Projects are instrumental in growing the business and making a profit.

Thus, it is critical that we find simple yet effective ways to make sure we are successful. In my 25+ years of project management experience, I find that the natural tendency is to make things complicated. The goal is typically to accommodate nuances in the business or project; however, I find that Occam’s razor is absolutely correct. There are simple strategies to increase your probability of project success.

Related Article: Winning Leadership Traits for Project Success

In trying out many project management techniques, I’ve found these to be most beneficial yet simple:

1. What’s the point? It helps to start the project by understanding why you are doing the project. What will be accomplished? Or why does management consider it a priority? How will you affect the company performance? For example, will customers enjoy the improvement? Or, will the company make additional profit? Be more efficient? What will be the outcome?

When I was VP of Operations and Supply Chain for an absorbent products manufacturer, we produced adult diapers. I led several critical projects while turning operations around. One of these was to redesign our #1 product line so that it performed better (was more absorbent) while reducing the cost to make the product – in essence, we were looking for a win-win. Why we were doing this was essential to rallying the team around the project. We imagined that the diapers were for our grandparents. We’d want only the best for our Grandma! And, since the CEO kept us informed on company performance, we also knew we needed to make money in order to increase the value of the company which would allow us to serve more people and eventually obtain bonuses.

2. Develops a simple plan: Don’t become overwhelmed with complex project timelines and worrying about “form vs. function”. Instead, put together a simple plan. Who needs to do what? And by when? Are there tasks that have to be done prior to other tasks starting? Or that need to be completed before other tasks can complete? Do we have these outlined somewhere? Although I find that Microsoft Project does a great job of managing timing and sequencing, it also has far more functionality than is needed for 80% of projects. Getting bogged down in project software details is the quickest way to ruin a project.

For example, while working on redesigning the #1 product line, we ran across several moving parts that crossed over department lines and even expanded to customers and suppliers. We could have become really complicated; instead, we took the simple route. It is amazing how the simplest of concepts can create positive momentum. What are the next 10 tasks that have to be completed? Who should be assigned? Never assign more than one person to the task. A team cannot achieve a task. A team might be involved, but there has to be one owner. Does the team understand the tasks? If not, who can we find to help explain them?

3. Prioritize and sequence the tasks: This can be quite similar to identifying the critical path; however, it is not as complicated. Start by identifying which tasks are most important? Just take a step back and think logically. Which tasks will have the largest impact on the success of the project? If you cannot decide, think about 3 things you could use to evaluate whether the task will have an impact. Then compare these criteria with the tasks on the simple plan. Priorities will emerge.

Priorities and sequencing are not the same. Sequencing refers to what order the tasks must be accomplished. Should you work on task A before task B or does it matter? There is no reason to get carried away. If the tasks can be done in any order, do not specify an order. It will be easier to accomplish if task owners can work in parallel. However, undoubtedly, some of the tasks will need to wait for predecessor tasks. Identify those tasks. Are there tasks required for several other tasks? In my book, these tasks are more important as they can hold up multiple tasks.

4. Follow up: It is impossible to wrap up an article on simple project management techniques without taking about follow-up. Follow-up will make or break success. You need to check in with task owners before and after your task. If you are dependent on an overloaded resource, check in more frequently and make sure you are re-aligning your work with this bottlenecked resource. Find out if there are any issues surrounding the simple plan. Asking a few simple questions can go a long way.

If common sense was prevalent, companies would probably double their profits. If you can focus on what is simple yet effective in project management, you will affect those programs that will have a direct benefit to your business. Take a step back and make sure you haven’t gotten bogged down in non-essential “stuff.”

Published in “Project Times” website, September 19, 2016
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