I have read numerous articles on ‘How to Manage a Project’ and ‘How to Become a Project Manager’. There were listicles too, but both of these areas are two separate schools of thought. Career-wise, project management, and a general manager role jobs have intertwined paths. Most of the blog post on this subject matter missed the point.
The websites that I went through illicit too many details that are crucial to helping out prospective individuals on the internet. The emphasis was on formatting posts according to SEO standards – and that too for traffic gains.
I wouldn’t mind reading such posts, but when you are just starting out as an aspiring project manager, or someone looking to manage projects in a startup environment, you need detailed helpful information.
The ideology of this post is to reach out to people, who are looking to hone a career in managing projects. While you are at it, you should also check out our website posts on project management. Some of the content offers alternative tools to task management programs higher up the price bracket. Others lay down the basis for giving a sense of direction to professionals who are already enrolled in project management right now.
Assuming Things from a Manager’s Perspective:
To dart off, you need to take responsibility for your role. Calling yourself a manager isn’t going to cut it if you are walking light on the brass tacks. Catch my drift? No? I’ll make it simple for you. When you are running a project, or you happen to join an already running project, there are a couple of things to analyze.
Scenario A: When You Are Running a Project From The Start:
In this case, you have the liberty to plan, execute and deploy your project. It doesn’t matter if you want to manage a project in the IT industry, or some managerial gig around tangible products, the basics are more or less the same.
Planning a project depends on a lot of people. If it is a small team, you might as well have the option of calling all the shots. If it is a big team, you will have the opportunity to work with creatives, some IT dudes across the hallway, and many other talented individuals who are looking for a sense of direction.
“Not the best way to hold a Scrum meeting. I have witnessed this on numerous occasions.”
At this point, the entire team is clueless. They also have the tenacity to deviate from the project scope. I have seen many Scrum meetings where just a few minutes in, the Scrum Master becomes chums with team members and they all share Facebook IDs for “coordinating.”
Let’s just say, things don’t go very well from that point onward. The project dies its own slow death. It is like that feeling when you have a midget hanging around your neck and he’s trying to slowly choke you.
Scenario B: When You Want to Manage a Project that’s Already Been In-Running Gears:
Maybe you have been called over as a substitute project manager. At this point, you will have little to no idea about the project background, team members’ history and vice versa. You will have a good air of breath on what the project is all about, but getting around “How to Manage a Project” is the hard part.
Manage Your Projects through a Multi-Step Approach:
Managing a project is not that simple. Even if you have a small business; there are a lot of complexities involved in there. Sometimes, disaster shows up last minute just a week or two before launch. There are moments when the clients change their minds, despite you doing your best to steer the ship (is that the right way to use: steer? Just wondering) in the right direction.
Therefore, instead of writing down vague instructions or a post for the sake of increasing traffic to the nTask blog, I will illustrate everything through examples.
Project Management Is a Detailed “Process”:
If you want to know how to manage a project, develop know-how with project management. I am not going to push you to project management software; it comes later. However, if your business cannot afford to buy a task management tool on the internet, do things the conventional way. Use whiteboards, document everything and take plenty of notes.
The official Project Management Book of Knowledge (*PMBOK) has 49 sub-points to outline the entire project management process. Think about it? 49 is too much – and most of the managers are not even acquainted with the first 10.
I have broken down the process into 5 different steps. They are easy to digest, and you can explore on your own if managing a project piques your interest:
- Project Visualization:
Some people call it the ‘initiation’ phase where a bunch of ideas is finally approved by the board. They create a basic outline to shape the vision of the project. After that, work starts. Have you initiated, or visualized your project?
- Planning & Brainstorming:
Planning is to brainstorming as brainstorming is to planning. Right after the visualization phase, you need to get a lot of brains together to come up with a sound project plan. Most of the managers surround themselves with people who are more talented than them.
If you are going to be doing the planning, it’s good. But a better approach is to get someone else’s opinion in on it too. Remember that if you have an idea and someone else has an idea, that’s two ideas.
Planning also constitutes coming up with rough roles. Who will do what and how is the bulk of how to manage a project during the planning phase.
- Project Execution:
By this time, work has already started; roles have been assigned and deadlines are set. A proper way of executing any project is to break it into simple steps. In the IT world, we have Sprints and a trained Scrum Master who coordinates with a Product Owner to backlog the entire Sprint.
These Sprints are divided into 14 days timed milestones where the idea is to create a “shippable” product with as many features as possible. However, the important thing is to keep your end users’ clients’ requirements into perspective and prioritize the project accordingly.
- Monitoring, Controlling, and Administering:
Project completion is a tight-knit process involving certain resources. Your resources are cold investments, budget, allowances, and humans. They are all different and have to be controlled through department heads.
