My daughter lives downtown—about twenty or so minutes away from where my wife and I live in the suburbs. We decided to stop by for a visit. It was the perfect weather for a short bike ride. Although I am an "epic ride" sort of guy; disappearing on the road for hours at a time, just before dark is my favorite time to ride. The light is soft, it's easy to see and somehow you can almost sense the day winding down. Even though it was a very short ride, it was still a "great" ride.
Over the last couple of years project managers in many organizations are being asked to manage and organize many different types of projects. I've spoken with a number of project leaders who spend time regularly jumping back and forth between agile and waterfall projects (some may even be concurrent projects). It's pretty obvious to me, that a one-size-fits-all approach to managing projects and other work doesn't fit.
For most projects, almost daily, software companies are developing sophisticated project management tools that offer resource grids, business case builders, bubble charts and interactive Gantt charts. Sometimes I wonder if we've forgotten that the point of project management is to get work done—not complicate the work.
Although there are projects that might require a charter or sophisticated project plan, they aren't always needed. I'm not saying those tools and techniques aren't important. Like most of you, I work with projects of varying degrees of complexity, duration and urgency every day. Some are very structured and some are very informal. All of them are considered important to the organization (like last nights bike ride)—but does that imply that they all require the same level of formal structure?
I don’t think so. With that in mind, here are three keys to simplify most project-based work:
- Don’t underestimate the power of a checklist: Most of us have had experience working with a checklist since the days when mom wanted us to mow the lawn, weed the flowerbeds, and take out the trash. A checklist can be a valuable tool for even the most complicated projects. Regardless of the size or complexity of your project, looking for places to leverage a simple checklist can be very practical. NASA has been sending astronauts into space for decades with the help of checklists—and those are pretty complicated projects.
- Team synergy is a powerful tool: I learned a long time ago that two heads are better than one. Involving everyone in the project plan, where appropriate, does a number of things to streamline team effectiveness and encourage project success. Not the least of these is to create buy-in and insure greater team participation.
- Don’t throw away the trash can: Over the last couple of years we’ve heard a lot about doing more with less. It’s something we talk about in our organization. However, I think many organizations miss the point. In real terms, we should be talking about doing less with less, but doing more of the right things. At some point, smaller project teams and smaller organizations can’t do more, no matter how much they automate processes with software or other project tools.
Looking for the simplest solutions will help any project team be more effective. I was speaking with an analyst the other day who felt like most organizations do a really good job at managing major initiatives, but don't do well with other projects. Maybe it's time we started to focus less on our favorite methodology and more about the right methods for a wide variety of projects and project-based work.
What are you doing to simplify the way your approach project planning?