increased employee engagement.

Guide to a strengths-based workplace and more engaged employees
Regular one-on-ones improve employee engagement

1. Preliminary planning

At the very outset, identify the strengths, skills or skill sets you need for the project. Assemble your team using MuchSkills or by reviewing your organisation’s skills matrix. If you start a project on MuchSkills and type in the skills you need for the project, it will suggest names of individuals who have this skill. Check their availability, shortlist them for the project and invite them for a team meeting.

At the team meeting you:

  • Brief the team about the project: Talk about what problem does this project intend to solve and what’s its scope and timeline.
  • Discuss your action plan: As a team manager, you will have an idea about how you want to execute the project. Outline your plan here. What are the challenges you expect to face? What are the cost estimates? What are the timelines? Team members who have worked on similar projects before may have valuable insights or suggestions on the possible outcomes, challenges or risks of the project that you can incorporate in your plan. 
  • Assign roles and responsibilities: Who is expected to do what – all roles and responsibility and accountability lines should be drawn and clear. Experts recommend using the DACI framework for this – Driver, Approver, Contributor, Informed. This framework clearly defines the roles of the project’s various stakeholders.
  • Ask team members if they have personal goals they hope to achieve by being part of this project: This is really important because when you have an understanding of what these goals are, you can take them into account while planning the project, making the project collaboration exciting for everyone involved. This will also help boost employee engagement.
  • Plan and review agenda for actual kickoff: The kickoff agenda should cover the background of the project, its purpose or goals, its scope, how you as the project delivery team plans to tackle it. It will also establish responsibility and accountability lines, what collaboration tools will be used and what success will look like. When the team is familiar with the big picture and planned agenda, they will prepare themselves for the actual kickoff accordingly.
  • Discuss what happens next: If there is any more information team members need about the project, make a note of it. If any of them need to do any research or work related to the project kickoff, assign it now.
Project kickoff meeting

2. Project kickoff meeting

The kickoff meeting is extremely important because it sets the tone for the entire project.

The purpose of a project kickoff is to:

Introduce the project delivery team to the stakeholders and vice versa so that everyone is on the same page regarding the goals, scope, risks, key deliverables, and everyone understands what is required of them.

Who is invited?

The project kickoff must include the project manager, the project delivery team, key stakeholders such as the internal client, department heads, top management, resource manager and any third party contractors.

Here’s what a typical kickoff should look like:

Team introductions:
Everyone should introduce themselves and explain how exactly they are involved with the project. Perhaps they can talk about their roles and what they are in charge of in terms of deliverables.

Make expectations and deliverables clear:
Since all stakeholders are in the room and listening, this is your chance to get all of them on the same page regarding expectations so that there are no surprises down the line. You discuss:

  1. Expectations and deliverablesThis includes the expectations with regard to the project’s goals, scope, milestones or checkpoints, delivery timelines and so on, as well as those related to speed of approvals, collaborations with third parties and so on.
  2. Communication and collaboration plan: Specifying what tools will be used early on ensures efficiency in workflows across teams. Basically, any process that can be streamlined to avoid corporate bureaucracy or confusion must be discussed and settled on at the kickoff. What communication tools will be used? Is everyone expected to use Skype or Google Meet, or Slack or Google Documents or Microsoft Sharepoint to communicate? Will you be using project management tools such as Jira, Trello, Asana or Basecamp? Fix answers to all these questions at the kickoff.  
  3. Plans for speed bumps: What are the anticipated challenges in this project? How do you expect to deal with them? Are all stakeholders ok with that?

Define the project vision in a single statement:
What is this project about? How does it bring value to the project client or even the end customer? Ask these questions and get everyone in the room to work together to draft a single-sentence vision statement that everyone agrees on. Write down the suggestions on a white board and refine it with the help of all meeting participants till you have a statement that captures the essence of the project.

Project execution

3. Project execution

While the project is being executed, the project delivery team and stakeholders need to maintain contact to ensure that everything is in sync. The project delivery team doesn’t want to reach Step 7 of the project when the stakeholder says you need to rewind because there’s a problem with Step 5. This is important because projects have a limited budget and execution time.

