By Nathan Young
You've been tasked with a big, new project at work. And while you're excited about the opportunity, there are a lot of moving pieces. How can you ensure that all of those pieces fall into place? By using project management techniques.
A growing career field that's useful in almost every industry, project management involves overseeing a project from inception to completion, on time and within budget.
And even if you're not a project manager by trade, project management skills and methods can come in handy.
So, what are these project management techniques, and how do you apply them? Let's go over a few tips and tricks that are critical factors in successfully completing a project.
Tip 1: Clarify outcomes
Start by asking yourself two important questions with every project: What do I want to achieve with this? What's the valuable outcome I'm hoping for?
By knowing what you want to create, you can stay more focused on the goal and not let yourself get sidetracked.
Tip 2: Break the project into tasks
Looking at any project as a whole can be overwhelming. Where to start? How do you get from where you are now to the finished product?
Breaking down the project into smaller, more manageable pieces can add perspective and help you get over that initial hump. Plus, there's the added satisfaction of crossing off each task as you go and seeing your project start coming together more quickly than you'd think.
If you're having trouble with this, one idea is to ask yourself, "what's the next best step?"
You don't necessarily need to nail down every step for the project, but outlining three to five "next steps" can go a long way toward making your project feel more manageable.
Tip 3: Create timelines and benchmarks
Scheduling timelines and benchmarks are essential for two reasons. First, they create urgency. Without setting deadlines, it can become very easy to procrastinate. In addition, timelines and benchmarks help you avoid a situation where you're scrambling to finish a project by the due date.
For benchmarks, start simple. At what point would you like to be at least halfway done? What would halfway done look like? Many people also find that projects break more naturally into thirds, so 33% and 66%.
Decide what needs to be completed by whatever benchmark point you choose. Now you have a much clearer idea of your project's timeline.
Tip 4: Define resources and budget
With any project, you'll likely need additional resources such as labor (people), tools to accomplish the task, or information you'll have to gather.
You'll also want to define just how much you're willing to spend on this project and what it's worth to get it done. The budget goes both ways. You need to give the project enough funding to be done well and define the project's scope, so you don't go over budget.
Tip 5: Clarify team responsibilities
Make sure everybody on the team knows what's expected of them. Giving this type of direction can require a level of clarity and assertiveness that we're not all accustomed to, but if we leave key expectations fuzzy, it can lead to problems down the line.
This is where project management tools can come in handy. They allow you to lay out all the tasks in one place where each team member can easily reference them, add their notes and leave progress updates.
Tip 6: Prioritize
Not everything involved with completing your project has the same level of importance. Some pieces are fundamental to what the finished product will look like. Other aspects can be optional. Identify the critical tasks so you can prioritize the essential parts of each phase of the project and know what you can leave off if you fall behind.
Tip 7: Plan for setbacks
Not every project goes as planned. It's possible the project could go over budget or get behind schedule. Team members may drop off, or resources may become unavailable. These are all completely normal hiccups in the process.
A good project manager will expect to encounter more than a couple of problems. They may even have contingency plans built-in, also referred to as "risk management."
Tip 8: Communicate regularly
Throughout any project, communication is critical and should include team members, stakeholders and even project managers on other concurrent projects.
Incorporating regular, high-quality communication into your schedule keeps everybody appraised of the project's current state and invites new ideas that might be helpful.
Tip 9: Stay focused on the big picture
Ultimately the project isn't the goal itself but a piece of a larger plan. Staying focused on the bigger picture goal will help inform critical aspects of the project as you go along.
And, of course, don't forget to celebrate your wins! Projects are often very involved, and recognizing everyone's contributions to the end goal is a great way to acknowledge and thank everyone who helped bring the project to fruition.
Do you have other helpful project management tips? Share them in the comments below!