Whatever your business does, if you don’t get your project management right, it will break your business! Not convinced or thinking you don’t have projects? Then read on, this article will open your eyes and give you the basics of planning a project.
In the first episode of my PM TRANSFORMER PODCAST, I cited the well-known trainer to the world top speakers, Michael Port: “Everything in a business is a project, so if you don’t manage your projects well, sooner or later you will no longer have a business.”
If a guy who runs a successful training business is saying this, it might be worth to reconsider the view we take on what is a project and how we manage them well. If we mess this up it can indeed break or make our business. I wrote a general article about the basics of projects some time ago so I won’t dive into the theory, but serve you with just a few concrete examples about businesses with projects to show you the bandwidth.
Examples to get you going
Writing a book is indeed a project. There are lots of moving pieces to the process, like the upfront research, the writing itself, the proofreading, making the cover. After that, we have the printing of the book. And in between all the marketing on social media, fares, doing perhaps a book tour and organising a book launch, so that people will actually buy what you have written.
Now, if you just close your eyes and see your business as an author and where it will go if you would just mess up the marketing part and no one will buy. Your business will go belly up very soon.
But no need to stress out, project management can be simple and will help you to keep the overview of all the moving pieces and manage the flow of the tasks.
So, you manufacture stuff, you refine or clean it? And you think you only have operations but no projects, as it’s the same day in day out?
Well then, look at optimising your workflow for example by changing machinery. If you do not coordinate this well, between researching what you need, buying the machinery itself, organising the services around the installation like electricians, builders, etc. organising the production stop and relaunch, informing your customers and marketing the fact that you’ve upgraded your machinery, you will run into trouble or will at least not reap the full benefits.
Imagine you forgot one service provider that you actually need to put the machinery in place and your production is stopped in its tracks for a week. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have done some project management and avoided this?
All the other businesses
I do not want to overwhelm you with examples but just help you see the picture. Basically, everything that you do which is not exactly the same every time you do it, should be seen and managed as a project.
Doing so will avoid you mistakes, costly delays and considerably reduce stress and anxiety of having forgotten something important, which always happens when you plan just in your mind or not at all.
The basics of planning a project
To get you started I would like to share some basic principles you need for all projects. If you want to go more in depth, then download my free guide and subscribe to my updates right now!
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Start with a solid list of tasks
The starting point for each project is a solid list of the tasks. Sit with your team and list everything that has to get done. Don’t yet dive into who does it, but just concentrate on the tasks. The easiest way to start from is the outcomes you want to achieve and go to the tasks to achieve the outcomes from there. Make it a fun brainstorming session and invite the entire team to take part.
The next step is to check dependencies between tasks and necessary delays. For example, you have to finish the book before it can be printed, that is a classic dependency. If you order a machine the order time is a classic delay.
You need to note this information with each task, so that you won’t get into trouble and have unforeseen waiting times. But limit yourself to what is really necessary concerning dependencies and waiting time. Tasks that will be executed in a row, perhaps even subtasks under a big one do not need dependencies in between, but are better managed as a checklist.
Estimate execution time
Now it’s time to look at each task and estimate the time for the execution. How long will it take to do the task? This is normally a value in hours or man-days. A man-day is the time one person (could also be a woman-day ;-)) takes to do the task.
If you are late, you can sometimes reduce the total time by putting more people on certain tasks to speed up. Sometimes, not always!
Don’t get lost in the details
Now there is an important point. Do NOT bother planning tasks in too much detail. Having tasks planned by the hour will drive you crazy if you want to follow and control this. If a bigger task that takes one day for example has several things in it that need to be done, than use a checklist to make sure that everything within this task gets done. Checklists work very well to avoid dropping balls.
Drive by sight
That’s a huge one! We tend to plan too far ahead. And believe me, I’ve been there. We have a big goal in 2 years and now we want to know exactly, step by step, how we get there. I know it’s tempting, but it’s a huge waste of time.
Why? Because nobody, and I really mean nobody, knows how the future looks in 6 months or one year. And you will not be the same person you are now in a year either. So, a task that you now plan to be done in a year or so, might well be completely useless by then. In fact, technology might have changed, you will have learned new stuff, gotten to know new people, that make this specific task completely useless.
Planning 1 or 2 years ahead will give you a sense of certainty, which in fact is not real. There is no such thing as certainty!
In order to avoid a waste of effort do what I call ‘drive by sight’. Just plan tasks until the next milestone. Behind it, just plan the rough generic summary tasks to get you to the next milestone. This brings us to the next chapter…
Plan with milestones
This is important! When you do your planning, put some milestones on your path which can serve you to do your navigation to your goal.
Let’s take the example of our new membership site, where we help project managers and entrepreneurs to transform from the inside out and though transform their way to approach project management.
Start: October 2019.
Milestone: Concept laid out, end of January 2020.
2nd Milestone: Marketing launched, end of March 2020.
3rd Milestone: Set-up systems to effectively manage the communication and support for the members to become scalable, end of June 2020
And so on… (just an example)
So, we did a detailed planning for the first milestone. That detailed planning included also a planning session for the second milestone, just before we would reach the first one. Keep the dynamics going.
If you plan this way, you can always stay flexible and include all the things that you learn along the way.
Include your stakeholders
Stakeholders are all the people around your project, from customers, suppliers, competitors to staff, etc. When you do your planning think also about how the project will affect them and communicate appropriately.
For example, if you change a machine in your production or build a new building, communicate with your staff, why you do this and what this will mean to them. Don’t leave communication to gossip, which will invariably be having people stand up against your project, even if it’s actually good for them. Once people have built their opinion it’s difficult to get them back to reason. So, act before.
You are the boss, whether it is as a project manager or business manager. It’s your vision and your project, so show leadership. Don’t be passive and hope for things to happen. Don’t let people sluff off and deviate from what needs to get done. Manage actively and keep everybody aligned to where you want them to go.
But this means also, that you never should run for the next shiny thing and mess up your project. You never should deviate from doing what you said you would do. If you let things slip, your team will do the same. You have to keep track, stay committed to the outcome and be disciplined to do what it takes. Be an example for your people.
These are the basics of planning a project. So now it’s up to you to get you started. I know, I just gave you the basics and it might still look a bit overwhelming. But I guarantee you, if you just start with my above mentioned first step, you will want to do the next step too. And if you just do these two and nothing else, you will already have a much clearer overview of the tasks that need to be done for your project. Get started. Go for it!
By the way, my PM TRANSFORMER PODCAST offers you bite sized project management transforming know how and tips. Go listen to the first episode!
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