Project Management Made Simple

clouds and goal

What does it really take to run a project successfully?  I hear that question on a regular basis.  It sometimes surprises me, because the answer is really very simple.

Don’t get me wrong… Most project managers work very hard.   This job is the closest thing most of us will ever come to juggling angry kittens.   Even small projects have lots of “what ifs” and “yes, buts”.  While some large projects can take years, small projects might be finished in a matter of days.  No matter the size, here’s the action framework to keep in mind.

First, make progress toward goal(s).  

Nothing else matters if you’re not proceeding toward one or more of your goals.  Job one for all project managers should be to understand ALL the goals of the project, from all stakeholders.  Job two is to understand – and clearly communicate – the priority for those goals.  There will be conflicts, which you are there to resolve.  Understand your goals and priorities BEFORE you start the project and you will have an all-purpose roadmap for resolving issues along the way.

Second, communicate progress toward goals.

Unless your project is to build a hut on a deserted island, you have stakeholders.  They have some skin in the game and they want to know how things are going.  There’s a general feeling among project managers that it’s almost impossible to communicate too frequently with your stakeholders.  But it is possible to communicate the wrong things.  Your stakeholders don’t care about the percentage of completion on tasks 46-70.  They care about these three things:  1) Is the project moving toward the goal(s) I care about?  2) Is the project proceeding on a timeframe and budget I can live with?  3) Is anything about this project going to make my life more difficult?  Communicate these three messages regularly and your stakeholders will have everything they need.

Third, resolve issues and conflicts that interfere with making or communicating progress.

This task is the one that separates “project managers” from “project coordinators”.  Project coordinators simply gather data about schedule and budget and send out a communique.  They are useful in projects  where everyone knows their job, but someone still needs to schedule meetings and manage the handoffs.  The reason you hire a project manager is because you need someone who is skilled at identifying conflicts and resolving them.  This skill comes from experience.  The best project managers identify potential friction points early and then watch those areas for signs of conflict.  As soon as an issue appears – something that prevents you from making progress or communicating progress – you need to address it, like spraying down tiny sparks from a campfire. Deal with issues when they are small.

Obviously, there are lots of tasks and forms and meetings along the way. But this basic framework is really all it takes to stay on track for a successful project. Simply repeat ad infinitum…


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