Project Planning for the Accidental Project Manager

ProjectManager.com

Part of our series of articles for those who lead projects without formal project management training or certification.

Nowadays everyone is a project manager. If you’ve been given an assignment to shepherd from start to finish then, regardless of your title or job description, you’re a project manager.

But what do you do to accomplish the task that you never asked or, more importantly, trained for? There are simple rules to follow in order to plan, monitor and complete any project, but let’s start at the beginning.

In order to have a successful project you have to have a successful project start. Sounds logical, and it is. You want to get your project off with the best start, and the following five tips will help you begin on the right foot.

Step One: Create Your Team

You can’t shoulder all the responsibilities of the project. You’re likely not expert in each discipline necessary to complete the work, so you’re going to need and recruit a talented and targeted group to help you do what needs to be done.

Start with your project sponsor, the person who initiated the work, and mine their expertise on who they want on the team. They very possibly already have strong opinions of who the right people are. Introduce yourself to these potential team members, get to know them and the role they may play on the proposed project. This due diligence will help with your planning an effective workload for the project.

Don’t drag your feet on this part, though, as speed is crucial in gathering together you team. You’ll need to talk about the project and define your overall goals, so you’ll want to have this checked off your list quickly.

Step Two: Make Your Task List

The project may feel overwhelming if you approach it abstractly, which is why project managers are practical people. By breaking down the work into smaller tasks a big project becomes a manageable project.

With your team, write down exactly what needs to be done and list all these tasks using the team as resources to begin and understand what deliverables are expected over the lifecycle of the project.

You want your team involved in this step for the same reason you assembled them to work on the project in the first place, their knowledge. They’ll help you create a comprehensive task list. The last thing you want is to discovered that you missed assigning a task mid-project.

There are software tools to help with this, such as the one offered by ProjectManager.com, which offers a task-tracking feature. This allows you to upload task lists from other applications, which saves time, and it also permits you to share task lists with others outside of using the more clunky method of emails.

Step Three: Build a Project Schedule

With your task list complete, you’ll now need to schedule those tasks. A schedule is simply taking your tasks and assigning dates to them in order to see the order in which they need to be done.

Another thing you can do when scheduling is add dependencies between the tasks. By doing this you link the tasks and can see what needs immediate attention for subsequent tasks to happen on time. If you have any questions about the ordering of these tasks, don’t forget to involve your team. They’re the experts and likely have experience in doing the same or similar projects, which will help you identify what needs to be done when.

Project managers usually create their project schedules in Gantt charts, which provide a visual representation on screen of your project’s information. Good project management software tools will build these Gantt charts for you, such as this feature on ProjectManager.com.

Pro-Tip: Add the name of the resource next to the task they’re responsible for to highlight at a glance who owns what assignment. Not only do you want to know who is taking the lead on a particular task, but it’s gets “buy-in” from the person before you allocate work to them.

Step Four: Use Milestones

A milestone is a way to note a fixed date or mark the end of a project phase. They happen on a specific date and, on your Gantt chart, appear as a black diamond shape. The milestones highlight points on your schedule and are very helpful when tracking progress on your project.

You should have one milestone marked on your schedule per month. They are a good way to acknowledge when big blocks of work need to be completed by.

Step Five: Define How You Monitor Progress

Even before starting work, you need a strategy on how you’re going to monitor the project. Some of the things to figure out prior to beginning the work is exactly how you’re going review the progress of that work and how frequently.

You’ll want to make it easy to check the status of that work using online software, which can generate automatic reports. If you think you’ll forget to get status updates from your team, put an alert in your calendar to remind you to content them regularly.

Take it further: Read our Ultimate Guide to Project Planning.

The concept is, of course, easier than the execution, which is why a powerful, online project management software has been recommended. You’ll want one that can help you plan, schedule and monitor the project, and create professional Gantt charts for when leading project progress meetings. That and more are available with ProjectManager.com, which offers a free 30-trial to see if it fits your needs.

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