Although we’ve shared a multitude of project management tools with you since the start of Web Worker Daily (including, since just the beginning of the month, “Organize Your Life With Jott,” “(Mostly) Free Resources for the Web Worker Who Works on the Web,” and “QuickBase Goes Enterprise“), actually doing the job of project management requires — above all — simple common sense. At least, that’s the take of Kimberly Wiefling, author of Scrappy Project Management.
“In the real world, things go wrong, things change, people don’t do their action items, and everybody knows what’s going to happen on day one on the project, but nobody admits it,” Wiefling said.
Here are the three things to master, according to Wiefling, that will get you 80% of the way to project success.
1. Make the goals as clear as possible. Say the goal is launching a new website. “Often, [teams] find out they don’t all have the same idea of what success is six months from now,” said Wiefling. “Is it just launching the prototype? Is it the home page works, but everything else is clunky? What about bug free. Is it full of bugs or working smoothly? How long does a page take to load? A lot of details get lost in some of the high level, ‘Hey, get the site up in six months.'” Make sure the goal looks the same to everybody.
2. Communicate obsessively — “until even you are sick of hearing it.” This has two components, said Wiefling: talking and waiting to talk. “One of the things we have to get really good at is the listening side of communication. I emphasize that first because people rarely think about it.” What needs to be communicated? “There’s a goal — the big what, then the how — how are we going to get there? Then what is each person’s responsibility for making that happen? Then, status and progress towards that goal.
3. Prioritize ruthlessly. “I talked to one guy,” said Wiefling. “He said, ‘I’ve got 40 projects going on.’ I said, ‘Great. What are the top three?’ He said, ‘Oh, I can’t pick the top three. They’re all important… You’re asking me to choose from my heart, my lungs and my kidneys.’ I said, ‘Your heart is number one, because you’ll die in one minutes. Your lungs are number two, because you can live for 3 minutes. And your kidneys are number three, because you can go on dialysis.'” In other words, if every project appears to be equal in importance, look at the company goals and align the projects to those.
Wiefling said the client finally wrote a one-page description about what the company was about and how it made decisions regarding how it needed to “spend” its people, money and time.
Here are two project management tips from Wiefling that can improve results even if you feel like the project is a disaster waiting to crash:
First, provide status reports. “We have to communicate where are we headed and what’s our progress to our goal — so people will row like hell to get there.” She advises telling the team, “You’re 10% of the way, 50%, you’re 75% of the way, you’re 90%, you’re doing good…” In return, she said, the team will actually perform 60% more efficiently than a team told to “come in every day and work like hell and do your best.”
Second, make your communication tools as visual as possible. For a project kick-off, bring people in from wherever they reside in the world. “Fly them in, stay in a cheap motel, have some biscuits from Costco, and get people together to agree on the goals, objectives, plans, schedules, risks, mitigation, communications, roles and responsibilities and all of those things,” said Wiefling.
Then, once everybody has gone off in his or her own little world, use voice and video camera — “because the words alone in email are totally inadequate to express meaning.” Use screenshots, drawings or slides to simulate final results.
Wiefling has plenty more scrappy advice in her book, but we’d like to hear what tips you can share for getting projects right.