Steps like holding weekly “sync meetings” with stakeholders and project gate meetings – critical points in a project where a formal review of the project's current state is performed – must be built into the workflow for this reason. These gates ensure that the project delivery team gets the necessary buy-in from all stakeholders at the right time.

  1. Weekly syncs: These weekly meetings with project stakeholders are NOT delivery meetings. They are meetings to advise stakeholders of the project’s status and focus on collaborative problem-solving on challenges faced so far or those foreseen.
  2. Daily stand-ups: Daily stand-ups with the project delivery team is an opportunity to quickly review progress, get feedback from team members, and also make quick decisions about any roadblocks that have popped up.
  3. Weekly check-ins: These weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports focus on progress made on work such as projects and assigned tasks. Holding regular check-ins helps increase employee engagement and productivity, according to research.
Regular one-on-ones improve employee engagement

4. Retrospectives or project post mortems

Successful project management is not only about completing a project but about reviewing it so that you can learn from it. This is done in a project post mortem or retrospective. The point of this exercise is to assess:

  • What was achieved and how – so that you have a tried and tested guide for the future.
  • What went wrong – so that you can avoid these problems or inefficiencies in the future.
  • What could be done better next time – so that you know how to handle any challenges better next time?

Retrospectives should be built into the project so they are not seen as an afterthought. To gain the most out of the exercise, they must be held when everyone still has the project fresh on their minds. The project should officially only end when the post mortem is completed.

It is extremely important that the post mortem is conducted as a positive exercise. It should not be viewed as an exercise to apportion blame for anything that went wrong. This meeting shouldn’t take longer than 90-100 minutes.

How to hold a successful project post mortem

1. Send out a questionnaire

Send out a short questionnaire to team members a few days before the meeting. You can have about 10 questions to gage the team’s thoughts about the successes, failures or challenges of the project. The questions can include:

  1. What processes worked/what did not work?
  2. What was the most challenging/frustrating part of the project?
  3. Did we get all the results we wanted?
  4. Did our project team manage to work effectively with stakeholders.
  5. Did anyone in the team have to work round the clock to finish their work? If yes, why did they have to do this?

Ideally, you should send this questionnaire online so that you can present the answers at the post mortem and then discuss them as a team. This ensures that all participants leave with useful takeaways from the exercise.

Pro tip: Questions sent out in the questionnaire can be discussed at the meeting using post-it notes if team members have not reflected on them by the time the retrospective is held.
2. Circulate an agenda

A meeting without an agenda will most likely descend into chaos. Setting an agenda ensures you cover all important points and will leave the meeting with learnings for future projects. Make sure you share the agenda with all participants. This is what the agenda can look like:

  1. Explain purpose of meeting (2 minutes): Emphasise that the meeting is being held not to assign blame for anything that went wrong but as a constructive exercise so that the team can celebrate their successes and learn from any failures.
  2. Recap project (3 minutes): What the project was about – the client’s expectations.
  3. Recap outcome (3 minutes): Recap the consensus on whether the team met the client’s expectations whether the project was completed on time and if the stakeholders/clients were happy.
  4. Discussions (45 minutes): Here, team members discuss the main points that come up in the questionnaire/post-it notes discussion. The moderator must make notes – especially related to issues faced and possible solutions for the future.
  5. Wrap up (7 minutes): Recap the key takeaways from the discussion. Thank everyone for their contributions and tell them that you will be sending them your notes with action items/learnings from the discussions.
3. Post mortem meeting

At the meeting itself, you must:

  1. Ensure that the meeting sticks to the agenda: Either you (or the moderator) must keep the meeting on track if you want to walk away with some actionable insights.
  2. Keep things civil: No one person or department/function should feel personally attacked. Remind everyone that this exercise is being held so that you all can learn from it and not so that you can apportion blame.
  3. Ensure that everyone who wants to be heard is heard: Don’t let a single individual dominate the discussions. Ensure everyone in the room can state their opinions without talking over each other.
4. Documentation and follow-up
  1. Make a note of actionable points: Ensure you document the discussions at this meeting – the problems/challenges faced and actions proposed – and share them with your colleagues. This will ensure that everyone is armed with that knowledge when the next project starts.
Sign up to MuchSkills for free

Try MuchSkills today

Start for free and add your whole team

Sign up for free