February 10, 2014

Project Management: Conquer the Unexpected

Attending to the many details of a fast-moving project can feel like a juggling act at times. Project Director Kate Mathers offers a strategy for keeping all the pins in the air—even when you’re thrown a few new ones.

Ever walk into work on a Monday morning with a clear plan for your week only to find out you need to turn around a report by the end of the day? What about those times when the team is anxiously awaiting your presentation and wants to see a draft one week early? We’ve all been there. It can be overwhelming and a really daunting task, but with a few strategic tips, you can be mentally prepared to handle any task sent your way.

1. Define the problem. Understand what is driving the deadline. Sometimes, if you talk through the deadline with all key players, an understanding can be reached to build more time into the project. (And if you can’t find more wiggle room, then move to number four.) Oftentimes, talking through what is driving the deadline will provide insight and understanding for you to get a better handle of the deliverable. If you do this early in the process, you’ll guarantee good use of your working time.

Tip: Jot down the key objective/challenge you’ve heard communicated and share it back with the team to ensure you’ll be meeting expectations.

2. Make a focused game plan. Breathe, take a moment and think through what you need to do in order to successfully accomplish all the tasks ahead of you. Determine what is a hot item to be done today then put what can be done tomorrow on the back burner. Time management is crucial to success so think through what your day involves (personal and professional)—move meetings that can be shifted to get back your valuable working time and let others know if you have a personal change in plans.

Tip: Check the day’s calendar and know what’s in store. Then make two to-do lists: one that is a “must do today” and one for tasks that “can wait until tomorrow.” Note to self—be realistic; make a daily to-do list that can actually be done. And, the list of tomorrow’s to-dos can get long, so revisit, refresh and rewrite the list often.

3. Stay focused. Finish the items already on your “must do today” list before you leave the office. If you get done what you set out to accomplish each day, you’ll be ready to take on whatever the next day’s challenge may be. This is important because it will get each day off to a better start, with nothing hanging over your head for the next day.

Tip: Get an early start to your day so you can knock out a few items on your list during the quiet hours.

4. Call in the reinforcements. There is nothing wrong with raising a hand and asking for help. In fact, your team members will feel valued if they can contribute and participate in the task and drive toward a successful outcome. And, you will build a stronger sense of camaraderie amongst your team members. A great benefit of enlisting additional help is the fresh set of eyes that oftentimes sheds light on an untapped insight or answer.

Tip: Know what you are asking when reaching out for help and provide clear directions/specifics and do it early in the process—your team members will appreciate this, and so will you come crunch time.  

5. Mission accomplished. You’ve made it through the deadline by implementing some best practices and enlisting good team members, so it’s time to celebrate! Bask in the short-lived delight from the win (big or small) and thank those who helped you make it through.

Tip: After you’ve enjoyed the moment, take time to reflect and review the process – both the positive aspects and the areas that can be improved – it will only make the next time around better.

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