Here’s a familiar scene: It’s early in the year, and your team meets for their annual planning to discuss the year’s key initiatives. Lots of tasks, concepts, and projects are dumped onto the table – great ideas and needed overhauls that hold a lot of potential to keep your firm moving ahead and evolving. There’s a lot of excitement about the ideas that come out of that meeting. But too often, those ideas and projects never make it off that table.
So, how do you develop a plan to actually execute these initiatives, rather than just talk about them over and over again at the beginning of every year? Consider these tips for approaching project management and lead your team with confidence:
Getting a project to completion isn’t as hard as it may seem, no matter how big or intimidating the initiative may appear. Truthfully, it’s easy to turn project management into some overly complex exercise that never actually completes a project nor provides much management. Don’t fall into that trap. Never allow a project to stagnate simply because it feels too big or complex. While some projects may take longer than others to complete, if your firm has identified a project as important, priority should be placed on it regardless of the size and scope. The key here is simply to not freeze before you get the chance to get moving.
Understand your goal
When working on any type of project, it is important to understand the overall mission before diving into the process. Start with a few important questions and be sure to not rush through this step:
You must be sure that you and your team have a complete understanding of where you are headed in order to generate a win. Continue to ask yourself these questions along the way to ensure you’re staying on the right track. Once the goal is declared and all involved clearly understand it, it is time for forward progress.
Begin with the end in mind
Envisioning your end goal is a powerful motivational tool. It helps to keep distractions at bay and can encourage you to remain focused and on task through the completion of your project. When you hit an obstacle or when you feel like progress has slowed, simply reset your frame of mind and remember what the ultimate goal of the project is. Ask yourself, “where are we now, and where do we want to be when this project is complete?” Then consider trying to simply reverse engineer a plan to accomplish the goal. Never lose sight of where you are headed. Whether you are tracking your to-dos as a project manager or you are helping move forward a large project inside of your organization, it is important to have an understanding of what you and your team need to accomplish.
When you come to a tough decision, weigh the options, choose one, and continue to work. If along the way you realize you chose the wrong one, don’t be afraid to stop, go back, and try another way. The road to project completion is often not linear. There will be many zig zags along the way.
Say you are working fast and furiously on the project at hand and you’re interrupted with a fire that needs to be put out. That’s okay! No project plan follows its original trajectory exactly. Put the fire out, then come back to where you left off. Be sure to clearly communicate to your project team if there has been a hiccup or an event that has caused you to move off course from the original plan. This will serve to keep everyone in the loop and remind them that we’re still working towards a goal.
Risk management is tremendously important to project management. It’s vital to realize what the risks are and to develop a risk response plan when you do encounter a bump along the way. Because trust me…there WILL be bumps, and if you allow those bumps to halt progress, you’ll never get anything off the ground! As you begin developing your project plan, take time to identify potential risks. Consider potential obstacles like:
- Key team members take expected or unexpected time off
- Other tasks and projects become a time suck
- The project deadline becomes more or less urgent
- Progress is much slower than anticipated
For each risk, invest your time and thought into how you’ll address and adapt. That preparation will provide you with incredible power and agility. You’ll find that you don’t feel blindsided by small obstacles. You’ll be able to maintain focus and quickly adjust, if needed, in order to sustain forward progress.
The trap of perfectionism is the place where many projects die. They hit bottlenecks, remain stagnant, and never see the light of day because they’re not…perfect. For many high achievers, perfection is the aim. The goal here is not to overcome your human nature. The goal is to be able to recognize that perfect can’t trump everything. A done project that isn’t perfect will always be more impactful than a perfect project that never gets done.
A word of caution here: I am not saying that quality doesn’t matter. It absolutely does! In the same way that you must avoid the trap of perfectionism, you must also avoid the trap of progress for the sake of progress. Simply checking tasks off your project management list in order to move closer to the end goal as quickly as possible is a recipe for failure. You’ll get done, sure, but will it matter?
Instead of falling prey to either perfectionism or get it done-ism, try a more balanced approach. When creating your project team, balance the lineup with those who you know will push for perfect and those who will push for done. They’re both important and, often, without each other for balance, they struggle to either cross the finish line or cross the finish line with anything worth crossing it with.
Manage your time effectively
You’ve likely got a plate that’s overflowing with projects and tasks. When you’re working towards a deadline, effective time management is critical. Identify your most productive hours in the day. When is the best time for you to focus and knock out tasks? Then, block out that time every day. Maximize its power by communicating to your team the time(s) where you need uninterrupted focus. This will mitigate the risks of being pulled away for problems and issues that do not actually need to be addressed immediately. This will also send a message to your team that this project is important. If they see you putting in the time and effort, they’ll be more inclined to complete their tasks in a timely fashion as well.
Also, consider employing a project management system to keep forward progress moving and the team informed. While there are excellent project management software platforms available, you can also accomplish this with a custom system that may be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, Outlook reminders, and emails. No matter how high- or low-tech you go, ensure the system works well and everyone is on the same page with how to use it and update it appropriately. Use this system during your progress meetings so you provide a visual to the team regarding how far you’ve come on the project and how far you have left until you can call the project complete!
Embrace the role
Don’t shrug off project management as, “not your problem!” Project management skills are necessary for almost every single team member. Learning to develop those skills will help to keep the firm in a constant state of “getting it done.” That’s a good place to be. Everyone needs a way to keep up with tasks and a system to be efficient and effective in doing so. For too many, though, mastering project management doesn’t seem to be a high priority. While different positions at your firm will certainly call for different levels of project management expertise, the skills associated with this work can pertain to tasks and undertakings of any size. Mastering these practices, no matter what your title is, can help you become more efficient and effective in your role and ultimately boost your career.
Consider incorporating project management into your ongoing education for your team members. Hold a lunch-and-learn session focused on the topic. Include everyone, and send the message that stellar project management can impact each and every team member positively. It’s an important skill, and no one has ever regretted becoming a better project manager!
Get it done!
With these tips, you’ll walk out of next year’s annual planning meeting armed with a starting point for approaching any project you get assigned. You’ll feel prepared and ready to conquer even the most mammoth projects. With a better approach, project management can become one of the pillars that helps make your firm successful. It can provide the constant momentum you need to continue achieving loftier and loftier goals. We all like to get stuff done, right? Now go run with it!