All About Projects

Let’s dive into projects before we do anything else. Anything at all can be a project. When you do tasks around your home you’re completing a project. When you plan out your next vacation for the family or your budget the big account at work. All of these things are projects but less formally. If you’re looking to create a true, formal project you’re going to need a few important things:

  • Start date
  • End date
  • Overall goal
  • Overall scope
  • Proper resources
  • Management

If you have all of these things then you have a true project, but you likely don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to managing that project just yet. That’s where the next step in this process comes in.

Project Management Definition

When we talk about project management we’re talking about an action. Someone (the project manager) is going to ensure that everyone else is doing what they need to be doing when they need to do it. The managers are the people who are going to make sure that all of the different aspects of the project we already talked about are going smoothly. Management is the process of actually doing the overseeing.

Frequently we hear the word ‘management’ as a way to describe the higher level bosses. ‘Management takes care of that.’ But that’s not the way that the word should be used. Management is a practice, not a person. When we talk about the management of a project we’re talking about what’s being done to ensure that things are done the way they should be. While the manager is responsible for executing proper management, they are not management themselves.

Understanding Project Managers

So, just what is the project manager? They’re the ones who have to communicate with everyone. They need to keep all of the different departments working together on their piece of the puzzle. They have to keep track of the puzzle itself and they need to be aware of what the team wants and what the client wants. These are the individuals responsible for scope creep, failures within the project and making the big decisions about how a project is going to be accomplished. Other tasks might include:

  • Resource planning
  • Time/cost estimating
  • Facilitating meetings
  • Analyzing/managing risks
  • Monitoring project status

How Project Management Works

When it comes to the actual execution of project management it varies from one team to the next and even one project to the next. The key is finding a balance that works for the organization and the people who are going to be responsible for every step of the process. When it comes to carrying out a project, however, most organizations follow these three basic steps, with different specifications throughout.

Research and Planning Phase

The first phase in the process is to research what needs to be done for the project to be successful. This generally includes market research, competitive analyses and a thorough understanding of what the client is looking for. By doing the research and planning out the process long before anything else is started it’s possible to ensure that adequate goals are set. This also ensures the requirements are fully understood and developed so that all members of the team can complete their portion of the tasks appropriately. The idea is to make sure that you have the right level of prioritization and delegation, which you do through our Ultimate Gantt software.

Execution Phase

The next phase of the process is to execute the plan that you’ve created. It means choosing a path and a method that you’re going to follow which could be one of many popular varieties, including waterfall or agile (which we’ll talk about later). Overall, this is where you want to work with everyone that’s going to be a part of the team and make sure everyone has tasks that they need to perform along the way.You need to talk to the employees who are going to execute each aspect. You need to talk with the stakeholders and clients who are going to benefit (or not) from the result. Everyone needs to know what the process is and how it’s all going to happen from this moment until the end product is ready to be delivered. This is going to require a lot of careful planning as well as a lot of structure.

Testing Phase

The final phase is when the project is all over. At least, it’s where the creation of the project is over. This is where you’ll need to make sure that everything is working the way that it should and that it’s getting the type of results that were expected. You want to test things out and you may need to make adjustments as you go along if you’re not getting exactly what was planned. There may be several stages of adjustments and testing before you get to the ultimate result, but when this phase is over it means the project is complete.

Putting it All Together

Now, let’s take a little closer look at those stages and what’s going to happen to make sure that your plan is effective, efficient and workable. We’ll take a look at how to create a work plan as well as some of the different processes you can use for implementing that plan. We’ll also look closely at how to make sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing and how they will know what tasks they need to accomplish first. So, let’s jump right in.

Setting Your Goals

Setting a goal is going to be the first step for your process, because if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? You may have heard variations of this quote from Lewis Carroll and Yogi Berra. They both knew that to get somewhere you need to actually set an end goal and not just an end goal. You need to set a SMART end goal. No, a SMART goal is not the same thing as just setting a smart goal, either. Sure, you need to put some thought into your goals, but you also need more than that:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

If your goal hits all five of these marks then you’re setting yourself up for success in actually accomplishing it. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to head back to the drawing board and see what you can come up with. The reason for that is, research shows that SMART goals are the kind that people push themselves to achieve, and that’s the whole point, right? You set a goal because you want to get there. By making sure you stick with each of these points you’re encouraging yourself (and your organization) to do just that.

Creating the Plan

Next up is creating the plan. We mentioned that this is the first phase in the three-phase design, but it needs a little more explaining than just that. Planning means that you’re going to break the project down into steps. You’re going to start with an end goal in mind and you’ll then need to start thinking about what needs to be accomplished along the way to eventually get to that ultimate goal. There will be several people involved in the process and you need to know that each of those people is executing their tasks the way you would expect.

While it’s always a good idea to check in with your team personally, there’s no way that you’ll be able to keep track of every piece of their tasks at every moment of the day. Think about how large your team is and what all they need to accomplish. Chances are they’re not only working on a single project either. So, you need to know what’s going on in each task they’ve been assigned but you don’t want to disrupt their day (or yours) walking in to talk with them at all times, that’s where a good project work plan will make a big change.You want to create a plan that directs everyone and then put it into a system.

That way, each person can check-in, see what they’re supposed to be doing, and mark projects they’re working on or that they have completed. As the project manager, you would be able to then check into the system and see what projects are being completed, what still needs to be done and where everyone is working. From there, you can see what kind of meetings or check-ins you need to schedule and focus there, rather than spending a lot of time talking to people who don’t need it.

