As a project manager, it’s typical to multitask a lot. PMs used to run one project at a time up until recently (just a few years ago really), but those days are long gone.
As the pace and amount of stuff to be done increases, you have no other option but to adapt and keep up and for that, you need a clearly defined plan on how to manage each project. In fact that’s not enough. To REALLY keep up with the pace, you need a plan on how to make a project plan. Sounds pretty cool right? Let’s do it!
So to have a plan for your project plan (I love how this sounds) you will need to define a few things before starting each project. This will be your initiation stage.
This is the first stage of your project lifecycle and here you will need to understand what you should do overall, how should you proceed and is it even worth it to start the project in the first place. A few questions to consider:
Is the project in line with your company’s goals? (will it help you grow, or not really)
Is the client’s goal reasonable/achievable? (does he want an Iron Man suit, or a high quality wetcoat?)
Can your company do it? (you may be good, but are you actually THAT good? Be honest)
How much investment will it require? (Do you have the budget or you will need to sell your car and house?
Can it be finished it time? (Timing is everything)
These questions will help you understand if you should start the project or not. Not every project is as good is it seems, and if you just go for it, you might end up losing a lot more than gaining (plus stress, team disagreements and a bad mood). This is an excellent way to save loads of time and not go chasing after short terms gains, only to end up in a mess you don’t want to be in.
So let’s say that the project is all good and you decide to proceed. Next, you need to start planning each move, taking into consideration all of your advantages and disadvantages. In other words, planning.
This is where you get down to business real hard. Project success and timeliness depends heavily on your planning skills. If you can make your estimates and each step to be taken close to perfect, your project is bound to succeed. Make sure to think about all of these:
Resources – Identify how many team members will be needed for the project, what kind of equipment/materials will be used, etc. Make sure you have the resources to cover everything that will be needed for the project.
Finances – Each project requires a certain amount of investment on your company’s side to be successful. Make sure you can dedicate a reasonable amount of resources and also increase that number by 5-10%. This is an excellent thing for two reasons: first, you will be safe in case something extraordinary happens or you need to handle some crisis situation (which is I’d say is pretty damn common) and second, if you don’t waste any more than you need, you will have that extra 5-10% to put to good use for the next project! That’s like finding a 100 dollar bill in an old pair of jeans that you long forgot about, which is one of the greatest feelings ever.
Quality – Measure up the quality of work that your team has to deliver to satisfy your client and meet the project goals. A lot of people think that it’s always good to overdeliver stuff. If your goal is, say, increase website traffic for 20%, and you go all out on this and get it up to 30%, it’s gonna be really good. Well, not really. It will certainly be good, but most of the time you won’t get anything out of it besides stuff like “wow, thank you!” , “you guys are the best!”, which doesn’t translate into cash in any way I can name it. So practically you will be doing more (to deliver higher quality work), but get the same paycheck as you would otherwise, minus “all the thank you-s”. Nah, skip that. What’s more important though, you will have more time and resources to spare. If your team doesn’t go all out, they will still have stim to squeeze in some more work on another project, which is good for your company, good for your bank account and good for your team. As you might have already guessed, that’s a triple win.
Risks – Risk assessment is pretty important too. Every project carries a certain amount of risk and it’s absolutely essential to assess everything beforehand. Try to think of every aspect that could come up along the way (use your past experience with similar projects, ask your friends, research around the web for a bit, anything can help) and think of a solution for each case. You won’t be able to calculate everything of course, but doing as much as you can will be more than enough.
The planning stage will require the most amount of time, but it’s always going to be worth it, as long as you think about everything beforehand. Moving on to executing your ideas.
With the project plan ready, it’s time to start exercising it. Ideally, if your plan is super good, there won’t be any problems from now on, or at least they will be minimal. It’s very easy to execute something when you know what you have to do after each step.
Make sure to follow up with your teammates, check if everything is going according to plan and make notes on each phase of your plan. The notes will come in handy for future projects to understand what should be tweaked/changed to make the overall process more productive and efficient.
The monitoring stage is ongoing till the very end of the project. Make sure that your team is following the plan, see if anyone on the team has any issues with their tasks and the project is in good health.
An important thing to note here is that you should still be open minded and adaptive. If some part of your plan isn’t working out, it makes no sense to keep sticking to it. Change it on the go. Yes, it seems to be a bad idea and renders all the time you spent during the planning phase pretty much lost, but at least you can set things right.
So, unless you have some secret chrono reversal training (and please contact me if you do) to turn back time and change your plan, better make the necessary changes before it’s too late.
Time to wrap it up!
In the last stage of your project lifecycle, the final product is ready and needs to be forwarded to the client. It’s a good idea to look back and understand how good everything was done, what lessons should be learned from the project, etc.
As you see the planning phase is the most important one. Everything depends on how well you can plan the project, the rest is just technical work. What’s interesting is that all the other lifecycle stages present valuable data, which can be used in the future to make even better planning. It’s like a loop: planning>execution/monitoring>closing>planning.
On a final note, don’t be discouraged if something (or everything) goes pretty bad. That’s just how life is. Focus on improving your skills and decision making and you will get better. Everything takes a certain amount of practice to become an expert in and project management takes the biggest truckload of practice. Cheers guys -)