You get the gist, right? How you control and monitor your project is up to you. It is because there is no definite answer to your business requirements and the total number of team members at your disposal. Maybe you are your own boss with very few workers sitting underneath.
Improvise and control in a scalable manner if you want to know how to manage a project.
- Project Finalization and Retrospective Analysis:
Once the project has matured, the arrow has already left the bow. There is one last thing for you to do – and i.e. a retrospective meeting. As a matter of fact, most of the project managers start in reverse to visualize how things would look in the long run. These project managers “look back” to connect dots.
What you can do is hold a few impromptu meetings with your team to assess the project development. Did anything go wrong? Were the client expectations met? Did you increase your business revenue and vice versa? These meetings give a lot of food for thought as they help to avoid doing similar mistakes in near future projects.
Scrum Masters hold meetings as Sprints go by. There are also retrospective meetings to highlight the efficiency and inefficiency of the project. I don’t expect you to know a lot about the Agile Mindset and Scrum, but if you are already working in Agile mode, you know what I’m talking about.
Diving Into Managing Your First Project In a Step-by-Step Manner:
Since I already wrote down some of the essentials of how to manage a project through 5 key steps, it is time for brief details. The following steps are for you to understand how things go in the background before, during and after individual project management scenarios.
- Scratch Your Own Itch:
‘Rework’ is one of the finest titles that Jason Fried and David Hansson have ever come up with. It is a book about personal development. Most of the subject matter also applies to management and project management skills.
There’s a small chapter in there: ‘Scratch your own itch’. It encourages people to solve their own problems when it comes to project management. I know I am using this as a vague term, but Jason illustrated a few fine examples in the itchy scratchy chapter where people can learn a few things.
If you have encountered a problem, try to solve it yourself. Spend a few days, plan the execution and see what comes up. You might be surprised at the results. When you are learning how to manage a project, it is like D-Day.
- Create a free account at nTask.
- Look around a little to see how you can create projects and tasks.
- Write down a few activities in your to-do list. nTask also offers the ability to set reminders.
- Send invitations to your teammates to join nTask.
- Everyone can collaborate through respective project boards, tabs and various 3rd party integrations.
All projects start at the grassroots level. You need to plan and share with others to make the idea explicit for everyone!
- Creating To-Do Lists
To Do Lists are important; we have an integrated solution to offer the creation of such lists in the workflow hierarchy. If you are interested, you can read our ‘Introducing nTask 2.0 (Beta)’ post on the blog. The new version will be coming with a revamped dashboard, drag and drop features and many such perks that help to transition from a to-do-list to project development.
Anyhow, I am sure you have been creating such lists ever since you learned how to write. Projects are no different; they have to have a set of lists with subtasks to further illustrate the work process. The size of the list depends on the complexity of how you want to manage a project. Your approach defines the end result.
However, if you skip a few steps in your to-do-list, you know that the turkey is going to be raw. Imagine that you have just finished your team’s first project. How would you reverse engineer the flow? Your brain will automatically come up with a multitude of possibilities.
Here at nTask, we often call up people from other departments to view our lists. Heck, if it’s any consolation, there is a giant glass slab where people write down their own lists. It offers retrospective with an occasional dab of insight from experts. Doing so also helps to gather new ways of doing something that seems un-doable in the to-do list.
- Budget Allocation for Control Release:
Every project that you are going to manage will consume financial resources. There is always a budget. Especially if you have investors snooping around, they want to see results at the end of each milestone. Otherwise, these guys stop funding the project.
Fortunately, nTask projects have a dashboard with a ‘$’ icon in there. We added this feature for people who wish to keep tabs on the amount of money they have allocated for a project. There are auto-indicators and reports to sum up the leftover budget, and/or the remaining budget that is available for completing your project.
If you are not using a task manager program, that is okay. No one is forcing you to do it. But for the sake of scaling your project within a definitive budget estimate, always have an accurate picture of your expenses, revenue, and profit. For all I know, the people working as part of the project have families to look after. They all need the money as an incentive.
Sometimes projects don’t have budget estimates. You might be working from scratch where the competition is low, and there are not a lot of experts to shed forecast on the cost structure. In that case, it is okay to admit that there are no specific budget limits. Some investors will back off, while others will show a willingness to participate.
Since we are also talking about control and release, they are crucial to determine overall management. Release time boxes for tasks, how does that sound? X1 amount of time for Task A, X2 amount of time for Task B – so on and so forth. Likewise, if this sounds like an idea, do it for budget allocation where you have no estimates about the project’s cost.
Usually, control and release of anything help when you want to manage a startup project. Otherwise, with a professional team, such issues don’t drive much attention because they are professionally taken care of.
