As you expand your productivity and stretch your level of success, the size and scope of the projects you tackle are likely to increase. Unless you develop your project management capabilities to keep pace, you’ll eventually bump up against your limits and risk dropping the ball on a major project.
To help make sure you’re capable of handling the major projects that will land on your desk, here are some suggestions for how to grow your skills and abilities for project management:
Grasp the Concept
Effective project management flows from an in-depth understanding of what the project entails, including resources, timelines, and deliverables.
Before you jump into the running the project – or at least running with it – make sure you fully grasp the underlying details: who and what you will be working with, the criteria for success, the minimum standards for quality, and all the rest.
It’s helpful to capture all this information in a document that you can share with others, as needed, to help keep everyone in synch and on the same page. You can also refer to this document at various times during the project, particularly when:
- New issues and considerations crop up,
- Difficult choices have to be made,
- There’s pressure in several different directions, or
- The project’s purposes and goals are growing dim.
Define the Scope
Once a major project is underway, it’s easy and quite common for it to shift, morph, and grow. It’s somewhat like painting one room in your home, which can then make a rash of other unplanned improvements seem necessary.
This spontaneous expansion can quickly make a project unwieldy, overly expensive, and ultimately unsatisfying or even unsuccessful.
You can prevent some or all of this “target creep” by carefully defining the scope of the project early on. A clear, detailed description still allows you to expand the project, when called for. But specifying the project’s original boundaries gives you a solid reference point that helps weaken the temptation to expand the project beyond sensible limits.
With so many moving parts, a major project can easily get out of shape. Crucial steps may fall dangerously behind schedule because some preliminary task was ignored or left incomplete for too long.
It’s usually important to complete each milestone as soon as you can, if only so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. But since this is not always possible, or efficient, establishing and adhering to a practical schedule helps to keep the project on track toward its optimum completion date.
A practical schedule, incidentally, includes adequate time for communication and coordination among the various people working on the project, as well as a cushion of time to handle unexpected delays and contingencies.
Monitor the Money
Cost is usually one of the most important limits on a project. It requires your rapt attention.
In the beginning, it’s important that you look over the project and its budget to evaluate whether there’s enough funding to complete the necessary work. While you’re at it, consider the budget’s position on the spectrum of “bare bones” to “lavish”. Extra spending can save a lot of time and trouble on a major project. When the funding isn’t lavish enough, you may need to judiciously improvise, cut corners, and apply other cost-saving techniques.
As you work the project, monitoring the money will help you ensure that you have enough left in the kitty to pay the final bills.
Wrangle the People
Managing the human resources may be the most important part of any major project. It’s important not only to have the right people on the project, with the right mix of knowledge, skills, and experience, it’s also critical they feel motivated and empowered to deliver top-notch work on a timely basis.
While every project and every team tends to be different, there’s a need to consistently “onboard” the people who will be working on the project so as to:
- Align their expectations,
- Lay down performance guidelines, and
- Establish criteria for project success.
It’s also helpful to establish channels and protocols for communication, so people receive all the information they need to succeed and fully coordinate their activities if, as, and when necessary.
Because unexpected problems are common on major projects, people should understand how to identify when the project begins to exceed allowable leeway, and what procedures to follow to report their observations and start putting the project back on track.
Guarantee the Quality
We all have our standards for the work we deliver, but major projects don’t fly well without clear standards for the quality of its deliverables. It’s one thing to lay out these standards in the project’s original concept. It’s a much more detailed and demanding effort to adhere to these standards in the project’s execution.
You must set up realistic procedures for testing and evaluating deliverables at key stages, and – particularly with longer-term projects – identifying systemic sources of errors and quality shortfalls. Otherwise, rework and repair efforts may absorb too much of the project’s resources.
Managing major projects is complex and demanding. The larger the project, the less room there tends to be for trial-and-error. The concerns I’ve outlined here will help point you in the right direction, so you can apply your knowledge, skills, and abilities to the key considerations that will help you drive your major project to the desired goals.
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