The Four Primary Pieces of Project Management
Getting immersed in big projects requires more than just hard work and elbow grease. For teams to come together and execute something that becomes more than the sum of its parts, it requires a certain dedication, commitment, and strategic vision that runs through every part and parcel of a project. However, many of us in the tech space take advantage of the cloud. Rather than the luxury of a central location or office space where we can verbally reinforce a particular product’s strategic vision, or casually chat with the team about direction and strategy, these crucially important mission statements need to come through email, group chats, or sound-bytes in phone correspondence.
However, dispersed teams can find pathways to effectively communicate and delegate work, and echoed throughout project management software solutions. While these nimble project management solutions can help keep teams on task no matter where they may be, they need to address four critically important components to the project management ecosystem: detailed communication, deadlines and shifting priorities, delegation, and downtime.
Transparency and communication are the fundamental components of project management. No matter what direction the directives may be coming from, it’s so important that people are kept in the loop about how a project is taking shape.
This is crucially important in the tech space; while designers may be trying to put their mark on a particular image, marketers may be concerned about how those images connect with the overall branding. A programmer may make a decision that may streamline the coding process, beating deadline--only to find that it conflicts with potential directives about UX/UI. Project management software tends to help keep things from straying too far from overarching design by keeping everyone on the same page.
Keep All Key Stakeholders Informed
Sometimes, too much information can be a bad thing; users become inundated in irrelevant correspondence, and as a result, may miss crucial messages as they fail to realize how its needed. Alternatively, stakeholders may resist the project or work against it if they feel as if it might work against their own interests. The only way to ensure that a project moves along the pipeline without bottlenecks in the workflow is to ensure all interested parties are kept informed. Somewhat serendipitously, it comes as no surprise that one method to help better identify a process to communicate with interested parties is the INFORM method (http://pmtips.net/managing-stakeholders-6-steps-success/) -- Identify, Nominate, Feel, Observe, Review, Manage. This allows users to identify the important members that need to be included on team correspondence, and nominate those that will take leads and take responsibility for certain responsibilities, and nominate others that may be impacted or affected by parts of a project. The feel component is one of attitude, primarily--some team members in a project may have differing views about what items should be made a top priority or how a project will affect them moving forward. As these stakeholders are identified and assessed, it’s critical for us to have a system that allows for communication to become a fluid and transparent byproduct of every step in the project management pipeline. Stakeholders should feel informed, their input monitored, and progress regularly reviewed to ensure that the project is effectively managed.
It is also critical for communication to be automated during the project management pipeline. Let’s face it: We’re all very busy, very active people who are working together to achieve some major milestones. Automation can be a tricky tool, and one many have struggled with implementing correctly. By leveraging a project management system that keeps all key stakeholders informed, automating key processes, such as an automated weekly summary of communication, can change the game. Using multiple notification systems, like in-app push notifications, alert bubbles, or simply just automated emails to go highlight items that have been updated by another team member can help users know that things continue to keep moving regardless of their part in the project.
Tech Republic (http://www.techrepublic.com/article/project-communications-a-plan-for-getting-your-message-across/) identifies how different types of communication can be preferable to different parties. Think about the types of communication to manage the best types of projects--from email to Instant Message, from project status meetings to intranet boards stored on a cloud, different communication styles serve different functions. It is increasingly critical that teams set precedents about how they prefer to communicate, and ensure that these become the standard operating procedure for the life of the project.
Deadlines & Shifting Priorities
Deadlines are a hard reality behind any major project. Whenever we try to launch a new product or service, roll out an update, curate our content strategy, one of the best ways to ensure a smooth launch is to set realistic, achievable deadlines. Segmenting deadlines and shortening to-do lists can actually enhance productivity by breaking down important projects to small, achievable goals.
Working Backward to Get Your Launch Date
Instead of planning major milestones out, one at a time, in front of one another, consider a vision-focused plan that sets the biggest deadlines out first. If your product launch is what you’re working to achieve, then set a reasonable date for a product launch. Write out the amount of milestones that will be required in order to see something like this happen. Let this be a natural, organic brainstorming process that helps account for all of the different nuances that you and your team think may be necessary for the product launch. Add up the time that each milestone might take, and pad it to allow for planning, scheduling, unforeseen circumstances, and shifting priorities. Instead of starting in sequential order, some project managers suggest that the best launches can come from planning backwards from your launch date to set firm deadlines for concrete milestones.
Project calendars allow the deadlines to “drive the process”, according to the University of Northern Iowa. “A team might realize that advertising must begin three weeks prior to the event, for instance. The team will then ‘back’ into the dates that each of the advertising tasks must be done, and in which order, to ensure that brochures are distributed on time.”
Shifting Priorities & Triage
Editorial calendars and projects seldom unravel exactly how we plan. No matter how detailed our planning might be, unforeseen circumstances, politics, personnel, or procedure might derail our original plans. Perhaps more detailed plans actually leave more things to go wrong! However, it’s crucial to solve these issues with communication. By quickly identifying the concerns of key stakeholders, the roles of major players on your team should be able to address, prioritize, and shift major milestones to keep your team on track.
Among the most important components of any project management system is delegation. Delegating work can be among the most difficult decisions of a management team. Anything from protecting the quality of your work to being cautious about a team member’s ability to deliver can keep something from being effectively delegated. However, the best teams should always push themselves to strengthen their skill set and spread the work to maximize efficiency.
The Rule of 70
In a recent piece on Inc, Jim Schleckser dictates that the savvy leader will delegate work by the rule of 70. This rule states that if an employee can do a job 70% as well, then the CEO will delegate that work to the employee. This frees up the CEOs time and ensures that the most important work is delegated to lower-level workers; in addition to freeing up the time of upper management, it also empowers employees to develop their skill set. Delegation is an important and crucial cog in any team, and something that requires transparency and open communication.
Rather than a piece of project management, a productivity tip that comes from many is one of relaxation. Detaching from distractions and delving into the depths of life outside of the office can be among the best ways to detach oneself and feel the freedom to work unencumbered in the following day.
Connecting with nature, taking breaks, or enjoying art all offer important distractions from the office that are actually scientifically proven to increase productivity. Getting some down time away from a project can actually be just as important as meticulously planning the project from the off.
Are there any other project management musts that we missed? Tell us in the comments below.