Most managers know how to get projects done. Tell them where a project stands, and they’ll know what needs to happen next. This process works fine when managing a small number of simple projects, but quickly becomes problematic as the volume and complexity of projects increase. This is where project success is highly influenced. Managers who take time to lay out project plans see a higher rate of project success.
The first step to being successful is to develop standardized workflows that everyone can understand and follow. This is key for consistently hitting your project goals. The busiest project managers will save time and reduce errors by thoughtful planning.
- Missed Steps: When an organization is small, most work gets done by experienced team members, who know what work needs to get done, having done it many times before. As an organization grows, work gets delegated to less experienced contributors who lack the experience to always know what needs to happen next. Without a clear road map, less experienced team members can miss important steps in the process. The project plan acts as the “recipe” for team members to follow to make sure the work gets done properly.
- Templates Create Efficiencies: In most fields, certain types of projects get done over and over again. By laying out the “template” for the process, the team can work together to ensure that the process is as efficient as possible and there is consistency from one project to another. New implementations can be compared against templates and benchmarks to identify areas for improvement, either in the execution of the process or in the process itself.
- Visibility: A clearly articulated process is not only a roadmap for educating a team, but also an opportunity for sharing project status with management and the entire team. This can reduce the frequent updates needed when there is not a centralized project schedule to consult.
- Lost Knowledge: When an experienced team member leaves the company, you lose not only their productivity, but potentially also lose institutional knowledge that was in the head of the departed. You may face not only the time involved in finding and replacing the worker, but also in recreating processes that were fully understood only by the person who left. Getting knowledge out of heads and into sharable formats will aid the long-term productivity of the organization.
Pick the medium with which you are most comfortable, whether that’s pen and paper, Excel, or Google Docs. Most people use Excel because its familiar and translates well to project management tools.
- List the steps that need to be done from start to finish, one step per line/row.
- Sub-steps should be indented underneath the primary steps (this step is optional). It’s better to start simple in outlining your projects, especially if you have many types of projects to outline. Better to get visibility and consistency first, and then layer in the detail when you have time.
- Next to each step, lay out how long it should take (known as the step’s “duration”), either in days or hours, as appropriate. Even if you are not sure of these, laying out an initial guess will be helpful in letting you refine as you go along.
- Lay out the function (e.g., graphic design) or individual who is responsible for a particular task. If the individual varies by project, leave that blank.
- For more complex projects, it can be helpful to note the sequence of tasks. Some tasks may need to be completed before others can be started. [In project management “lingo,” this is known as one step being “dependent” on another.] For example, content needs to be created before it can be reviewed.
Below is an example of a detailed project plan for creating a company brochure.
Once again, you don’t need to get this detailed on your first go around. This is where you’ll want to get for a detailed project plan that lasts at least a few weeks. If the project is quicker, the number of steps you lay out should be fewer.
Which Project Management Software Should You Choose?
For those who are ready, there are many high-quality web-based project management tools that offer a significant upgrade to Excel or more manual processes. The right tool for a specific organization typically depends on:
a) The volume and type of projects an organization needs to manage (this determines the functionality/capabilities the tool needs).
b) The experience/technical skills of the team (how intuitive/user-friendly does the tool need to be).
c) The level of support/handholding needed.
d) The available budget.
The perfect tool for your organization is out there – it’s just a matter of finding it.