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Tips For Taking Better Control Of Your Projects

Businesses typically focus on managing their day to day operations, but a big part of what we do is projects: non-operational work that will come to an end. Hiring someone, a website rebuild, a marketing campaign, moving office, installing a new POS system – it’s

Businesses typically focus on managing their day to day operations, but a big part of what we do is projects: non-operational work that will come to an end. Hiring someone, a website rebuild, a marketing campaign, moving office, installing a new POS system – it’s important to have processes to manage the outcomes of these types of projects, and to capture learnings for next time.

Most project management methodologies overshoot the mark when it comes to the average projects businesses are managing. You can apply the key principles of these methodologies and take better control of your projects by adopting these simple project management disciplines:

  • Define your projects: simple, but often overlooked. Actually know what they are. Give them a name, be able to list them. Don’t let them blend into a mush of “work”. Be clear on their scope and objectives. For bigger projects, write these things down.
  • Be clear on why you’re doing it (the “business case”): somewhere, someone needs to decide:
    • if I invest time or money in the project, the benefits will outweigh the costs
    • our approach is the best way to do it.
  • Appoint someone as the project owner or manager – make accountabilities clear.
  • Do a project plan: brainstorm how you’re going to get to the outcomes, write down options, ideas,  questions, research needed, risks and issues. Then start organising your ideas in a meaningful way, identify the steps, sequencing and next actions. Think through the timings and make sure everything will fit. If it justifies it, prepare a time schedule / Gantt chart.
  • Keep a project file: Invent a project naming system and file project documents using it. This is especially important if any of the work might be re-usable. Consider cloud tools for collaboration like Basecamp, Dropbox or Box.com.
  • Track project costs: Most accounting software allows project costs to be tagged and calculated in some way. Also consider a simple time sheeting tool (Mite is nice and simple) to track your team’s time, often the greatest cost.
  • Review things when you’ve finished: a simple whiteboard session on “What Went Well / Even Better If” can be enough. If you’ve tracked costs, review them and decide if it was all worth it. Write it up and put it in the project file for next time.
  • Manage your pipeline: you can’t do everything at once. Keep a list of projects you haven’t started. Decide priorities based on likely costs and benefits, ideally review the list with your team periodically.

Remember the project management effort should match the project size. Business cases can be 200 page documents, a two page memo, or a simple email. Project plans and post project reviews can be a photo of your white board notes.

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