If most of your revenue is generated through daily interactions with customers, a project can be problematic. Longer-term engagements require thought processes that are much different than day-to-day tasks.
New business initiatives can be more troublesome. Projects involving innovation, such as investigating the potential of a new product line, choosing and applying a new technology to operations, or figuring out what trends are relevant to your industry and business, can be ambiguous at the start. Planning for these can be more complex and require greater agility.
Whether your goal is a completed project or business initiative, planning now can allow you to avoid panicking about missed deadlines, botched presentations, lower-than-average efficiency, or missed market opportunities later.
1. Deal with your resistance to planning
Maybe you don’t have extra time now to devote to preparing for an event or plotting how to capitalize on a trend that may (or may not) be relevant to your business. Based on your best calculations, your workload will be lighter in a few months, giving you time to plan and execute well before any deadlines or changes in the business landscape.
Maybe a project or technology doesn’t seem all that complicated or time-consuming. You believe that you don’t really need to explore or analyze anything right now order to execute effectively when the timing is right.
Maybe your business model and project deliverables involve day-of-event issues so that not planning seems like a wiser use of time. You can’t get commitments from vendors, customers, etc. too far in advance and you can’t predict trends, so you don’t even try.
But as a deadline looms or as methods, technologies, trends that were cutting edge years ago become widely accepted as norm, forethought looks smarter. What to do? Craft a plan to keep the order-shipping routine intact and make progress toward your goals so that you can calmly approach your workdays.
2. Figure out what you plan to accomplish
Figure out what you want to do in as precise terms as possible. A project for a customer should have firmly established objectives, deadlines, and budgets. The design of a new product line, trend analysis, or technology investigation should have general parameters with allowances for flexibility throughout the planning and execution phases.
Engage those involved in your project or initiative. Clarify areas of uncertainty or possible confusion. Think about what success will look like if execution is flawless. If the vision of your stakeholders is described differently than yours, or the ROI looks unreasonable, ask more questions and tighten your project’s definition. Develop a shared understanding of what requirements and outcomes are fixed, and which are flexible.
3. Get a handle on the details
Planning at a high level is pretty easy. But when you start identifying details of a project or initiative, things get more complicated and overwhelming. Cataloguing the details to be considered and acted upon is crucial to effective execution. So, take your time and make the effort to nail down specifics.
How should you figure out the details to be included in the plan? Unless you have led many projects or spearheaded new programs just like the ones you are plotting now, it’s likely that you will miss something. But don’t let uncertainty stop you. Get started and then fill in the gaps.
Write down the details you have already considered. Take a mental walk-through the entire project or program to discover more. Consult an expert to uncover items that you would have never considered or may have mistakenly judged inconsequential to the success of your project or business initiative. Translate details into action items.
4. Set aside time
Make room on your calendar for project tasks, interjecting them with everyday business. Ideally, you can create a project plan, listing one action item after another in a linear sequence until all actions are completed and the project is complete.
Note that business initiatives and innovation projects may not follow a straight linear path. For these situations, certain actions will lead to defining next steps but may involve temporary reversals before moving ahead. Doug DeCarlo describes one way of guiding this process as extreme project management.
5. Start now
Start as early as possible so that the schedule can accommodate setbacks as well as surges in everyday execution without compromising completion dates.
- Develop strategies to keep the project or initiative moving forward.
- Devise timelines that take into consideration lead times for products to be ordered, services to be arranged, project approvals from stakeholders.
- Discover what actions are dependent on previous steps so that your path is as linear as possible and backtracking is unnecessary.
- Anticipate constraints and allocate resources to prevent bottlenecks based on these limits.
- Review project status regularly to deal with unexpected or recurring problems.
- Make decisions quickly and stay focused on well-defined and well-understood goals of projects and initiatives.