Project Management

10 Ways to Simplify Your Projects and Set Sail for Success

Sarah Hansen
January 15, 2014
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You're ready to start.... Your ship is packed for the journey, everyone in your crew knows their job, and your beautiful vessel is sea-worthy. You pull out of the harbor full of excitement, ready to discover new heights of adventure.

However, right under the surface, there is a problem. A tiny piece of your ship has broken; but since the choppy waves conceal it, no one knows. Until they try to steer...

A rudder is a very small thing that makes a big impact on direction.

This same is true for project management. You can have the best preparations, the best team, and the best business, but if project management is not a part of the equation, you will find your most lofty intentions run aground.

So, how do you bring project management into the equation to keep everyone on track without creating more complexity? Here are 10 ways to simplify your biggest project execution while still steering your ship toward your goal in record time.

1. Assemble the Right Crew

No self-respecting captain will head out onto the high seas without ensuring everyone on the mission is an expert in their respective duties. They also don't take on additional dead weight that will only consume resources without bringing forth the correct performance in return.

Think the same way as a sea captain when you assemble your team. Don't overly complicate things by having more people than you need. Instead, find the best and brightest minds, make sure everyone is committed to the goal, and has the expertise to contribute strong ideas and execution in moving your project forward. While it may seem to take more time to create your dream team, the momentum that follows from putting the right people together will more than make up for the upfront investment.

2. Know Where to Set Anchor

No long journey is accomplished in one day, just as no big project is completed in one setting. Clearly define your objectives, and know where to stop each night and throw down your anchor to rest. If you have too many goals, your project can become complicated and confusing. If you must have numerous objectives, consider breaking them up into sub-projects, then take them one at a time.

3. Follow the Map

Benjamin Franklin said it best, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

The planning phase is where you will outline the steps required to complete the project, along with determining the resources, budget, and responsibility of team members. This step can be simplified by making sure each task is small and easily manageable. Large, complicated missions with dozens of associated tasks can just be too overwhelming.

Once you set your route, follow your map! You don't have time to take detours!

4. Find the Right Vessel

Find your perfect ship to reach your goal. You wouldn't trek across the Atlantic in a row boat, right? So, don't take on a huge project with a note pad.

Web-based project management software is a very effective way to keep everyone on the same page, while saving time and money. You naturally create a template, a navigation system keeping you on course, that you can utilize for future projects. TeamGantt is a great example of software company you can utilize to take away all of the project headaches and complexities normally encountered.

The power of most online software programs is that you can invite anyone to work on tasks with you: clients, co-workers, or contractors. Fellow teammates can easily drag and drop tasks into the chart to schedule them. You can also see what everyone on your team is currently working on, and easily determine who has capacity to work on additional tasks. You can also see multiple projects in one place, share files, leave comments and discuss different tasks within the software, and schedule daily email updates... all from one central software platform.

Also, make sure to choose software companies that give you access through your mobile phone as well, so you can make changes on the go. Additionally, look for software that can integrate tasks through your iCal / Outlook / Google calendar to further save you time and keeps you on course. As the project continues, team members can update their progress, percent completion, and everyone can compare planned development with actual headway.

5. Take Stock Along the Way

Sea captains only have enough food and supplies for a carefully planned journey. Each day, they make sure they've made their distance marks on the map so they don't run out of resources. They also analyze how they can make the next day even more productive. They never look at their supplies at the end of their journey. If they did, they may run out before they reached their destination.

Project managers should also embrace analyzing their progress on what's working and what's not while they are in the middle of the project, so they can make changes if necessary. Saving this step for the end makes it difficult to impact the final results.

If you were a sea captain, you may run out of supplies before you reach land and not have a chance at bringing those learnings into the next voyage. So, become aware of your progress and fluid enough to change your course to avoid catastrophe.

6. Get a Seagull's Eye View

Perspective changes everything. Remember to re-evaluate yours. Don't get too granular with the details of your project. Start with a seagull's perspective, and then work down from there.

High-level screenshot of a project timeline as a gantt chart

It's good to get a clear picture of the overall outcome first, so everyone sees the macro concept. What is the overall aim of your project? You can then break the elephant down into manageable bites. But, it would be hard to imagine an elephant if you only looked at the bites.

For the record, no elephant should actually be allowed on board your ship! However, feel free to fill up the hold with as many metaphorical ones as needed!

7. Take One Paddle Stroke at a Time

If you have a complex project, it's important to concentrate on the right priorities to avoid getting bogged down in the details. Prioritize your tasks by those most important, mark the most critical while identifying less impactful tasks with color coding. Then, set up deadlines for each task. Hide the less important tasks so you won't see them until your bigger priorities are completed.

This way, you will keep the things you need to focus on right in front of you, and not let the less important details clutter your view.

8. Make Use of Reminders

TeamGantt allows you to send out daily reminder emails with links to the project. Make use of these! This way, you and your team can know exactly what you need to focus on for the day. This will save you time searching for your project and also help you not get behind on your daily progress.

Daily project update email notification from TeamGantt

9. Aye, Aye Captain!

More time and money is lost to lack of communication than arguably anything else. Make sure your team is communicating with you daily through email or directly on the site. Using a software with the ability to talk to other teammates from the shared template, while also sending out email notifications, helps to further cement everyone together in a collaborative, cohesive unit.

Task discussion thread in TeamGantt

Also, it's a good idea to give your customers and senior management access to your on-line progress. This way, you will have less emails and communication on status updates to generate for them, as they can simply log on and see your pacing.

10. Keep Your Deck Swabbed

In other words, keep projects tidy. As the captain of your project, it's your job to make sure the right people are on the right tasks and are moving at the right pace. Make sure you, as well as other project owners, update statuses often and mark objects completed once they are done.

Also, assign additional tasks as you move forward instead of giving a lot of upfront emails and work at the start of the project. This way, you don't bombard everyone with information that will be lost long before you reach that point in the work. No one wants to search through their emails to find their next task.

It is said that every great journey starts with a single step. Therefore, even the largest projects can be broken down into daily objectives. Using the right tools, assembling the right team, and following these concepts can ensure you reach the shoreline of your greatest goals.

Just remember to keep one weather eye on the horizon and the other on your compass, and you will sail your company ship into the safe, sweet harbor of success!

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