Project Management

The 30-minute Project Manager

Brett Harned
September 9, 2015
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It’s a fact: there are many people out in the workforce who are managing projects but are not officially project managers by title. in fact, we all manage projects on some level. Some of us at work, some at home…some good, some really, really terrible. So what do you do if you’re tasked with managing a project but just don’t have a full 8 hours per week, let alone an hour, to manage that project? Read on, workforce warrior, and you’ll be able to keep everything moving successfully with just 30 minutes per day.Here’s the deal: your schedule is busy with meetings, email, and actual work. If you set aside a good couple of hours at the beginning of your project, you will set your team up for success and for yourself to be a great project manager. The recommendations that follow will require some investment in time up front, but minimal weekly time suckage.

Early Project Management

No matter how you look at it, the beginning of any project will require an investment of your time. If you’re able to set aside a few hours to get your project details organized, and your team and clients aligned, you’ll set yourself up to do a little less work week-to-week.

Sit down with your clients and your team to work through the goals of the project. What are the expected outcomes? What are the challenges? And how will you collectively complete the project within the defined scope and budget? A detailed conversation can set expectations about project goals, team and individual responsibilities, deadlines, milestones, requirements, and more. If you need guidance on how to gather the kind of info you’ll need, check out the Guide to Project Management. Distill the stakeholder questions into a meeting agenda, get the info you need, agree to a schedule, and get the ball rolling.

Weekly Project Management Tasks

As soon as you’ve got your proverbial project house in order, you should be able to facilitate a good process and keep tabs on the important things like communications, deliverables, timelines and budgets. If you’re truly limited to 30 minutes a week, you’ll want to keep tight tabs on the following things:

Stay on Top of Project Progress

Time Required: 10 minutes per day

If you’ve set up a detailed plan for executing the project and your team understand what they’re responsible for, you should be able to check in on their progress throughout the week without dedicating much time to it. What’s most important about managing projects is knowing and understanding the people behind the tasks. Take the time to communicate with care and ensure that you understand the team;s challenges and are not taking anything for granted. Offer help when you can, and facilitate conversation about issues when you can’t. In the end, you want to ensure that a deliverable will go out on time—and is at the quality level you expect. But you also want to make sure you’re “in the know” about any details related to those deliverables, even if it’s at a high level.

An easy way to stay in touch with your team is to organize the team to provide quick status updates. This could be done with a 10 minute in-person standup meeting, through online chat (setting up a Slack channel might help facilitate quick, meaningful conversations and collaboration), or even through a single mid-week meeting where you discuss details as a team. Do what not only makes you comfortable, but what will make your team feel supported. Remember, just because your time limited, it won’t mean that your team will feel supported. In some cases, you might have to make some extra time to keep people feeling good about the work as well as your role on the project.

Check-in meetings are often left with multiple to-dos or issues that need to be worked out. if you can tackle them in your meeting, perfect! If they’re bigger than you had expected, you’ll have to take the extra time to sort them out. This might mean re-prioritizing your to-do list to make sure things are resolved. No matter what you do, stay in the leadership role and work with your team to sort issues out. You can certainly facilitate next steps and check back in.

Check in on Project Health

Time Required: 5 minutes per day

Depending on your project and how you operate, you’ll have a way to determine the overall project health. This could be through budget updates, timeline reviews, and resourcing plans. Again, if you’ve done your due diligence at the outset of your project, checking on these things should be simple—and will save you some stress.

This gets complicated when you start to see things going off the rails. As soon as you spot a potential issue, flag it with the team and raise possible solutions. It’s your job to call out the issue, but if you can help resolve it quickly, you’ll feel better about the state of things. If you’re just too busy to deal with a potential issue, it’s time to delegate. Ask a team member to take the lead on sorting it out for you, and report back later in the day—or at the following team check-in meeting.

Create a Weekly Status Report

Time Required: 15 minutes per week

The two items above will keep you looped in on progress and project health, but they don’t ensure that your team and stakeholders are crystal clear on where all things stand. As a project manager, you want to be sure that you keep a certain level of transparency about action items, milestones, budgets, and risks with your team, clients, or stakeholders. If you take just 15 minutes per week to fill in a status report and distribute it to all involved parties, you won’t feel like the bottleneck. You’ll share the burden of project information, and that will mean that anyone can step in and help as needed.

Every status report should include details about the following items:

  • What was done last week
  • What was done this week
  • What will be done next week
  • Upcoming deliverables/dates
  • Timeline updates and percent complete
  • Budget update and percent complete
  • Action items
  • Risks or blockers

As soon as you write your first report, you will have a template to update week-to-week and you’ll kick the report out in minutes—as long as you’ve done your other work. If not, you’ll have to follow-up with team members about current status. So do yourself a favor and make communications and checkins a priority. Download our simple weekly progress report template to get started.

Plan for the Unplanned

Every project will face its own set of issues or concerns. You’ll be working alongside other smart people who will face their own challenges on the project. Chances are, they’ll use your time when they can to discuss ideas or complain about issues. Even if your time is limited, you’re going to have to make some time to help out every once in a while. Keep that in the back of your mind so that when it happens you don’t become frustrated. Stay calm, communicate your expectations of others, the time you have available, and do what you can to be a helpful PM.

Can it Really Be Done?

Your role on a project is what you make of it. If you truly only have 30 minutes a week to work on your projects, you will face challenges. But if you set up a framework for how you’ll work with the team and set expectation about process and communications, you’ll set the team up for success. And who knows, maybe you’ll even get a few minutes for  lunch break.


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