Earlier this year I took some courses as part of a project management certificate program. While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, one of my goals was to translate my learning into a few simple practices that I could share with my coworkers. That way we could apply them to the many small projects we work on throughout the year. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Begin with the end in mind.
Ever had a great idea and jumped right into the tasks, only to lose your way partway in because you’re no longer sure of the end goal?
One of the key principles of project management is to focus on your vision first. Take a step back and see if you can describe the ideal future (the finish line). Then identify some clear objectives that will help you realize your vision. This will make it easier to determine which tasks need to be completed on a small scale, and how to organize those tasks to reach your desired outcomes.
2. Set SMART objectives.
Taking a minute to clarify your objectives can go a long way toward helping your projects succeed. Many of us are familiar with the SMART acronym, which stands for Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
But how will you know whether you’ve reached your goal or your project is a success? The measurable part is really helpful here. You’ll want to identify indicators so that you can monitor your progress along the way and clearly see whether your efforts are working. For example, if we launched a new training topic, one indicator might be the number of people who registered for the new workshop. We could compare this number to registrations from the topics that we launched last year to get a sense of whether the new topic was a success.
One of the key principles of project management is to focus on your vision first.
3. Make a plan . . .
If you are working on something new that involves a lot of different people, it’s a good idea to get everyone on the same page. Whether you have a formal project manager or not, one person should be appointed to keep the big picture in mind and make sure everyone else has the information and tools they need. This reduces confusion and helps people work together more effectively. Here are some areas you might want to think about including in your plan:
- What’s the scope? What’s included in this project, and what’s not?
- Who needs to be involved?
- What activities need to be done? By who? In what order?
- Where will the work be done?
- Do you have the materials you need?
- What will the project cost? How will the finances be managed?
- How will you communicate with your team, your leaders, and the various stakeholders that will be impacted by your project?
- How will information be stored, accessed, and shared?
- What are the risks? What might go wrong along the way and how will you deal with it?
4. . . . but don’t plan too much.
Within the project management industry, there are some overly technical ways of getting organized. A lot of these tools are powerful and can be great if you’re managing a large, complex project. But what about the many small projects that we take on – the ones that don’t require a formal project manager? Many of the formal process that are part of the project management framework can be addressed in informal ways that will still bring value to the project.
For example, I probably won’t create a formal risk register document for most of the projects I lead this year. However, I will spend 10 minutes brainstorming – either on my own or with my team – about what could go wrong. Even asking the question, “What might go wrong?” in an informal meeting can help us think about how to tackle certain issues and increase our chances of success. While documenting decisions, scheduling meetings, and monitoring every little detail can bring clarity and efficiency in some cases, too much of this can simply bog things down. Finding balance is key.
5. Finish the project well.
When the project is over and you’ve done what you’ve set out to do (hopefully on time and under budget), there is one more step. Take a minute to think about the lessons learned – chances are there are takeaways that could make your next project even more successful.
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