Do you feel intimidated whenever you hear the phrase “project management?”
It sounds kind of overwhelming and technical, doesn’t it?
But what’s even more frightening and devastating is when you’ve got a project you’ve been meaning to finish, but months keep going by and it’s still on your to-do list.
You’re depriving your clients of something that could make a positive difference in their lives as well as missing out on opportunities and revenue breakthroughs. Most importantly, it’s weighing on you emotionally, making you feel guilty that you haven’t gotten around to it.
You have two options: forgive yourself and let go of the project or commit to completing it.
If the project is no longer important to you or your clients, cross it off your list. Release yourself from this burden and enjoy a light heart and clear conscience.
On the other hand, if it’s a project that really matters, let’s plan it out together so that you can start taking action.
I promise that the following five steps will make the project management process unintimidating and even fun!
Step 1: Define the Project
Go beyond just giving it a name. Get really clear on what you are trying to do and why. Envision the end result.
When you define the real purpose of a project, it’s as if you are bringing a telescope into focus. Things get clearer. Your mind starts buzzing with ideas.
Knowing where you want to end up is especially important at this stage.
Your vision for the most successful outcome helps you establish guidelines for keeping yourself on the right path.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Say you want to make a surprise gift for your sister as a thank you for helping you prepare 50 gift bags for one of your events. You can already picture her face glowing with happiness, feel the tight embrace of her loving hug and hear each other giggling.
That’s your what, why and vision. Simple, isn’t it?
Now let’s apply the same principle to your big event.
Say your event, Little People Big Change, is aimed at celebrating 10 kids who have collected 25,000 books to send to a school library in Kenya.
You can envision the official part of the event — kids walking off the stage proudly holding their awards, moms getting emotional, reporters interviewing the largest contributors. You can see all the details of the wild second part of the evening with kids running around laughing, a huge half-eaten cake, and parents chatting in little groups, moving out of the way of the running kids just in time to avoid collision.
So far so good, isn’t it?
Step 2: Brainstorm
Now that you have a clear vision, I bet your imagination is running wild. LET IT. Don’t edit anything out at this point.
Take a piece of paper and capture your ideas. Have a friend or team member? Invite them over or have a Skype brainstorming party.
What could make a nice gift to your sister? A cute little dress she’s been eyeing? A pretty necklace she admired the other day? A day at the spa? Brunch at a popular downtown restaurant?
For the event, your list will get a bit longer. You’ll have to think about who you want to invite, where could you hold it, who can cater your event, who’d make a great sponsor, what media outlet might be interested in covering it, etc.
Step 3: Organize Your Ideas
Once you’ve got your preliminary list of things that need to happen for each part of the project, it’s time to do a little organizing.
Depending on the project, you might organize the tasks in categories (e.g. promotional activities, production, entertainment, media), divide the project in chronological stages (pre-event, event, and post event), or sequential phases (like survey the audience, create a product, promote it, follow up).
Take a look at your project and decide what organizational structure makes the most sense.
If you’re treating your sister to a day at the spa, it might be best to group your to-do items in this way:
- Spa-related arrangements: the spa place options, date, treatments, reservations
- Dinner arrangements: restaurant options and reservations
- Miscellaneous: reschedule other activities planned for that day and arrange for the car.
For larger events, most people find it helpful to use a combination of chronological stages and categories:
- Stage 1 = Pre-event: Figure out invitees, venue, props and media
- Stage 2 = Event itself: Determine the order of topics, line-up of guests and fun activities for kids
- Stage 3 = Post-event: Arrange thank-you notes, update from the Kenyan school and media.
Step 4: Schedule Your Actions
It’s time to put these actions on your calendar.
Planning a spa day for two people is much simpler than planning an event for 50. But the principle is exactly the same — agree on the date and make sure that everything that needs to happen prior to that date happens when it needs to.
Working backwards from your ultimate goal is a great way to plan.
For example, if you and your sister agreed that you’ll be going to the spa two weeks from today, call the spa to book your treatments (as soon as you agree on the date), make reservations at a great restaurant for your post-spa dinner (3 days before), and make sure you’ve got gas in your car (the night before).
For large projects like events, start with a preliminary list of deadlines. Once you’ve mapped out the milestones, share your deadlines with everyone involved.
Once you’ve finalized that the venue is available on the date you need it, you can take each category of tasks and assign deadlines for each component. For example, for the invitees category you’ll schedule when:
- Invitations need to go out
- The printer needs to receive them
- You have to proof the invitations
- You need to ensure you have addresses for all invitees
- You must finalize the list of people you are inviting
You need a place to track all these tasks. You can use anything from a spreadsheet to project management software.
Step 5: Identify the Next Step
We get intimidated and overwhelmed when the items on our to-do list are too vague and we’re not sure how to approach them.
Make steady progress on your project by establishing realistic deadlines and clarifying all of your steps.
Revising your project list on a regular basis and making sure that they’re completely manageable are two things that keep you on track and prevent overwhelm.
Your plan is a guideline, not a cage!
The project management process might sound intimidating, but once you learn how to approach big events the same way you approach planning a spa day with your sister, the intimidation will subside and you’ll see how easy it is!
What’s Your Next Step
Have a project in mind? What step can you make today to move it forward?
(Photo Credit: Ryan O’Hara)
The most important thing when dealing with big projects is not to focus on the nitty-gritty details, but work towards the big picture first. For example, when doing big software project, first steps are to define a working foundation setup and build progressively on top of it 🙂