It means different things to different people.
There are so many different types of projects to manage. Whether it is a detailed and complicated construction or real estate development project. Or a product launch. Or just getting your business up and running.
So what defines a project? Basically you have a goal and a due date and steps that are necessary to get there. If you have those things you have a project.
Now you can get really detailed and complicated and require someone certified by the Project Management Institute to run it. And get into all kinds of risk analysis.
But outside of the big corporations, you really don’t make things that complicated. Basic project management is fairly straightforward. And a these 5 Keys to Managing a Successful Project should get you on your way.
1) When Does It Need To Be Done?
What’s your completion deadline How critical is it that you beat that deadline? What happens if you don’t hit it? Here you’re trying to decipher when you need to be done and how important it is that you make it happen.
For example, if you were building a swimming pool at your home, there’d be a big difference between just wanting it to be ready sometime before summer and having it for a 4th of July pool party after you’ve already invited 50 people.
2) What Are The Critical Steps?
Knowing the steps that are required along the way and which ones need to happen before others is the puzzle pieces you use to construct the path to a successful project completion on time.
You must also separate critical steps that impact the next in line versus steps that can be handled concurrently but won’t push the overall schedule if they are delayed a little.
When constructing your schedule don’t get distracted by steps that don’t impact the overall schedule.
With the pool example, you need to create a design (such as a blueprint). Then dig a hole. Install plumbing for the drain and filtering system. Pour concrete. Tile/finish the surface over the concrete. Fill with water. Balance the water pH levels. And have your pool party!
Those things need to happen in order and are part of the critical path. Things like ordering the concrete could be done early enough to not be a critical path item. But if you can’t get the concrete delivered on the day you’ve scheduled it, then it could well become part of the critical path and push your schedule out by that delay.
After you’ve identified the steps, assign timelines to each critical step. Then add those durations together to get your overall project duration.
Subtracting the project duration from the due date backs into the start date you must meet in order to complete the project on time – and have a pool for your pool party.
3) Critical Path Durations
Now we talked about durations under the “Critical Steps”. But how do you come up with these durations?
There are a few ways to get there. This is where the art comes in. And it is probably the most disputed subject when it comes to project management (other than maybe price) – particularly between contractor and client.
Here’s how you can get to a fairly reliable number.
- How many hours/days does it take to do the task?
- What does the contractor/expert suggest/predict?
- How complex is it? (i.e. what can go wrong? The more complex or more people involved in the task, the more likely something will go sideways and push out the task completion date)
- How motivated/committed is the person performing the task? (if it is you and it must happen, it is more likely to get done on schedule; if it is a contractor and there is a significant penalty clause in the contract for missing your completion date, it is likely he’ll finish on time)
No matter what number you come up with for your task durations, make sure to add a buffer for contingencies.
Different projects are more or less solid on their overall forecasts but I’d generally suggested 10% to 20% extra time for a fairly straightforward and predictable project, on up to 25% to 50% or even more for a project with a lot of unknowns or uncommitted contractors (such as where they’re doing five other projects and will get to yours when they have time).
4) What Are Your Resources?
Do you have enough time to meet your goal once you’ve laid out the start date, end date, and the durations that got you there? Whether you do or don’t, those durations are impacted by the resources you throw at the project. Whether that is money, staff time, contractors, having an active project manager involved, whatever. And those choices will impact the schedule and the cost.
Just like on the schedule side, you should also plan to add costs over what your contractor quote was or your personal cost assessment. Projects typically run over budget. The reason they do that is often the cost elements are not as fully defined as they would need to be to avoid change orders and time delays.
By budgeting in a 10-25%, or even larger, buffer, you can avoid painful surprises at the end of the project.
5) Assessing Progress and Following Up
And this is the second most important element after locking down the durations, and that is evaluating progress and following up.
People are human. If they aren’t being asked about progress they will often get sidetracked. And then your project takes a back seat to their other projects or workload. If it is a critical project you must follow up often. Typical projects will have weekly and monthly reviews. But often for a shorter duration project you may require daily or hourly answers. Or updates at certain milestones.
Just make sure you’re following up. By doing so you’ll give your project a good chance of getting done on time and on budget.
So get that project done…and enjoy the pool party!