Better Planning Can Improve Project Efficiency

In today's economy, most of us wear more than one hat, and "project manager" may be only one of them. How can you meet all your commitments without burning out?

Be Strategic

First of all, throw out that treadmill and take responsibility for the use of your own time. If you're being bombarded with changing or conflicting priorities, talk to your manager. Be prepared with details concerning your workload and ask for clarification on the relative importance of the various tasks you're being asked to juggle. It's not in the company's interest to time-slice to a point where quality suffers. Start by getting agreement on a reasonable array of assignments.

Envision the Project

The best way to kick off a project is to imagine it in detail. The unknown can be intimidating, and it's human nature to procrastinate when a job seems too big or complex. Begin by organizing a project team and conducting a brainstorming session to identify as many scenarios and challenges as possible (see tips on conducting effective meetings). Devise contingency plans to address each situation. Now that you have a handle on the project's scope and can develop a schedule, remember to build in buffer time for the unexpected. This upfront time investment will pay off in terms of day-to-day efficiency.

Manageable Pieces

As you build your timeline, divide the project into manageable chunks that correspond to deliverables. It's easier to make progress if you can focus on smaller, less intimidating tasks.

SMART - standard project management principles - is a good guideline for structuring your milestones:

  • Specific - Who will be responsible for what? When will it be due?
  • Measurable-Don't be vague. If possible, set a quantifiable goal. It should be easy to determine whether or not the milestone has, in fact, been achieved.
  • Attainable and Realistic-There's no point in promising the impossible. It is better to face schedule implications and risks upfront so that you can realistically define and accomplish goals.
  • Timely - Milestones should be properly sequenced, based upon dependencies and allow time for the unforeseen.

Setting aside a specific time each day or week to work on the deliverables will help fight procrastination. The prospect of a looming and unstructured work session invites delay, whereas it's relatively easy to make time for 30-60 minutes per day/week of concentrated effort. The regular scheduling of project meetings and status updates will provide further motivation.

Planning Gone Wrong

A dramatic example of project management gone awry was the response to 2011's freak Northeast Halloween blizzard, which caused power outages lasting more than a week in the state of Connecticut. Public reports indicated that the local utility's emergency response plan addressed downed lines for 100,000 customers, while eight times that number were affected. Project managers worsened the situation with an unrealistic forecast of when power would be restored. When they missed their own deadline, tempers frayed.

Moral of the story

Exhaustively brainstorm all contingencies at the beginning of a project, develop a realistic schedule and communicate status updates candidly and regularly to all stakeholders.

Stay tuned for more project management tips!

2 Responses

  1. Gina:

    I like the SMART concept. It’s applicable whether you work alone or in a team. It’s also a great way to make large projects seem manageable.

    By setting specific weekly tasks, you can complete large projects in bite sized chunks. You can also clearly measure your progress.

    • Gina Fedeli

      Thank you for the comment Peter!
      A key to accomplishing a goal is to make it manageable and “real” by assigning deadlines for each task. Typically when this step is overlooked, a project will sit idle and untouched as the project may be overwhelming.

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