Become A Master at Managing Big Projects

July 29, 2014
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Managing Big Projects: the Challenges

Managing big projects doesn’t have to be stressful. Successful project management involves initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, controlling and finally closing the project. There are a lot of stages to pass through, which means there’s plenty of chances that you will hit some bumps on the road. The good news is, if you’re prepared for the challenges you’ll be more equipped to tackle them.

  1. Teams are difficult to manage : It’s true! Teams can be difficult because the people in them bring their own background and experiences with them. If they’re not managed properly, you can get ego clashes and in-fighting which are productivity zappers.
  2. Team leadership is difficult : It takes a special set of interpersonal skills to manage a team effectively. As a team leader, you have to be able to have insight into each member’s strengths and weaknesses and how this will fit into the project. This is no easy task, and if it’s not handled the right way you’ll end up with an unhappy team.
  3. People person: You know that not everyone is going to gel as equally well with each person on the team. There’s past baggage, biases, and just plain old personality differences, that can get in the way of otherwise wonderful collaborations. You might find that newer members may hold back until they understand the dynamics and expectations of their role.
  4. Integration challenges: Everyone has different ways of doing things. When you get a team together you might find that these methods clash leading to subpar quality and consistency.

These challenges are enough to worry even the most experienced manager. Fear not! Below are some surefire tips to help you manage you next big project and lead a team of diverse people:

1. Define your scope

You got the project, congratulations! Now you’ve got a huge task ahead and the first thing to do is to visualize the end-goal. Define what it means to be successful for this project. Do you need a certain amount of conversions? Does the ROI have to hit a target? Whatever your definition of success is, make sure you can quantify it, this makes it easy to know when your project is successful.

2. Resource Check.

Write up a list of all the things you’ll need to successfully complete the project. Do you have enough staff, the right staff, budget, time etc? Give yourself a bit of wiggle room so that you can handle any unexpected glitches. Scrutinize every task and rank how important it is to the success of the project. This will save you loads of time later. If you think that you won’t have enough resources like money, staff or coffee to complete the project, go talk to management and let them make the call. Don’t make assumptions as you will be held accountable for the project’s success ….or failure.

3. Start planning.

Now that you’ve gathered your resources, it’s time to plan. An ideal plan offers room for flexibility, has the capacity to deal with uncertainties and keeps your team happy and motivated so they show up to work with a smile every day.

Having said that, a good plan is much more than a list of tasks. It includes the following:

  1. Roles and responsibilities of the team.
  2. Training of staff, if needed.
  3. Dependencies, assumptions, and risks.
  4. Clearly documented deadline dates for deliverables and project milestones
  5. Ways of tracking and monitoring the project.
  6. Ways of keeping the team motivated and productive.

4. Break down tasks

If Frodo in The Lord of The Rings only saw Mordor somewhere in the shadowy distance, looking huge, evil and well-protected, he probably would have run back to the Shire and told those elves to destroy the ring themselves. Luckily Frodo had helpers along the way who showed him how to reach his ultimate goal. Likewise, if your team can only see the end-goal, they can get demotivated. You have to show them the way to reach the goal. Break the project into mini-tasks and assign them to individual team members. Keep them updated on the progress of the overall project. It’s easier for your team to understand the whole if they can see its parts.

5. Visualize it.

Draw up a huge Gantt chart and stick it up on the wall for the team to behold. Sometimes visualization is the best way to get your team to understand the process. Assemble everything in the chart; What happens first? Who will work parallel to the second task? What is the next step? How long will it take for step 3 and 4? Watch as clarity automatically follows, and your team understands who is responsible for which task and who they need to work with.

Example of a Gantt Chart, courtesy of Teamwork.com

6. Be Flexible.

Ok, ok, I know I just said make a huge plan and stick it on the wall, but believe me, you need to leave room for adjustments and last minute tweaks. Plans are great because they give you an outline of the project and tell you where you’re heading. But we all know that life doesn’t always go according to plan. When you drive to work every morning you take the same roads. One day, there’s an accident on one of the roads, and your usual route is blocked. You don’t turn around and go back home, you simply look for the best possible alternative to get to your destination. Similarly, there is more than one way to reach the goal of your project. On your detour, remember to keep your eyes on your goal, and take into account your resources.

7. Track your progress - track it well.

Estimate how much time each task is likely to take, then keep track of how much time you actually spent on each task. Go back and compare this with your estimated data. Hold fortnightly meetings with the team and ask everyone to report on their progress. Be open to your team and encourage them to give you the ‘real’ picture without gloss, and offer help wherever needed. A task is complete only when it’s 100 percent over and dealt with.

8. Motivate your team.

A motivated team will go the extra mile to deliver a high-quality, on-time project within the allocated budget. Keep your team motivated by inviting their active participation throughout the entire project, even on tasks that they’re not directly involved in. Involve them in the planning stage and ask them for their opinion. Be sure to give credit where credit is due. Remember: a motivated team will ensure great results ;-)

9. Communicate.

Seems obvious, right? However, many projects and businesses fail because there is no proper communication. As a manager, keep your communication clear and concise. Does everyone in the team understand you? Do they know exactly what is expected of them or have you assumed they do? Do they communicate well with one another, with the customer and with other departments? Communicate everything clearly to your team without assuming anything and encourage them to reciprocate so that they don’t bottle up their feelings.

10. Document everything

Big projects usually last for more than a couple of months. You’ll be in countless meetings and send huge amounts of emails, so you can understand why it’s impossible to remember everything when it comes to writing the review at the end of the project. So, document everything in real time. Every time you shift a bit from your original plan, document it. Every time a new resource is added to the project, document it. As an added bonus you can learn from your documentation once the project has finished.

11. Conduct project retrospectives

Heh what? Retrospectives are post project reviews. They are a detailed presentation of how things unfolded during the different stages. They provide an opportunity for the team to reflect on how the project went and what lessons can be used for future projects.

Have you ever handled big projects? If so, how did it go? Share your experience with us in the comment section.

About Ewout Meyns

Ewout is our Founder and CEO, he is straight-forward and direct. He’s a friendly chap and never fails to motivate the team to perform at their best. He makes sure we keep moving forward.