I remember when I picked up my first project management book. I was working as a low-level retail manager and thought it would be helpful. I picked it up, glanced through the table of contents, got terrified and immediately put it back on the shelf.
The book was full of technical jargon, extensive charts and graphs, and appeared to be designed for someone who had a Ph.D and was working on a NASA space shuttle launch. Not really fit for what I was doing.
However, I was determined to not only find the resources to help me plan and execute a project, but also, decode what was written in the book.
And it took me about three years, along with a metric ton of research, reading, and trial and error, but I finally managed to get the basics down.
What Is a Project?
James Fallow defines a project as “anything you’re committed to finish in a year that requires more than one action to complete,” which is a good start. I’d go a bit farther and say for our purposes it takes 5-10 actions to complete.
When you look at it that way, MOST things are actually projects. And since most things are actually projects, just about everyone can benefit from learning a bit more about project management.
The Stages of Project Management
A project can be broken down into four different stages. Each stage is crucial and should be treated as just as important as the other stages. The four stages are:
- Defining the Project
- Planning the Project
- Executing the Project
- Closing Out the Project
Defining the Project
This is the first step of project management, incredibly crucial, and frequently skipped. Defining a project means sitting down and really thinking about and determining what you want the outcome to be. You need to decide who is in charge (for personal projects or if you’re self-employed, this will frequently be you), what the budget it, and if the project is really as worthwhile as you think it is.
Planning the Project
Now that you have defined the project, know what what you want to achieve, and the potential obstacles, it’s time to plan the actual project. Once again, this is a crucial, but frequently skipped step.
This is where you decide what tasks need to be done to complete the project, decide on the timeline and develop the schedule. This is also where you sit down, think about what problems might crop up, and create a game plan on what you’ll do if those problems arise.
Executing the Project
This is where most people tend to start off with a project-the execution phase. The execution phase takes up the bulk of the time and consists of accomplishing tasks, communication with team members. However there are other significant, but often overlooked, parts of this phase, such as running into and solving problems, adjusting for changes, staying on top of budget, and smoothing out any inter-team problems.
The Close-Out Phase
Just because all the tasks are accomplished, doesn’t mean the project is done. The close-out phase is where you make sure the product is ready for launch and complete all relevant administrative tasks. That’s not all thought-the close-out phase is also where you take a look back at your project and evaluate-what went wrong, what went right, and what could have be done better. Even if you’re never working with that particular set of people again, you should still do this. You can take the information, learn from it, and ensure that you’re next project goes even better!
That’s a quick, plain-English overview of all the phases of project management. Next week, we’ll look over the Project Definition Phase in-depth-what is consists of, how to go about it, and all that good stuff.