There’s a lot of fancy terminology surrounding project management. Scrum this, Agile that… Makes it all sound like rocket science.
And this sort of science is necessary when managing big companies, where a 5% improvement in project efficiency can mean the difference of millions of dollars in profits.
However, if you’re just starting out, or running a 1-5 man team, you don’t need that. Why? Because you’ll probably spend more time figuring these sophisticated project management systems out — and then spend some more figuring out how to make them work for your business — than the time that these systems would actually let you save.
Don’t get me wrong — they’re good systems, and they’re able to handle some of the world’s most complex and multi-faceted processes and projects. But they will require an up-front time investment from you — an investment that isn’t likely to pay off for a team of up to 5 members.
What you do need are strong basics of managing projects. Just with these 5 basics, you’ll be able to get 80% of project management value for 20% of time invested.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 5 crucial steps that every successful project management system employs:
1. Design, or Setting Goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to get to where you want to be. Think about it this way — life is a compass with 360 degrees. 360 different directions you could sail your ship to. For any person, there are usually only 5 or 10 directions that will satisfy their needs and desires.
Same goes for project management. Your projects can go in a million different ways, encountering hundreds of different obstacles. What you need to do, then, is identify and state which of the possibilities are in-line with your company’s overall direction, and what kinds of constraints do you have. This will allow you to adjust the sails and navigate your business in the right direction.
Fail to set project goals and you might end up in confusion of why you started the project in the first place. Fail to outline constraints and you might run into unexpected roadblocks somewhere down the line.
2. Planning and Setting Timelines
Constructions abandoned halfway. Government programs not fulfilled. Projects stuck in the drawer.
All of these are the consequences of poor planning. Planning is extremely important in getting projects done, and not just for your peace of mind. A careful and thought-through project timeline serves like a scenario to the actors: everybody knows when and what to do. Without a scenario, the whole thing is just improvisation.
3. Execution, or Getting Things Done
The most difficult — yet most important — part of every project is the execution. This is what actually delivers results and makes your business grow.
The number one rule of successful project execution is strictness. The project timeline must be consulted like a constitution, a playbook for the whole project. Imagine a play at the theatre where actors aren’t coordinated, and just blurt out their lines whenever they feel like it. It ruins the whole play. Each character relies on coordination of others to manifest.
Project management is very much the same, in a sense that once the first mistake happens, the rest of the project starts falling like dominos.
One of the best ways to protect your company and strenghten your project management is through considering all possible outcomes — the mistakes and the solutions to these mistakes. For example, an outcome-based timeline should say “If Joe the designer fails to present his drafts on Wednesday, we’ll immediately contact Matt, who said for sure he’s available.” This sort of thinking will cut off the problem in its tracks and won’t let it ruin your projects.
4. Completion, or Crossing the Finish Line
The last 15% of a project is a fairly simple, but very important part of every project. This is when people start feeling like the project is already finished, and start making mistakes or slacking on the time schedule.
You know how sprinters always imagine the finish line a bit further than the actual line? They do this not to lose any momentum and cross the line with maximum speed, because human beings are instinctively wired to relax when they’re about to finish doing something. There’s nothing you can do about it — it’s just the way we are.
That’s why, as a project manager, you should put twice as much effort on enforcing strict deadlines and adherence to the schedule during the very last 20% of the project. Your efforts will keep everyone sharp and will reduce the mistakes people tend to make in end-of-day situations.
Just like there is little difference between a man who doesn’t read, and a man who can’t read, there is little difference between a project manager who doesn’t learn, and a project manager who can’t learn.
After every project, you should host two sessions of feedback: one within your company (you and your team), and the other with your clients. Both sides will have more to say than you might initially think. Do this even if the project goes 100% successfully in your eyes, and you shall improve exponentially.