Friedrich Engels, philosopher, socialist and collaborator of Karl Marx, was a rare beast, a man of action and ideas in equal supply.
As a young communist radical, his family whisked him safely out of Prussia, where the police were clamping down on progressives and off to the city of Manchester to manage a factory they co-owned.
Manchester in 1842 was a hub of deprivation and poverty, a living, breathing symbol of the inequality of unchecked capitalism and economic liberalism. It seemed like a poor choice if his family were trying to quell his rage against the exploitation of the working classes.
It had the opposite effect, and he took up a double life as a manager and as the chronicler of the terrible conditions of the working class, leading him to write The Conditions Of The Working Class in England and live with a working-class girl for two decades of his life.
He also left us with a timeless quote,
We can build on this to create a few new mantras about the importance of doing; rather than talking.
Focusing on walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
One focused session is worth reading 1000 productivity articles
One conversation is worth 1000 Twitter likes
We are all great experts at faffing about.
In his book, Going Pro, the revered fiction and non-fiction author Steven Pressfield refers to those who get things done as professionals and those who don’t, amateurs.
So, from ideas to plans and then onto projects, there are millions of reasons why they sometimes never make it through to the execution phase: distraction, fear, wrong timing and the wrong crowd, for instance.
A project is simply an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.
In this blog, I run through 5 core elements of project management that will give you the best chance of making it through to execution.
It is a collection of strategies gathered from big projects that I’ve worked on, ones I’ve seen fail and mini-projects of my own that benefit mightily from intricate planning.
The Benefits Of A Project Execution System
You can get all kinds of certifications in project management training, and these are most probably helpful in significant, multi-party events with complex requirements.
You can also spend a lot of money on getting the right software in place 0but that can get complicated with different freelancers on the same project and licenses etc.
The benefits of project managing your project are:
- There’s a higher chance you will finish it
- You will have a greater chance of sticking to the budget
- It’s likely to get through to execution with the least amount of love or hair lost
- You will be more likely to go on to do your next project.
I include at the end a link to a set of simple project execution templates that you can use to manage your project through to the end, whether it’s a solo, small business or for a bigger team of players.
These are the templates I use to rewrite my scripts/stories, plan out my blogs, liaise with collaborators and work with clients. They’re adaptable to most small project scenarios.
And clients love them.
In no order of importance, here are five critical ingredients for a well managed and executed project:
1 – A clear scope that not only contains what you’ll be delivering but what decisions and actions required along the way.
2 –A schedule that keeps track of your progress and allows you to manage delays or slips.
3 -A communications strategy to know who is on the team, how you’ll share necessary communications and what framework can you put in place to ensure a steady stream?
4 – Information storage – chasing information, checking it’s the correct version, phoning around the team to find something; these are all massive energy drains. Make a digital filing cloud to keep everyone informed.
5 -A positive culture that allows your members, including yourself, to grow and thrive alongside the project. In a small team, every member counts.
Sometimes, in a haze of glory about an exciting new project, everyone wants to jump right in and get started, including you, but it is easy to lose track of what needs doing among meetings and flying emails.
Spending time articulating your scope will also allow you to think it through again as a final draft.
The scope is just a concise description of what will be delivered at the end of the project, broken down into smaller pieces. You can write it on a Google Doc, in a project management tool like Trello or Asana, but I’m a column fan, so I use a Google Sheet.
Click below to get access to my G-sheet templates.
- Start with the most concise description of what you’re delivering, when you’ll start, and when you finish.
- Now break it into the different stages of the project. I’ve created a basic example of an online course template broken down into three phases – create the course material, build the website, and put together a marketing plan.
- Each of these stages should have a deliverable, a document to capture and closeout that phase of the work.
- Now can you break each stage down into smaller parts? What actions are required to complete the section, and from who? You can create a separate action tracker for a team to-do list.
- What additional information do you need to finish the work? You can create an individual Key Decisions register to keep track of decisions that remain outstanding.
Now you’ve got your scope; you can add a couple of additional columns to your area to put in the critical dates against each item to create a schedule, or you can copy the scope over to a new page set dates next to each main stage and assign an actionee.
In my example, I’ve only put one date in the schedule because the other dates are dependent on finishing that.
Check-in regularly with the schedule to keep it dynamic and flag any worrying holdups. The earlier you diagnose a problem, the easier it is to deal with it.
Team Communications Plan
Who is in the team? Does everyone know one another? Does everyone know where everyone else is based, so they don’t schedule any nasty Friday night meetings?
Create a roles and responsibilities sheet for the team, including their job, hours, and the best way to contact them.
A kick-off meeting is an excellent way to bring a team together, whether in a physical space or a digital space.
How do you intend to keep everyone informed of changes? Does the project require a weekly drop-in meeting to share updates? This works well on my projects, even where it’s just two of us.
If not, is there a weekly email round up you can get into the habit of sending? Do you want to share the action register weekly?
The thing to know early on here is who needs to know what and how you will get it to them?
Where are you keeping the scope, schedule and any additional lists that the team needs to access?
You don’t need to have G-Suite to use Google Drive and neither do others have to have a Google Account, so that’s an easy one. Likewise, with Microsoft, there are ways to use the basic templates in a cloud without owning an Office license or being a subscriber.
But it is essential everyone knows where to look and that there aren’t multiple versions in the file.
Is your team encouraged to stake their claim and put their energy into the success of the project? Without an entire team engaged, you won’t get the best out of everyone.
Try a few of these soft skills to engage the team; things like:
- Giving the team space and encouragement to make suggestions and try new things.
- Taking the time to give positive and constructive feedback
- Keeping an eye on the energy of the team
- Checking in regularly to make sure all members know their value
- Encouraging creative confidence in coming up with new ideas
- Promoting a growth mindset and, sometimes, the art of being wrong.
- Celebrating key wins and events
- Remembering the value of the small talk; checking in, thanking, listening
As we head into a new economy – industry 4.0, which chews up data faster than we can refresh our social media feeds, the ability to think strategically to deliver our projects to ourselves or clients is critical.
Thankfully, underneath a well-managed project sits a set of simple tools that we can all use. Don’t forget to get your Project Execution Pack here.
I’m a writer blogging about creativity, storytelling and freelancing tips. If you’re interested in receiving my monthly newsletter to read more articles like this, please subscribe.
Take a look at this related blog about Soft Skills To Lead With.