Project management improvement plan

Jun 17, 2019

Use this seven step process to focus on project management for year-over-year improvement.

In line with Gateway Engineers’ continual improvement philosophy, years ago we began working on an informal, project manager led process that would yield incremental, yet measurable improvements to overall client satisfaction. The result of our efforts was the creation of a seven-step process we refer to as Project Management Improvement Plans or PMIPs.

One of our objectives for the PMIP process was for it to be more supportive. We presented the process to our PMs and from there, let them decide if they wanted to develop an individual plan. We thought that once several project managers experienced success using the process, others would take notice and momentum would build for more people to give it a try.

The process:

  1. Review. A recommended first step in developing any plan is to see what happened on the last one. During this step, we emphasize conducting a review of their last PMIP. The project manager would ask questions like, “Did I focus on the right thing?” “What did I learn from last year’s plan?” “Was my plan achievable?” Asking these questions often produces insights that may otherwise not be considered.
  2. Research. Through this step, we encourage reviewing past and current project performance seeking out common issues, trends, and themes. Reviewing the metrics from the best and worst projects while looking for trends, project managers’ research can help answer questions like what went right or wrong and why? This information combined with engaging in honest, open discussions with other PMs, those resources on their project teams, internal support staff, and even clients may yield insightful nuggets of information.
  3. Core dump. This is a transitional step. The idea is to write down all the things that could be improved as it relates to performance and client satisfaction. Fundamentals less used, issues, gaps in knowledge, pain points, etc. This step (also known as a brain dump) is used to prepare the project manager for steps four through seven.
  4. The what. Now that there is a list of opportunities for improvement, this is the step where we create initiatives. Reference the work completed during the “Research” and “Core Dump” steps to develop themes and prioritize. What should the focus be? For example, after going through the first three steps, a PM could see themes develop around possible shortcomings within the planning and delegation of tasks. The objective here is to get the list of initiatives down to just one or two, spending the appropriate amount of time developing initiatives that will yield the most significant impact.
  5. The why. Once the PM decides on the initiative(s), this step attempts to capture a few sentences explaining exactly why those initiatives were selected. This may help bring clarity to the plan ensuring the PM is focusing on the right thing. It’s a back or sanity check to reaffirm the appropriateness.
  6. The how. This is the plan of action. Everything up to this point can be correct, but if there is not a solid “how” developed, then the plan has little chance of success. Within this step of the PMIP, the PM attempts to create a plan that is as specific, realistic, and quantifiable as possible. In other words, whatever the individual plan details, it should be achievable.
  7. Impact. The final step of the process, here we suggest calculating the positive impact each initiative can have to overall client satisfaction. This is one of the reasons we stress the importance of plans being specific, realistic, and quantifiable. If it doesn’t improve client satisfaction, it’s probably not a good initiative for a PMIP.

While the process has been used by PMs for years, it has not changed. Today, roughly half of our PMs engage in the PMIP process annually. Many kick off the PMIP process in the fall so they can have their plan developed for the coming year. Engaging in such a process has encouraged our PMs not only to identify but also combat potential weaknesses. Participants say they are more organized and focused, ultimately experiencing improved client satisfaction.

Aaron Richardson, PMP is the director of project management with Gateway Engineers headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Contact him at

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