While leading our projects we like to make sure we are doing so to the best of our abilities, helping our project team gain responsibility and experience, and keeping our project customer engaged. Sticking to overall project management best practices is what we strive for – or at least should be striving for – every time out.So as we go through our project engagements, let’s consider a few “best practices” litmus tests to perform (if only in our heads) to make sure that we are properly delivering on our projects. If we don’t do this, in my opinion, it can become too easy to fall into a rut of going through the motions on everything and “just running the project.” And by that I mean, doing what you’re “supposed to do” but not necessarily what the project needs or the customer needs or wants and providing that extra WOW factor that customers like to see…it’s what they keep coming back for, right?There are many things we can do that meet this criteria and what they are and how we do them can depend on the customer, the project, the industry, etc…. but there are a few that you can consistently inject into your projects to make a difference. Here’s my list of five….Formally kick the project off. Make the project kickoff a formal occasion and make sure all the important people are there. I don’t care if it’s a $50,000 project or a $50 million project. Do this. The $50k project may kickoff over the phone if budget doesn’t allow for a face to face gathering, but still do it…you aren’t limited by technology in this area so make it nice and make it formal. It will set a certain expectation for the project and your customer will appreciate the dog and pony show….trust me.Document the project well. This is broad, I know. But be thorough and purposeful with your documentation. Create some formal plans that mean something – communication plans on how project discussions will happen, requirements documents putting project scope in perspective for everyone to see, and design documents that help developers move forward with coding and testing the solution they are working on. And get signoff from the customer on these…make them official. Don’t go overboard on the $50k project, and – likewise – don’t just phone it in on the $50 million project. Let the formality and effort match the budget and visibility/importance of the project. But documentation is important so do it right. And peer review all documentation before giving it to the customer. The worst thing you can do for customer confidence is hand over error-filled documentation and plans. Ouch. I’ve been there and it is a very hard hole to dig yourself out of.Conduct regular status calls with the client. I have to admit that – while I do this for every project – I don’t do this for every consulting engagement. I probably should. I let the size of the engagement and the customer’s wants and needs dictate how that goes – and with frequent contact via email, skype and irregular phone calls everything is usually well covered on consulting gigs. But with projects it’s a different story. Always conduct regular weekly calls with your team and your customer. Always.Help your customer with testing. I’ve said this before, don’t do the testing for them…and don’t help them too much. Basically, help them be well prepared for it. Help them with test planning and test cases and be there on hand to help when they run into issues (and they will).Put together a solid closeout checklist. Finally, do a very thorough job with project close out. Don’t just wing it when making sure everything is in proper order for deployment or rollout or implementation of whatever your proper terminology happens to be for the handing off of the final solution. Make sure all deliverables are done and signed off, all tasks are complete, all training is in place, all testing has been done, etc. A good checklist that is put together early on and revised as needed, will do the trick.SummaryThe bottom line here is add value and show value. You are running important projects and you need to show that they matter. You need to put the proper effort into making sure that things are done right. And you can do that by doing more than the absolute minimum effort needed on the project. Look for ways to make your customer happy. Look for ways to get your team fully involved and take ownership of tasks and deliverables. Look for ways to ensure that what you are supposed to deliver is what you are actually delivering. And by following these and other best practices, in the long run, you will actually make your job as project manager easier…not harder. Work smarter, not harder…that’s what my wife always tells me…and I try to listen to her most of the time. It’s a healthy situation.