Agile vs. Waterfall Planning

Let’s take a look at the two most common methods of planning and executing a project. These are agile planning and waterfall planning. While either one can be successful and yield excellent results for your project, they also have their own benefits and drawbacks that might make one or the other the better choice for your specific organization or for a specific project within your organization.Overall, agile planning focuses on breaking down the plan into smaller steps.

Each of these steps is called a sprint, which is approximately 1 to 3 weeks’ worth of work. By breaking things down into sprints it’s possible to break each project into more manageable steps. It feels a whole lot easier to execute when you’re able to look at small pieces rather than a large project that could take months or longer to be done. This process makes sure that each step is being done in the right way and that nothing gets missed in the process. It’s also the most popular method, with approximately 71% of organizations saying they use this method, likely because it’s flexible, open to changes and quite simple for members of the team to work with.Waterfall planning, on the other hand, is quite structured and strict.

Many project managers aren’t quite as keen on this method because it feels entirely too fixed. It feels like you don’t have any level of flexibility, which can be a little difficult for some to follow. On the other hand, if you’re interested in going from one step to the next in a linear manner it can be an effective method for executing a project. It actually plans everything out one step after the other. When the first step is complete then you can move on to the next and so on, until the ultimate goal is achieved at the end of the line.

Assigning Roles Properly

During the course of project implementation and the steps we’ve outlined above, one of the most important aspects is giving everyone a job to do. Each member of the team needs to know where they fit into the grand scheme of things and what they’re responsible for doing. One way to assign roles positively and effectively is through a RACI chart. This is a chart that focuses on four important aspects of assigning tasks.

  • Responsible
  • Accountable
  • Consulted
  • Informed

With each of these different roles, you’re going to be assigning different team members, which makes the project more efficient and makes sure that everyone has a job to get done. Check out the link above if you’re interested in learning even more about how RACI can help you and your entire team to get the job done.

Scheduling Tasks

Now, another important aspect of planning out your project is making sure that each aspect of the project is done the right way. You want to make sure that not only do you have tasks assigned but everyone knows what tasks need to be completed first. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle where you’re trying to complete the easiest tasks first just to cross something off the list.

An Eisenhower Matrix can allow you to not only showcase the tasks that need to be accomplished, but also make sure that they are prioritized, so the most important things are being done first.With this matrix (which you can find out even more about as well) you’ll be able to clue your team in on what’s the most important tasks that need to be completed. Or, in Eisenhower’s terms, which are the urgent tasks. In general, items are broken down into one of four quadrants.

These are:

  • Urgent and important
  • Not urgent and important
  • Urgent and not important
  • Not urgent and not important

Tracking Tasks

Once tasks have been assigned and scheduled it’s important to make sure that they’re being accomplished and executed properly. This is where we start entering into the second phase of the project as we’ve talked about in the previous section. To track tasks you can use several different methods, including programs like Trello, Wrike, Asana or Monday, but what you’re going to want to check out is Instagantt because it allows you to do more than just assign tasks.

Where Trello, Asana, and Monday are going to allow you to assign tasks and even to write notes and make sure that tasks are checked off, they’re not going to give you the more advanced aspects of the management process. You’re not going to be able to manage things like baselines, critical paths, dependencies, milestones and more. For those things, you’re going to need a Gantt chart software. Now, you can find out more about Gantt chart software here, if you are interested in things like the background, where they started out and even how they’ve evolved, but you can accomplish more with Wrike or Instagantt than you will with the other two options we’ve mentioned.

What’s great about these types of software is that you’re going to be able to check progress on projects, rather than just whether it’s complete or not. You can also perfect the program to match your specific organization and your teams’ needs. You’ll be able to manage resources, manage workload and even track budget and more. Overall, it’s a very in-depth and detail-oriented project management system, which makes it a whole lot easier for any project manager to utilize. It also takes care of most of the concepts you’ll need for the second phase of the project you’re managing.

Measuring Success

The final aspect of the process is measuring your success. Now, there are several different ways that you can choose to measure the success of a project and it’s primarily going to depend on the specifics of the project itself. You’ll need to look at things like the return on investment for the client and the overall amount of time that it can save them. Measuring success means that you’ll need to know some of the metrics from before the project was implemented and compare them to the same metrics after the project is completed.

Instagantt can help you with some of these steps as well, and you can also look for other types of tracking software that will allow your clients and your team to measure where a particular project is succeeding and where additional changes or improvements can be made. This will allow everyone to stay happy with the result and will ensure you are achieving the level of success that you’re looking for.

Final Words on Project Management

Project management and especially effective and high-quality project management is a benefit to any company because it provides a few major aspects that are difficult or impossible to achieve otherwise:

  • Efficient teams
  • Happy clients
  • Proper organization
  • Team growth and development
  • Overall flexibility
  • Project quality
  • Project quantity

By engaging in each of these different aspects, any business is going to be able to improve their bottom line and increase the level of work that they are providing. Using proper project management style ensures that teams are created effectively and that those teams are then encouraged to work in their strength areas rather than everyone trying to accomplish different tasks. Project management provides the organizational structure, the growth, and development necessary to complete tasks and the flexibility that’s necessary for everyone to achieve what they need.

By working with an effective management team throughout this process, it’s also possible for employees and team members to feel better heard and understood, enabling them to speak up and to make effective changes throughout the process. Project management can be a game-changer for any business, as long as they know how to properly implement it at every stage.

If you’re looking to start a project or if you’re the project manager for a project that’s already up and running, you must take a look at each of these different aspects of a successful project. Your team is looking to you for leadership and for help to be successful, and it’s only through proper management that they’re going to achieve it.

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