Project management is a mix of art and science. Here are three project management tools that you should have in your toolkit. None are complicated and together they provide breadth and depth in project definition, design, and control.
A critical early (if not first!) step in project management is to paint a picture of the project: who, what, where, when, and how. The more complete the picture, the more likely is success.
The project plan describes the project in its entirety: deliverables, timing, people, market and financial analyses, etc. This document goes by a variety of names. A business plan for a startup. A product direction letter for a new gizmo. A statement of work for software installation.
I outline my project plans in Word. Outlines are fast. Fast to write. Fast to read. Fast to edit. Fast to change.
What differs from one situation to another are the main project headings.
Fourteen headings were needed to paint the picture of the FF50th, a large event that a I recently managed: Objectives, When and Where, Leadership Team, Car Eligibility, Tire Rules, Driver Eligibility, and so on.
Another set of headings were needed for a cleantech startup: Executive Summary, Market Opportunity, Technology, Product, Competition, Management Team, Business Model, Manufacturing Plan, Financials, Risks, etc.
Now that everyone sees the big picture, the next tool is a Gantt chart to break the project down into sequential and parallel workstreams.
A Gantt chart is a great way to visualize project tasks: start dates, end dates, what can be done in parallel, what must be done in sequence. Here’s how to build one:
A Gantt chart is a matrix of tasks and time. As few as two dozen tasks are often enough. Depending on project duration, time increments can be in days, weeks, or months.
I do Gantt charts in Excel. List tasks down the left in start date order. If two or more tasks start on the same date, use end dates to break ties. Simply fill cells between start / finish dates with the color of your choice to illustrate task timing.
Write Gantt chart line items in a “do something” format: design logo, assemble prototype, etc. Pairing an action with an object provides clear, concise task definition. Building in milestones or touchpoints is a great way to keep everyone focused on project deliverables and moving forward.
The depth of a Gantt chart in a time period indicates how many tasks must be worked on simultaneously. If your Gantt chart goes vertical, spread out the work.
Any line item on the Gantt chart that requires an invention, regulatory approval, or some other significant uncertainty must be managed carefully. I pull risky line items as far forward as possible to provide extra time. No Rube Goldberg stuff on my critical path!
Next tool: a punch list with detailed who, what, and when assignments.
Like a Gantt chart, a punch list is a matrix with tasks down the left. That’s where the similarity ends. While a Gantt chart provides big-picture visualization, a punch list captures specific assignments. Here’s how to build one:
I also do punch lists in Excel. List tasks down the left. Order is not important…the tasks will be sorted many times as the project moves forward. Write punch list line items in a “do something” format to provide clear, concise task definition. Punch list tasks will be much more specific than the workstreams on your Gantt chart.
Each line item will have columns to capture its status, who it is assigned to, and when it is due. The comments capture recent actions, next steps, agreements, decisions, and other news. This is the project’s memory…write good comments and update them frequently!
A risk column can highlight higher risk tasks. Uncertainty demands extra attention. Get an early start on these items and watch them like a hawk.
I like a countdown to the project’s due date front and center…the clock is ticking!
A punch list can grow unwieldy with additional line items as a project moves forward. Color coding and sorting help highlight what needs attention and when.
Project Management Tools
Turn your project management into more science than art with these three project management tools. Fast and nimble, you can always know where you are and what you need to be working on next.
Do you have a project to manage? Click HERE to ping me. I will be happy to help you set up your project management tools.