Project management simplified for non-project managers
As we march toward deadlines in our work, we are sometimes faced with challenges, blockers, and delays along the way. Indecision amongst stakeholders, colleagues, subject matter experts; too many cooks in the kitchen; meetings that seem to go nowhere and resolve nothing; missed steps in the process leading to rework; vacations and personal leaves making scheduling difficult – and the list goes on and on.
Even if you are more of a strategist, a creative, or a senior-level manager, you may find yourself at times without a dedicated project manager for certain workstreams or initiatives that need to happen regardless. Understanding basic project management principles and what it might take to execute on grand plans will help you make smarter decisions, get better results, and enjoy more ROI and saved time.
Here are some foundational tactics that can help you avoid and clear up bottlenecks.
Clarity and communication are paramount
You shouldn’t have to be a seasoned PM or adhere to complex methodologies to be able to answer foundational questions about work that needs to happen. Everyone has heard of the five Ws and the H – if you haven’t, they are tried and true for a reason. I’ve witnessed many projects and initiatives go forward with some of these unclear, causing many delays and pain points.
If these answers are established before projects begin, it paves a much clearer path to success.
- Who is your audience?
- What are you doing?
- Where is this happening?
- Why are you doing it?
- When does this need to happen?
- How are you doing it?
Once you are certain of your “North Star(s),” it is important to make sure everyone involved understands what is necessary to make things happen. A project brief outlining all the above, and a kickoff meeting to communicate those points, are the essential next steps.
Involve the right people
RACI matrix might be an intimidating term, but essentially, it spells out who’s who in the zoo, particularly how accountability is defined for each individual. Who is driving the bus? Who contributes to the journey? Who will approve what we are doing? Who just needs to be informed? The reason why this matrix is important to establish as much as possible at the beginning is so everyone knows who to contact for specific decisions, expertise, and support.
“What’s in it for me?” Decision-makers usually have a clear outcome in mind, but getting others to prioritize giving you time and energy for what you need them to do can be tricky – especially if they do not report to you. Use honest ways to incentivize them by listing the potential benefits they can enjoy if the project has successful outcomes. These can be outlined in the brief as well. Examples:
- Customer-first objectives
- Data revealing potential opportunities (costsavings, revenue growth, improved efficiencies)
- Attribution on highly visible projects and the opportunityto be part of something innovative
A clear workback schedule with key targets and milestones is critical to align the team on timeline and create a sense of urgency. The brief most definitely should include this.
Conduct meetings with a clear strategy and use only when necessary. Put placeholders on people’s calendars before they fill up and so you have clear indicators of what to prepare for and when. This is the general pattern of meetings most projects should have.
- The Kickoff should be dedicated to awareness and inclusive of everyone involved.
- Collective brainstorming follows, and timelines set. Creative speculation can happen here, but you should end the meeting with a clear path forward so you can start the work.
- Working sessions with key stakeholders are where questions are answered and direction is given so work can get done. Always send clear and concise recap notes with action items attached to individuals after each of these meetings.
- Feedback rounds should be limited to no more than three to stay focused and drive toward locking for a milestone. Time should be considered in between so changes can be incorporated.
- Approvals involve all your decision-makers, sponsors, and other functional areas like legal.
- Executive Summary Status is a regular check-in to let sponsors know how the project is performing. These can be done in person or sent with notifications in a structured report.
- Post-launch debrief is an opportunity for cross-functional contributors to share what was done well, what could have been done better, recommendations for future projects.
Of course, there are many other aspects to consider that can make your projects successful. A professional, dedicated project manager to help run the show is always recommended, but this general outline should help you achieve quality results in a timely manner if you are without. Happy project managing!