Business projects can be a major source of stress. They typically involve varying input from many different members of your organization and require you to adhere to strict budgets and deadlines. Regardless of how large of a project you’re undertaking and how many team members are involved, you can ensure the success of your project by following simple guidelines designed to help you stay organized, manage your time wisely, and prioritize tasks efficiently.
1. Create a scope document.
Never start a project until you have defined its scope in as much detail as possible. Not only will this help you develop your project budget, it will help set expectations of you and your team members. The scope document you create should clearly define the purpose of your project and its goals, and include a highly detailed plan for how you will accomplish those goals. It should also list all of the resources you will need to complete the project and what the final deliverables or outcomes will be. Be as thorough and detailed as possible when creating this document. Leaving something important out can get your project off track before you’ve even begun.
2. Assign team members specific roles and responsibilities, and manage their expectations.
If your team doesn’t know what exactly they’re expected to do, you can’t hold them accountable if things go wrong. Each team member who is involved in the project must know what his or her role is and what he or she is responsible for completing and by when. These responsibilities should be detailed, documented and easily accessible to all your team members throughout the duration of the project.
If Mary from marketing is tasked with hiring a consultant to design an application, her exact responsibilities for this task must be outlined in as much detail as possible. For example, how many quotes she needs, when the proposals are due, how much she can spend, when the app must be developed by, etc. The more specific this information is the easier it will be to stay on budget and on track.
3. Only involve team members who need to be involved.
“Too many cooks in the kitchen” is a real thing. This may sound simplistic, but many projects are overcomplicated and hindered by including people from the organization who don’t really need to be involved - or who don’t need to be involved for the entire process. For example, while a particular manager might be needed for the initial decision process, he or she may not be needed to attend every meeting throughout the duration of the project.
At the same time, don’t create more work for your team by excluding people who should be involved. For example, if the marketing team members meet about adding a special feature or functionality to the company’s website, the IT department or company’s web agency must be included so that they can get an understanding of what will be needed from them in order to complete that task.
4. Identify your risks.
Unforeseen costs not factored into a budget have the ability to completely derail a project. It’s not enough to simply outline the project’s estimated costs and create a budget. After your project costs are defined and your budget is created, you should identify risks and assign a percentage to each that reflects how critically it could impact the project. These risk factors may include things like unplanned overtime or hiring a contractor midway through the project. It might sound like you’re just making more work for yourself, but if you take the time to identify possible risks, you have a better chance of staying within your budget and completing the project successfully. (And maybe even earning a raise.)
5. Communicate frequently.
You might know that frequent communication is, in theory, a key component to keeping your project on track, but it’s much easier said than done. Your project team is most likely comprised of a variety of different skill levels, personality types, age groups and roles within the organization. Transparent, open communication is critical when working with a diverse group of individuals who each share a different part of a project. Communication is more than discussing the project and its challenges; It’s about listening to your team members and understanding what’s happening behind the scenes. Apart from project meetings, make it a point to communicate with key team members whenever it's necessary to move the project forward. And, while it might be tempting to use email as your primary means of communication, picking up the phone (as painful as it might sound) can often save you time and lessen the chances of a message getting lost in translation.
6. Don’t underestimate to-do lists.
It sounds tedious, but setting aside 15 - 20 minutes each morning to create and/or update your to-do list can hugely impact your productivity and time management. Prioritize your tasks according to their deadlines and by how critical they are to complete the project. Cross off projects when you complete them and you’ll find yourself feeling a sense of accomplishment that you were able to tackle one of your goals. This will give you motivation to move on to the next goal and keep the project moving forward. Keeping an updated to-do list will also help you remain constantly aware of where you’re at and what you still have left to complete.
7. Set realistic deadlines.
Deadlines keep your project on track and allow you to stay organized, manage your time efficiently, and hold people accountable for project tasks. But there’s no point in setting deadlines if they’re unrealistic and impossible to hit. Deadlines not only need to be realistic, they need to be specific. It’s not good enough to set a deadline of “by the end of the month.” Pick an actual day and time that the task must be completed by, as well as what the final deliverables will be. And be sure to build in buffer time for circumstances that can be out of your control, such as a key team member missing work due to illness.
8. Hold 15-minute standup meetings.
Normal meetings typically involve you and your team members sitting around a conference table and the project manager reviewing the status of the project. In contrast, stand-up meetings are limited to 15 minutes and give each team member a platform to share three key pieces of information with the group, including what they have accomplished since the last meeting, what they will accomplish before the next meeting, and what is hindering their progress. Standup meetings are usually conducted daily, but you could switch to a weekly format if it makes more sense for your team. Be strict about the 15-minute limit and make sure that each team member has time to participate. This format helps keep everyone focused, attentive, and engaged.
9. Say “NO” to multitasking.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking isn't a skill and you should try your hardest to avoid it. Research shows that heavy multitaskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers - meaning the more your multitask the more your work ends up suffering. Instead of working on a range of different projects for short periods of time throughout the day, pick a project or task that has a high priority and work on it for several hours in an attempt to complete as much as possible. Not only is your work more likely to be better quality, it will help keep your project on track as well.
10. Turn off your cell phone.
If you took inventory of all the time you spent during the day checking emails, texts or voicemails on your phone, you might be surprised at how quickly it adds up. Don’t kill your productivity. Set aside some time each day that you don’t have access to your phone and dedicate it to working on a project that requires your undivided attention, whether it be turning your phone off or leaving it in your car. The reduced distractions will help you maintain your focus and complete a larger chunk of your work than you would have if you'd been checking your phone every five minutes.