Projects are hard. They are complex and have many moving parts. They require a number of people to work together to achieve the project outcomes, and seem hard to plan and organise. Because of this complexity, they are often the work we procrastinate about, therefore making our job harder still as they creep towards their deadline and become urgent. So, what can we do to make projects just a little more manageable, and easier to integrate into our workflow?
Make projects visible
The first step is to make your projects visible. Our projects often sit buried in our head, or in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere. Projects might be complex, but they are much less complex if we get them out in the open, break them down into their component parts, and then make the activities visible across the team. Visibility creates control, and ensures that everyone is aware of what needs to be done by when. There are four key elements of a project that you need to make visible – Why, what, who and when.
Why – Get clear about why you are doing this project. This will set the context for your team.
What – This details what needs to be done. Create a complete breakdown of the project deliverables and all of the tasks that must be done to complete each.
Who – List all of the people involved in the project, and their responsibilities. This includes the project manager, sponsor, team and any stakeholders.
When – Finally identify key deadlines and timelines. For complex projects this might involve a project schedule or Gannt chart. For simple projects a list of key dates may suffice.
Choose the right tools
Once you have broken the project down and made it visible, you should think about the best tool to use to manage the project. Very complex projects may need complex tools like MS Project, but in many professional circles this is probably overkill.
Many teams use online mind-mapping tools to break more complex work down and track progress in a simple way. Project Boards have become very popular in recent times, allowing your team to create a work breakdown structure of the project, and assign tasks and track progress in an intuitive way. Asana, Trello and MS Planner are all popular project board tools. Some projects simply need a checklist, and should not be made any more complex than they need to be. The tool you choose will depend on the complexity of the project, and the number of people working on it.
Make time to plan
The final strategy to make projects great is to make time to plan. Projects need some initial planning to get them started. But the plan will be out of date on day one. You need to constantly review progress and make adjustments to keep the project on track. You also need to ensure that you are driving the right next-step actions into your schedule to create traction.
One of the challenges with projects is that they are rarely urgent at the start. But if left too long in the procrastination pile, they become urgent and much harder to manage. By regularly reviewing your projects and asking yourself the question “What is the next step, and when am I going to do it?”, you will reduce the risk of things being left until the last minute.
Projects do not have to be hard to manage. They just need to be made visible in the right tools, and to have time dedicated to them in your schedule. Then they become great rather than grating!
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