What should a project never be without?
Someone just asked me what a project should never be without. That's hard to answer as every project is different, whereas an agile process may suit a team of 10, you need something a lot more heavyweight for larger projects (I realise this is stating the obvious!).
So, here's my list of 5 things that a project should always have. I'm caveating this with an assumption that the project involves 5+ people and will take 2+ months:
1. A really clear definition of the project in no more than 18 words.
2. A comprehensive definition of the problem you are trying to solve. This usually should fit on a single page, if it doesn't, you probably don't understand the problem.
3. A requirements definition. This is a no-brainer but still sometimes doesn't get the attention it needs. I have seen very large projects spend millions on a sub-project that is justified by a single requirement, instead of breaking it down into realistic requirements. Perhaps the most underused tool in requirements analysis is stakeholder analysis, when you have multiple people with requirements this can be a great help - put simply, you just need to work out who wants what, how much power they have over the project, how legitimate their power is, and how urgent their requirements are.
4. A Work Breakdown Structure. In it's simplest form, this is a hierarchy of tasks. As a general rule of thumb, anything that takes 5 working days or more should be it's own task.
5. An analysis of the critical path - When it comes to day to day prioritisation, sometimes you need to put the preperation of a future task ahead of the current task. To do this properly you need to know which tasks cannot slip, and which can.
IMHO, if you have all five of these on a small project, you will always know where you are. The final point is to avoid over-iterating on the planning on small projects, set yourself a fixed period of time each week to keep project management and project reporting work up to date, but don't let it become the primary task... if you are a part-time PM then you can end up getting distracted from the work, if you are a full-time PM you should be anticipating risks and issues and mitigating them before they impact anyone else.