- Structure Tasks Like a Pro:
Okay, so there are a bunch of tasks in the to-do list, it is time to structure them. Structuring also involves prioritizing and deprioritizing tasks as clients requirements go by. If you are creating your own product to sell, then you can prioritize and structure as you go. Here’s what you can do to manage a project like a pro:
- Divide Projects into Milestones:
Projects seem more doable when they are broken into milestones. They are less scary that way! On a serious note, milestones are very easy to achieve as they help complete the bigger picture. While doing it, try to keep the milestones independent of each other.
Now, if you are having trouble guiding your team through project management milestones, break those objectives into menial tasks. Perhaps a 25-minute task followed by a 5-minute break is the best way to retain everyone’s focus. Speaking of 25-minute timers, I recently wrote up a nice piece about the Pomodoro Technique. It includes different ways of incorporating the age-old workflow technique to increase productivity.
Gantt Charts in nTask: Milestone creation is offered in nTask as one of the primary features followed by Gantt charts. Once you have created a project, Gantt charts take up space through an easy-to-understand illustrative format.
These charts are important for getting a good overview of the resources, people and various other things you will need for each individual project. You can also Zoom in on a certain area of nTask Gantt Charts to get a feel of the subtasks dedicated to a particular bar in your Gantt charts. If several tasks are overlapping, the bars are side by side. They can be easily monitored by scrolling around.
In nTask, we don’t let the Gantt chart bars overlap one another. Theoretically, that would affect the project workflow. Besides, when Gantt chart graph bars are side by side inside a task, you get to see each stage of the project. These stages can be assigned to team members who are working on the same project.
- Foreseeing Risk Factor:
In hindsight, you could see what went wrong during the project management process. There are always risks and unforeseen factors that are beyond control. Let’s say, you are a construction contractor working on a building project. It continues to rain for a couple of weeks; that would hinder the project timeline.
Risks are everywhere during the lifeline of any project out there. The idea is to assess risk and have a Plan B at your disposal when things can go awry. Risk assessment and tolerance are an important part of how to manage a project. Let’s take a look at some examples of risks that have been a part of the IT industry as a norm!
- Your oh-so-talented web developer just called it quits because he got hired by another tech giant.
- Your project is going fine until the dreaded last minute when the client wants something that’s not within the scope.
- The client is getting pushy on deadlines and wants everything ready before the planned timeline.
- Your team forgot to add a very important feature in the project. This feature was requested by the client, but somehow it made it past the cracks.
Ways to Reduce the Aforementioned Risks:
- Give a nod of approval to your team members. Appreciate their work and incentivize to keep them on track.
- Scrum meetings are important! Although your client is not able to join these internal project management meetings, the idea is to discuss everything there is to the project.
- Keep giving your client regular updates instead of them bugging you. Always reach out to your client first, instead of the other way around. That way he/she will remain satisfied.
- If the team forgot to add that highly requested feature, be honest with your client. He may scold you, or get agitated, but both parties can agree to squeeze in that feature somehow; somewhere.
- Improvise When Necessary:
No project management plan is definite; it shouldn’t be that way. Always leave room for flexibility because situations change all the time. I’d like to quote our own example here. As part of the nTask team, we are constantly working hand-in-hand with our developers on the highly anticipated nTask 2.0 release.
Each day, we collaborate on project boards to see what our clients are requesting. We have outlined several plans, but those plans are flexible to a degree because we want to add the maximum number of features in the second upcoming release.
Now, this scenario might be different in your case because of your project’s nature. However, keep analyzing the market if you are creating an end product for users. Try to alter the plan to add those features that your competitor products don’t have. Improvise, adapt and release to blow the competition out of the water.
- Retrospective Meetings:
By now, I have made numerous mentions of Scrum meetings. If you have absolutely no idea about “Scrum”, Sprints or Epics, you can Google ‘Scrum Alliance Training Tutorials’ to get a hang of it. Basically, it is part of the Agile work mindset. There are meetings which offer a retrospective on many important elements of how to manage a project etc.
These meetings give time to everyone who wishes to reflect. My favorite part is narrowing it down to those co-workers who did a half-a$$ed job on the project. Sprints, followed up by meetings, are designed to highlight three parts of the project:
- It was good and the client loved it.
- The project was bad and the client hated it.
- We did a way better job than clients’ expectations. Yaaaaayyy!!
In each situation, you have the opportunity to outperform – especially if your project management skills failed the first time. There are many ways to improve the outcome throughout the average lifetime of a project.
What are your thoughts about managing projects? Have you decided to take up project management as a career? If so, do reach out to us through the comments section below. You can also email us for a personalized reply. Everyone at nTask would love to hear from you!
Good luck and don’t forget to share this post with your colleagues.