Today, everybody is complaining being overwhelmed by everything. I suspect, that this is not the entire truth. I think, we are not overwhelmed, but we overwhelm ourselves.
One possible approach is minimalism, which is pretty much en vogue today and apart that, one of my favourites. In this article, I give you 3 tips on how to get to a minimalist project management.
Overwhelm has become kind of a general illness everybody suffers from. This holds also true for project managers. That’s at least what everybody thinks. But it’s only part of the truth. A fact is that we overwhelm ourselves, by putting more instead of less into our project management approach. More data, more software, more control, …
The good thing is, once that we have accepted that it is us who overwhelm ourselves the solution is easy. We must stop doing this and concentrate on the basics. Eliminate what is not necessary.
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
– Antoine de Saint Exupery –
So, let’s get started with my …
3 tips for a minimalist project management
1) Don’t plan further than you see
Do you know what smartphone you will buy in 2 years? What kind of technology will have become available at what price and what will be the impact on your project? No?
Well then, why the hell are you trying to do a detailed project plan spreading over the next five years until the end of this project?
Too many people spend way too much time on planning way too far ahead. And then, they continue spending way too much time updating all this huge and lengthy project plan, because everything changes permanently.
I must admit that having a project plan from the beginning to the end feels secure. You know what will happen in the future, that feels secure. And security is key, isn’t it? I have a secret for you, that is a false sense of security, because as things evolve, your project plan is evolving and you will make new assumptions which will have changed 6 months from now.
Unfortunately, also your management likes to have long-term project plans, as they want to make their profit statements and do their long-term planning.
So how to solve this apparent problem?
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The solution is simple: Plan rolling wave.
What does that mean?
The first thing to do is to evaluate the amount of change that you have in your industry. This is different for all industries, from building (rather slow) to IT (much faster) and then decide on how much time ahead you can plan, with a clear idea on what will come.
So, now it’s planning time. The first, near view part should be planned with weekly or bi-weekly durations. Why weekly or bi-weekly? Well, in general you will hold a project meeting with your team members every week or every second week. I suggest you leave them with the corresponding time to work on their topics and not to stay on their back on a daily basis. With one exception: in case they constantly miss their dates.
For the rest of the project you just plan the big phases, but no actions. Go rather for 6 monthly then monthly steps concerning the length of one planning item.
As soon as you have worked through around 30 to 50% of your detailed planning cycle you extend the detailed planning accordingly and look at the remaining rough planning, if any major changes that will change the future have occurred.
I found this to be a good compromise between going crazy planning a project from beginning to end and losing control by not planning at all.
2) Don’t split hairs
I am not a very detail-oriented person. I want to see the big picture and where things are going to. I mean, sometimes you must look at the details to understand what is really going on, but the more you overdo, the more you will run straight into overload.
It is worth to put some consideration on the level of detail you use to track cost, time and everything else.
I propose the following considerations:
- What is the granularity you need to decide on the course of action?
- Will people at any time know on which item to register a purchase, work time, etc.?
- Granularity: Do you really need to track the cost of each and every tool, screw or assembly item? Or can you put items together in useful combinations? If you plan too fine you will end up chasing numbers and explaining why the budget has been overspent on this item whereas on the other item there is money left. It is extremely important to find the right balance. Because putting all your cost for online marketing in one bucket might be not detailed enough, because you would never be able to say which part of your marketing has been more efficient than another. So, spending a little bit of time thinking about this is time well spent. The most important is that you separate as far as needed to analyse and act, but no further.
- Are the items you have chosen clearly discriminable? I have been working in a project where we had 5 different SAP booking accounts for travel expenses one for each part of the project. The problem was that people were travelling and working abroad on different items. So, when coming back, they booked their costs on the account as they felt.
If you have a situation like this, the best is to avoid all the hassle and keep only one account, as the separated figures are at best confusing and at worst will lead to wrong assumptions.
3) Keep your documentation simple
You know this? Files all over the place in 10 different folders and impossible to know which one is the latest up-to-date version? The same information in 2 or more different files from different dates?
Don’t fall into this trap and keep your project’s key documentation simple, easy and limit the number of documents as much as you can. The more information you keep in one document, the less redundant information you will have. And the less redundant information you have, the more you are sure that the information you have in front of you is actually exact.
Some more tips…
Define a naming convention for your files which should not only include the filename preceded by the date of the last modification. Whenever you touch a file with the intention to modify it, first make a copy and move it to an archive folder. Then, change the date part of the filename and keep the rest like it has been. Instruct also your teammates to keep this logic. The advantage is 2-fold: First, you always know when a file has been changed and second, when you reference to a file in a certain document, you can be sure that the reader will access the correct file.
Never ever make a copy of your file into another folder. If you need the file in another folder for convenience reason, for example on your desktop, then put a link there. If you really need a file in a folder to document the data used, then add “-nm” to the filename, which is short for non-maintained. This will instruct the reader that this file is not to be modified or used for any other purpose than for reference, and that he should go to the original location in case he needs up-do-date information.
There will be even more tipps in my next blog post. So, stay tuned!
Now its your turn!
Now, I am curious to know what you think? Did you find these tips useful? In this case, please share them on the social networks, so that others can profit.
Do you have other tips and approaches concerning minimising your overwhelm and project effort? Then, please share them here or on the social media. I am curious to read your ideas.
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