by Diann Daniel

4 Tips for Better Project Management

Jul 30, 20074 mins

Something went wrong today.

I’ve been working on a project that involves quite a few people and quite a few pieces, and a couple of those pieces got messed up. We’re still not sure how or why it happened, and luckily it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed. But straightening it out did take up time that could have been more productively spent elsewhere.

We’ve been working on the project for months, and meetings don’t always involve the same people–we all have certain areas that we focus on, and we’re in different departments and/or buildings, and on top of that, our communications go through a variety of paths–IM, e-mail, a phone call etc. Maybe in a perfect world, we’d all sit side by side and simply yell over the wall with everyone listening in and included, but of course that’s not the case; this is simply one project of many projects we’re all working on. Plenty of you are probably in the same boat.

Obviously the challenges of project management vary according to scope of project and size of organization, but I do think some overarching similarities exist. And on that note, I’m sharing with you a sort of “note to self” based on what worked well, and what could be better (and please share your own tips; this list is by no means exhaustive!):

1. Designate up front a central location for keeping all your notes and materials about the project. As you accumulate papers, notes, materials, you’ll need it.

2. Be very clear on who is responsible for what. This can be difficult since people from different departments, for example, may have varying levels of input or interest in any one piece of the project. Some folks may come in only for a small part of a project, for example. And some may have overlapping roles. That’s okay. I think the main thing is to make sure you have at least one person responsible for each piece. And even though it can be tricky, I do think having two people responsible for tracking the project as a whole can be helpful, if for no other reason, than to reinforce each other’s understanding and memory.

3. Discuss ideas and issues verbally (and in person) whenever possible. This applies particularly to areas where you’re trying to work out a problem, come to a solution, or discuss your vision of various details. It’s amazing how some things that seem so “obvious” just aren’t. People can have such different understanding of things that to you can seem interpretable in only one way. When you talk something through, especially in person, you can see and hear the confusion and clear it up right then. It constantly amazes me how awful e-mails threads are for “discussing” things, especially as the number of participants increases. For starters, it’s way too easy to seem rude or conversely, to try and be polite, only to be wordy and misunderstood. E-mail will obviously come into play (I can’t imagine my life without IM and e-mail), but take extra care to be clear.

4. Put decisions in writing, and make sure everyone confirms their common understanding. Building on number three, verifying that everyone has the same understanding is essential. And as great as in-person discussions are, putting it in writing is invaluable. Again, this may seem so obvious. But during a busy day or a casual discussion, the point may not be so prominent. You can’t call a group meeting for every single little thing. Sometimes projects need to move ahead and only one person is needed or appropriate for a particular conversation. But here again, tell anyone who possibly might have a stake in the decision. And just as important, keep a good history of what you’ve done and why. Five months down the road, you will want to have the history of those decisions, not just for the obvious reasons (covering your bases) but for simple reason that you may not remember why you did a particular thing or created a certain strategy.

  See also: Innovation Is Not a Democracy, and Other Thoughts