Project Management Simplified for the Masses
Project management isn’t rocket science. It would be nice if it was – it would probably pay better. But it is interesting. It is challenging. It does require dedication and organization. And it certainly isn’t for everyone as it doesn’t bring high pay and accolades.
You have to want to do it. But you can. If you’re logical, have common sense, can be organized, and aren’t afraid to put your neck on the line when you know or think you’re right and when you’re trying to do the best for the work you are doing, for whom you’re doing it (the project client) and whom you’re doing it with (the project team).
So, if you’re thinking project management as a career and the above seems to fit you then please read on. I want to tell you – in simplified form – what project management really is all about. I’m not claiming to be the best Project Manager in the world…I certainly am not. Nor am I the best PM author in the world, but possibly the most prolific. However, I do prefer to work smarter, not harder because I always have a lot to do in a day managing projects and multiple clients. So, the simpler I can make it, the easier and more productive my PM life can be. Keep in mind I’m writing this from two perspectives that may or may not match up with your own professional angle. I am writing this from experience as an IT/technical project manager and as a consulting project manager/business strategist. Please be thinking of your own processes in project management that help you get things done and simplify your life and feel free to share and discuss. Mine are in no particular order of importance but rather a full body of project work.
Kickoff the project with detail. Plan, prepare for and conduct a kickoff meeting for your project. Whether it’s a $5,000 project or a $50 million project, do this. You won’t be sorry. The project kickoff session – whether it’s a formal face to face meeting with 50 attendees or a conference call with 10 people on the line – sets the stage for everything that happens after. This is your chance to get everyone on the same page with the same expectations of your delivery team and the outcome. It gets everyone ready for the next steps of nailing down good, complete requirements and starting work on the project solution.
Status report weekly. Preparing and distributing weekly status reports to all project team members, the project client and all project stakeholders – including your senior management within the delivery organization – is extremely important. It’s all part of keeping everyone “in the know” and on the same page as much as possible. Do this and your life as a project manager becomes much easier. It means fewer emails and phone calls to and from those stakeholders – and the project customer – wondering what is going on with ‘x’ task or what the latest status of a particular deliverable is. It should all be available in the weekly status report. If it’s important to the project, it should be in there.
Create one status report for all. Nothing says make it simple on yourself like doing it right once. Find a project status report layout that satisfies everyone whom you need to satisfy. Start with the client’s needs and your team’s needs, then build in a nice dashboard for your senior management and maybe only include the dashboard with their version. But at least you don’t have to re-work it 15 different ways for 15 different groups or individuals.
Meet on status weekly. This means to meet with the project customer and the project team. It’s a given you meet with the customer weekly – they need and require and should be entitled to regular weekly updates on the project status. Yes, you can do this through status reports and for some project clients on small projects or projects with little complexity, that may be all they want and need. But it’s an even better idea to conduct an actual meeting – even if it’s a short one. A ten-minute weekly phone call can still do wonders for keeping the small issues from falling through the cracks and becoming big issues later on in the project.
Revise project schedule, budget, and resource plans weekly. Revising critical project data every week is just plain wise and common sense. Project managers need to know that all project stakeholders – the most important of those being the project customer and project team members – are on the same page at all times. One of the best ways to automatically do this is to keep the project schedule up to date and distributed among those key project stakeholders. When you need decisions made and input on project tasks, deliverables, and milestones, all stakeholders will – or at least, should – know where the project tasks stand progress-wise at any given time. The same holds true for budget status and resource planning and usage though this is usually something you keep to just the delivery side of the equation. Tying the project client into budget status and resource forecasting and planning is not a common thing, but something you can certainly do if the project – and the customer – call for it.
One more note on the regular budget planning and re-forecasting. Doing this weekly is just good fiscal management. A budget left unattended can quickly get out of hand when the project is extremely busy, and much effort and activity is being charged to the project. A budget overrun of 10% is far easier to correct than a 50% budget overrun…and close weekly oversight and analysis almost guarantees that it will never go over by more than 10% without you knowing it.
Summary / call for input
Project management is hard enough. Managing hundreds of tasks on complex project schedules and being responsible for the delegation and accurate reporting of those tasks can be mind-boggling. Top that off with all the reporting, customer management and decision making that must happen to keep the whole mess moving forward and it’s basically like you’re trying to steer a barge through a canal with one hand. Step back and look at how you can streamline certain activities. Minimize meetings and the length of meetings. Do one status report, not three different versions. This will especially help you if you end up being responsible for several projects at once. It may be the only way you keep your sanity and start to realize some key project successes.
What are your tricks and processes for keeping things as simple as possible? What secrets do you employ to keep your head above water while still being productive, working smarter, not harder, and satisfying all those pesky stakeholders?