A project is a specific list of tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve a desired outcome. Projects have a defined start, middle, and end. Projects don’t go on indefinitely, though you could have several types of the same project. A project also has a defined scope with project requirements that the project must meet.
Think back to elementary school when you had to create a science fair project. It had a beginning (find a topic) and an end (the day it was due). In between, you had “requirements”: your volcano had to work and shoot lava out of the top, using only the highest-quality construction paper.
But now, your projects have grown in scope. Let’s say you’re an interior decorator for a major brand. And you’ve been charged to roll out a brand-new design for all of your stores. Exciting times!
You already have several projects just in that brief description. One project would be deciding what the new look would be. That’s a lot of things to think about - everything from colors to fixtures to manufacturing and installing those parts.
Ok, you have that figured out. Next, you have to install them. And you have 50 stores. That’s 50 different projects. Even though you’ll be doing basically the same thing at each store, it’s still a bunch of different locations that have to be fitted with the new look. Each of those stores has a beginning (they need the new look), a middle (installing and setting up schedules for installing the new store designs) and an end (each store is finished with the new layout).
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Project management is managing all the activities to make the project real. Oftentimes, project management is broken into five basic project phases to help you finish and complete the project.
Also called initiation, this sets up what the project is, the scope of the project and how it impacts the final product or deliverable that you’re working on. It’s also important at this stage to know why you’re doing the project. Ask these questions:
- What are you trying to do?
- What problem are you solving?
This will help you create project objectives. In the case of the retail store mentioned above, it's to redesign the layout. Or you could be building a new website. Or arranging logistics to deliver a new fleet of cars from one town to another. Projects have different sizes - but they’re still projects. When you start a project, have the goal in mind.
This is where you start putting details around how you will accomplish the goal of your project. You’ll cover budget, scope, requirements and more. A project plan should be made only after consulting with the key stakeholders (such as your management team) or the client. Great planning involves breaking down large goals into little pieces.
You’re probably most familiar with this stage because this is where the real “work” actually occurs. You’ll create a project schedule, examine workloads, resources, budgets and start assigning project tasks. You’ll also set up dependencies, start dates, due dates and more to ensure everything works according to plan.
Now you’re checking to see how things are going. You check if things are under budget, on schedule and if you’re making progress towards your goal. This is the part where you’ll also have to manage your project team, their personalities and everything that comes with it. You’ll also want to carefully consider meetings and how you’ll update your team.
This is when the project wraps up, with your deliverables made and hopefully finished under budget and ahead of time (one can dream right?). This part doesn’t mean just delivering but also testing and ensuring quality for the work that you’ve done. If it falls short during testing, you’ll have to send it back for review and finish up.
1. Define your project
It’s not only important to define what the word “project” means, it’s also important to establish what your project is. Remember, it needs a beginning, middle, and end. Knowing how much you’re biting off before you start will keep everyone sane.
2. Understand project deliverables
Furthermore, it’s imperative that you understand what the deliverable is. If it’s to create an app that can do XYZ, then make sure it can do that before going back to the client or stakeholder with ways it can do ABC. That’s clearly defining the project scope. Otherwise, you may be hedging into new territory that your project team is unprepared for.
3. Ask Questions and Seek Help
One thing that’s hard for all of us to do is to ask questions. We like to think we know all of the answers, especially as team leaders or project managers. Getting clarification on what’s required will move your project along faster, rather than creating costly mistakes that have to be addressed later.
4. Show Respect To Your Team
This should go without saying, but it’s always important to keep top of mind, especially when there’s frustration over missed tasks or deadlines. As a project manager, show respect to your project team and their expertise; realizing that if a change has to be made, it can still be done with dignity and respect that sets up the team member for success with their roles and responsibilities, even if it somewhere else.
Team norms (or guidelines) could also help how your employees interact with one another, with clients and with leadership teams.
5. Use templates
Oftentimes the hard work is in setting up the task, spreadsheets, code or work to be done...and then explaining how to do it. Templates take the hard work out of projects and tasks, especially the ones that you need to complete often.
6. Make a project management plan
If you don’t have a plan, then you’re just playing around. Plans solidify responsibilities and tasks and give everyone clear direction on what they’re responsible for. With an awesome project plan, the tasks, dependencies, and assignments are in order. You’ll know who’s on track and who’s not with a solid plan in place.
7. Create a schedule
Once you have your plan in place, create a schedule that your team can follow. If you’re using agile, this may include sprint priorities and updates. If you’re using a more traditional method, an easy way to keep the schedule is by creating tasks with start dates and due dates for the full work life cycle. That way everyone knows what’s next and when it will begin.
8. Monitor the budget and scope
Your bosses probably want any projects to stay within the budget (or as close as possible). As part of your regular routine, closely monitor how much your team is spending compared to the allocation. And you need to do the same thing with the scope. The two go hand in hand because if your scope creeps up, your budget probably will also.
9. Know the risks
Risk management is dealing with any factors that threaten to break your project. This could include team members dropping their work, equipment failures or your vendors not coming through on time. You should factor this into your plan, and be comfortable with those outcomes. If the risk seems, well, too “risky,” think of contingencies and backup plans. Go ahead and include that in your project plan for a thorough picture of the project risk at stake.
10. Stay focused on tasks at hand
In creating plans and managing projects, especially in the execution stage, you have to be aware of how your team members work and how familiar they are with certain processes. If this is the first major project that your team has collaborated on together, expect some hiccups and delays. For an inexperienced team, motivation and concentration may be your top priority. A more experienced worker or team should be allowed a little more slack. But in this age of distraction, a project manager’s core responsibility is reminding, encouraging and helping the team stay focused on tasks at hand, and demonstrating how each task builds on others to reach the goal.
Once the project is accomplished or the new feature is released, don’t jump right into customer tickets and issues...and honor your success! Recognize what your team has accomplished and celebrate that successful project.
It boosts team morale and provides milestones for your team to remember before going full throttle for the next one. It is just one long slog without any breaks, your team won’t be at their best constantly. Team celebrations help them re-energize and gear up for more to come.