Better project management in five minutes//
Ok, maybe your 2016 wasn’t as productive as you would have liked. Perhaps your projects could have run a little smoother, your to-do list could have been a little shorter, and your stress levels – a little lower.
That’s ok. Just take five minutes to read these project management tips and I promise – your 2017 will be better for it.
Manage ‘yourself’ first
‘You’ are your most important client. If you’re not running smoothly then neither will your projects, so make sure you’re doing everything you can to optimise yourself for productivity.
- Use a task manager that fits with the way you like to work. Personally, I use Todoist because it’s clean, fast and flexible. Most importantly, it allows me to get tasks out of my head and organised quickly so that I only deal with them when I need to. Whatever you use, aim to reduce the friction of processing your tasks as much as possible so that you’re spending more time doing work and less time planning how and when to do work. Take a look at some other productivity apps that my colleague Steph recommends.
- Make it a morning ritual to sit down and review what’s left over from yesterday, what’s due today, and what’s coming up tomorrow. You will be tempted to skip this step if you have an early meeting or you’re just feeling like you want to get on with the day. Trust me, don’t do this. You will thank me later.
- Take regular breaks. Unless you’re a machine, 7-8 solid hours of pure focus is an impossible goal, so stop fighting your brain and start structuring your day into manageable work/rest cycles. If you’ve never worked this way, the Pomodoro technique is a good place to start.
- Stay hydrated. 1% dehydration results in a 5% decrease in cognitive function. 2% dehydration leads to short-term memory issues, loss of focus and further reduced cognitive functions. Coffee might wake you up but water will keep you sharp all day long.
- Please get some more sleep. You might think you like Netflix more than sleep, but your brain disagrees.
Identify the problem before the solution
It sounds obvious, but discovery sessions exist for a reason.
Good doctors don’t hand out prescriptions without performing a basic diagnosis of your symptoms first, and you shouldn’t be setting off down the path to building something without having a detailed consultation with your client to find out what kind of business problem is driving their brief.
It’s easy to pursue a particular solution because it’s on-trend, it’s what the competition is doing, or it just happens to be the most straightforward option. But projects that make an impact are based on thorough research, an informed look at the numbers, and decision-paths that give your clients the biggest return on their investment.
Risks & Dependencies
Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Look at every single way your project could stall or fail and clear a path around those obstacles before you start. You might think you’re good enough to charge into a project without end-to-end planning, but Murphy’s Law says you’re not. Besides, do you think your clients will be impressed by you “winging it” with their budget?
Risk mitigation will, however, only get you so far. Our old friend, Internet Explorer, doesn’t care about your fancy new CSS selectors. Facebook doesn’t care that the app you spent so long building is suddenly now incompatible with their new API. Photoshop doesn’t care about that looming deadline and will freeze up exactly when you need it the most.
Digital project management demands creative thinking and flexibility in the face of ever-changing technologies and frameworks. Accept that things will go wrong. Keep your options open and try not to paint yourself into corners.
You might have the most proactive clients and the most supportive project team in the world, but at the end of the day, remember that it’s down to you to keep all your projects moving in the right direction. I could give you a metaphor about spinning plates, but having tried that once, I can assure you that a failing project looks nothing like ceramic dishes scattered across the floor.
No, taking ownership is about caring deeply about the work you put your name on. Every one of your projects has the potential to be an award-winner if you give it the care and attention it deserves.
Know your team
Your team are not “resources”. They’re people – of the human variety — made of the same vulnerable squishy stuff as you, and they need to be treated as such.
Talk to them regularly, learn their strengths and weaknesses. Give them work that suits their skill set. Learn how they like to work and aim to facilitate the right conditions for productivity. Give them the information they need before they need it. Ultimately, if you can make their jobs as easy and satisfying as possible then your projects will benefit immeasurably.
Know the client
Clients are people, too. They’re trying to get a job done, just like you. They’ve been given a problem and a budget to solve that problem, and they’ve asked you for help because you’re an expert in your field, just as they are in theirs. It’s a relationship of mutual respect, so take the time to immerse yourself in the client’s world and demonstrate that you’re committed to helping them achieve the best results. They care about their work and they hope that you care about it as much as they do, so prove to them that they’ve chosen wisely.
If you’re managing a project and you don’t know what’s going on then – SPOILER ALERT – you’re not really managing the project. Whoops!
Good news! It’s ok to ask questions. As the project manager, you’re supposed to know everything about the project, so people are expecting you to ask a lot of questions. If you’re not asking questions, then your project team will assume you either have all the answers already (which you don’t) or that you’re pretending to have all the answers already (which is even worse). Speak up!
It’s easy to forget, but every day you get to work with a talented team of professionals, using the latest technology to make amazing things and help people around the world. That’s a pretty sweet deal whichever way you cut it, so make the most of it and enjoy yourself!
That was easy, wasn’t it? Now just remember to do all this stuff, every day, forever. 2017 is no match for your project management prowess.