Project Management … The Breakdown!
Does the term project management have you shaking in your shoes? The concept can be overwhelming if you think in terms of a large project stretching over weeks or even months. But it does not need to be.
First, not all projects are that large. Even short-term projects will benefit from thoughtful and deliberate management techniques. The steps involved in project management can help you clarify your focus, gather the resources you will need to succeed and monitor progress, so you reach your goal on schedule.
Second, if your project is truly overwhelmingly large, then project management will be your survival mechanism. If you do not document (yes, in writing) your plan to manage the project at hand, you are setting yourself (and your team) up for unwelcome surprises and headaches along the way. Who needs that?
Whether the project is for yourself or for a client, it is up to you to manage the process efficiently. Who wants to waste precious time and money?
Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.
~ Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies
Why It’s Important to Understand Project Management …
Entire books have been written about managing projects. You can find courses that teach it in university and online. You could get a PhD in project management if you wanted to. For my purposes here, however, I want to look at project management as a tool to guide you during your work on a project. If you have not worked this way in the past, you might want to try it with a small project for practice, either by yourself or with another person. Perhaps a virtual assistant (VA)!
You could think of it like learning to drive a car. You did not just hop into a car and take off! The more you practiced, the better you were able to drive. If you practice project management on a smaller scale, then when you get that call from a client asking you to manage a project with a team, you will be prepared to do that effectively.
I previously wrote about the Habits of Highly Organized People because I believe the more organized you try to be, the more effective and efficient you will be. As you can see, these things all tie together.
The P in PM is as much about People Management as it is about Project Management.
~ Cornelius Fichtner, Host of The Project Management Podcast™
The Stages of Managing Projects …
Let’s look at the 4 basic stages of project management. These descriptions assume you are working with a team — maybe even a virtual team — so if you are working solo, adjust accordingly.
#1. Project Initiation
Start with a description of your project, one that is clear and easy to articulate. At this stage, it is important to identify the scope of the project including its goals and objectives. Without clarification around the scope, what the project entails, how will you know later if you are veering off course? Your project includes this and only this. When you work with a team, this focus ensures you are all on the same page and working toward the same end point.
As you start a project by defining its scope, you also need to be clear about the end goal. Will the project end with specific deliverables? Examples of a deliverable would be a series of social media posts for a content marketing campaign or an eBook for a lead magnet.
#2. Project Planning
In the planning stages, you should break the overall project down into smaller, measurable tasks. Then set a schedule for completing those tasks and draw up your budget. This is where you identify what resources you need and how to obtain them. Do you need additional people to work on the project? If so, how will you build your team and assign tasks? What tools will you need that you don’t already have? This could include hardware and software.
If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you probably know I love productivity software! Some apps are solely designed to help a team collaborate more effectively. A few that I enjoy are Asana, Trello and Evernote. It’s best to just play around with each one to determine which feels like the right fit for you and your team.
I am a huge advocate for increasing your productivity in other ways too! You will find some great tips in my blog post How to Become Productive in 15 Days (or Less). When you are leading a project management team, you may notice opportunities for individual team members to increase their productivity as well. The best way to help them is to model productive behaviours and share your tips (or mine!) with them. Better work habits — the secret to greater productivity — are contagious!
Operations keeps the lights on, strategy provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but project management is the train engine that moves the organization forward. ~ Joy Gumz, Project Management Institute, Inc.
You may have heard the term “project management methodology.” There are quite a few methodologies for this! The more traditional one’s order tasks sequentially, where each task depends on the completion of a prior task. Another type of methodology, called “agile,” requires that tasks be completed in iterative cycles, so the results are constantly evaluated — and the results determine the next step in the process. Some methodologies are better suited for long-term projects while others work better with shorter ones. Some methodologies may even allow for the project’s deliverables to change depending on results along the way while others assume the deliverables will not change.
One thing to keep in mind: you cannot plan the project in a vacuum. Are you managing this project for a client? Then the client will need to participate in defining the scope, specifying deliverables and setting milestones. If you are managing a team, you also need their feedback during the planning stage for two reasons. First, you can benefit from the individual team members’ experience. Second, when team members are invited to provide feedback, they become more invested in the project and its success. Their buy-in and enthusiasm will be greater if they see their feedback incorporated into the project plan.
“Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part” – Proverb
Planning includes mapping out the anticipated workflow, deadlines and the project timeline. This step produces a diagram — ideally a colourful one — that shows which tasks should be completed sequentially and which ones can be tackled simultaneously. This is where Asana or Trello come in handy. The setup helps everyone involved to visualize the activities, how they fit together, and which tasks are dependent on the completion of other tasks. Don’t forget to celebrate your milestones as you move along!
#3. Project Execution
As if the preceding stages did not seem like work to you … the execution stage is where the real work gets done. Team members carry out their tasks, and as manager of the project you will monitor the quality of their work, manage the timeline as well as the budget. Is each team member on track? Is the workflow proceeding as anticipated? Has the team experienced any setbacks that require any part of the project plan to be amended? Any changes must be marked on the workflow diagram, so everyone can clearly see the cascading effect of how a change at one point along the timeline will affect tasks down the line.
The most important team dynamics during the execution stage are communication and flexibility. No matter how well you plan, you are likely to run into unexpected obstacles. Often, working through obstacles requires changing some part of the plan — usually the timeline, task responsibilities or budget. Your team’s ability to communicate in real time is critical here. Each person needs to be aware of any changes to the plan and how those changes might affect their responsibilities.
So, whether you are working with a virtual team or one that can meet face-to-face in a conference room, it’s important to establish expectations in terms of how frequently everyone should communicate. The team-oriented productivity software programs mentioned earlier also include mechanisms for electronic communication. Will you also have regularly scheduled meetings or simply communicate as soon as updates are available — or when problems occur? If you do have meetings, you want to make them as efficient and brief as possible. In the end everyone will thank you for that!
Lastly, how effective you and your team are with time management will play a big part in your ability to stay on track and on schedule. Feel time management isn’t one of your strong points? Or could just use a few tips? Then you may find this blog post helpful and will probably want to share it with your team: Time Blocking Tips to Make You Laser Focused.
Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.
~ Peter Drucker, Author and Management Consultant
#4. Project Completion
All great projects must come to an end — and the not-so-great ones, too. When you produce the deliverables for the client (or yourself), it’s time to wrap up. You may want to conduct a “post mortem” review, which involves evaluating the project and taking a look at which elements contributed to its success and which ones did not. This information will have a powerful impact on how you manage your next project!
“There are no failures, just experiences and your reactions to them.” – Tom Krause, Author and Motivational Speaker
In summary, here is an overview of effective project management:
- Project Initiation
- Define the scope
- Establish deliverables
- Project Planning
- Break project into measurable tasks
- Identify resources needed
- Select your methodology
- Map workflow, deadlines and timeline
- Project Execution
- Monitor quality, productivity, timeline and budget
- Set expectations for team communication
- Model productivity and time management
- Project Completion
* Produce deliverables
* Conduct a post mortem review
Like most things, project management will become easier the more you do it. In a way, every project you manage will be different, but in other ways they will be similar. The similarities are why lessons learned on one project will often translate to improvements in the way you manage future projects. It helps to keep in mind that project management is a tool for helping you guide projects to completion.
Like any tool, how well it works depends on how well you use it.
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