Six weeks into a two month campaign, you realize that you’ve lost the freelancer contracts. Or you’ve neglected to set up Google Analytics to monitor your new landing pages. Or your only intern returns to school tomorrow, and she doesn’t have time to teach anyone else how the filing system she set up works. It may sound like these mistakes – fatal, career-ending mistakes – are due to carelessness over time. Some would say that project management is about the journey, about staying the course throughout your timeline. They’d be wrong. Much like Oregon Trail 2, it’s about careful preparation and realistic budgeting.
You can’t sail a ship that’s full of holes. Similarly, your project plan needs to be airtight. Vet and brief your team thoroughly, set achievable goals, and maintain open communication. Delete any ambiguities and give clear information to both the bosses and your employees. Overall, plan until you’re eyes hurt and overtime has no meaning to you anymore. And then your project will be a breeze. Let’s go over how to prepare for project management.
Divide your project into steps or smaller projects
Use an outline for your project plan. Make sure that your highest level bullets are the major tasks or steps. If they don’t need to be completed in chronological order, and if no step demands a prerequisite to begin, then consider listing the project elements on a table. In either format, you can include team compositions, budget, start and end dates, resource allocation, weekly meeting days, etc. Numbers are key here, from costs to total estimated hours, you need to establish some hard and fast numbers. If you just draft an outline filled with rough ideas and hopes and dreams, your project is dead in the water.
Keep tasks separate. I’m not saying you should lock partners or team members away from other task forces, but…you might want to consider it. What I mean is to maintain discreet project elements. Don’t stifle communication, but discourage any files or conversations to get off track. A single element will begin to slow down when you start to “borrow” key players for other tasks. Instead, set up a clear contingency plan if any of your subdivided teams need reinforcements. Always use yourself as the benchwarmer rather than assigning your brain a team from the get-go. This is your baby, and you need to be prepared to jump in and help maintain momentum during every step and within every assignment.
Don’t get hung up on any previous task. The best way to ensure this is a review process. At the end of every chronological step, include a mandatory report. The team leader should provide you with some data on how well this step met its numbers and a summary of the team’s performance. Once the report has been reviewed, the team can continue onto the next step. This may sound tedious and bureaucratic, but consider the alternative of realizing a mistake you made at the beginning five months down the road. Again, it’s all in the planning. Account for oversight now, not later.
Give every task to a qualified team member
The unemployment rate is at an all-time low. This isn’t a buyer’s market anymore. You won’t find the Joad family looking to fill any position for a square meal. Consequently, specialization has increased dramatically. When you assign employees to work on a project, you can’t pick any random person and shave a hammer into their hands. You need to play to each employee’s strengths. Barb may be awful with people in-person, but she has some uncanny knack for writing email blasts. Jamal is a great salesman and negotiator, but if you ask him about it, he’ll tell you that he’s awful at math. Talk to your labor pool. Go over their resumes if you have to. When you’re picking teams for a long-term campaign, the last thing you want is to waste talent or skill. Don’t have your accountant design your flyers, and vice versa.
You also wouldn’t want to encourage or allow for in fighting. If your organization doesn’t have the budget or time for teambuilding activities, start your projects off with a brief icebreaking period. Make sure everyone knows everyone, is aware of one another’s strengths and positions, and is on the same page. If it helps, gamify your process so that the project goal is paired with real rewards. If you don’t want to pit your employees against each other, announce that you’ll pay for a nice dinner if the project is successful.
Establish a central hub
When does the whole group meet? How about individual teams and partnerships? Whose desk should a confused team member run to with a burning question? Most importantly, how will information be disseminated and recorded? You must maintain a record of written project-related conversations. Will you use a separate piece of software for this or relegate all back and forth to a few email chains?
Weekly meetings aren’t a bad idea. And you should give updates to your superior(s) on a similar timeframe. Individual teams will be meeting more often of course, but don’t just have your weeklies with the team captains – avoid alienating the interns and entry-level employees participating in this undertaking. At your weekly meetings, gather everyone around, even if it’s just one big Skype call for fifteen minutes. Including the whole gang keeps spirits up and weeds out secret screw-ups. If someone drops the ball, you want to know about it immediately. Not to scold the offending party but to be able to take action immediately. If you remind employees at every level that only good can come of clear communication, your project will run much more smoothly.
Maintain files in one place
Just like a single meeting place or chat tool, having one cache is key. Consider storing all of your project files in a single Enterprise Content Management solution. You can divide storage compartments up by department or project in Contentverse and track who has edited what when. Version control and file retention allow for you and your team to easily avoid any permanent changes until all the i’s have been dotted and the t’s have been crossed.
Are some of your project elements more sensitive than others? A good ECM will let you control user access and permissions. Your security administrator can choose access levels for each location in the filing structure based on user type. Contentverse’s built-in, intelligent workflow includes email notifications when a document has reached you in the business process. Add notes or approve items, even when you or your team are out of the office. If you don’t keep all data from a project in a single, secure, accessible hub, it’s liable to get lost or destroyed. There is no reason to let relevant files float around the workplace unchecked like some sort of wild swamp!
Avoid scope creep by establishing firm parameters
A due date is a beautiful thing. For most projects you’ll start, it’s a thing that you will never meet. Unless you set realistic goals based in honest budgets and expectations. Instead of disappointing the board’s fantastical demands by attending your update meeting with ten cups of coffee in your belly and bad news in your report, try haggling before the project starts. It’s a period of optimism, when the executives haven’t yet grown impatient, so there’s no better time for putting it all on the table. Come to that initial meeting with the most relevant facts regarding whatever market you’re trying to break into or old filing structure you and your team are tasked with cleaning up. Tell the head honchos that you’ve done the math, and here’s what you need: the resources, the money, and the time. Also give them the benefits that will be realized at the other end of the tunnel.
For all of these numbers, you should stretch a bit within reason? Give your project some elasticity so that when inevitable stumbling blocks emerge, you can navigate around them with confidence instead of losing sleep. If a project is going to take two years, then it’s going to take two years. That’s all there is to it. If they still want it done yesterday, then you can dive into your research and show them why this is the reality.
If you enter a project with a sound foundation, a thorough plan, qualified metrics, a solid team, and some wiggle room, you will rarely break down halfway to the finish line. But if you neglect to complete this key element to your fullest ability, you’re only making everything else that much harder on yourself and your entire team. If this is your first major project or even your final one as you get ready to hand off the reigns, consider using a versatile file management solution. It’s another way to make the whole thing that much easier.