Planning a project is exciting. You get to start something new, learn and grow while you’re working on something that others will benefit from as well. However, project planning can become stressful very quickly if not approached in the right way. So, the first thing you need to do is take a breath, get yourself some coffee (or tea), make sure you’re well rested and then get started.
STEP 1: Know your goal
Everything we do has a purpose (or at least, it should have one) and this is especially true for projects. There are two ways this step can be approached.
- You define the goal
- Someone else defines the goal
If you’re the one who defines the project goal, there are a couple of things to have in mind. Firstly, how simple is your goal? Is it clearly defined? Have you explored alternatives? What problem does it solve? When defining your goal, make sure you can say it in just a couple of words. The more complex the definition, the harder it will be to strive for it.
Secondly, is your goal measurable? Is it real? Will you be able to achieve it in a timely manner? The length of time needed to achieve a goal will depend on the problem you’re trying to solve, but your goal should be timely. If the timeline is too long, make sure you create smaller goals that will lead to the main one. Some researchers suggest setting your goal a bit higher so that there’s 80% chance of achieving it. That way, you’re more motivated to strive for it.
Finally, there are several models you can follow when setting your goal. The most well-known one is SMART. I like this model, too and use it for personal and professional goal setting. Here are some other goal setting tools you can use.
On the other hand, If someone else defines the goal, your job is to go over it and make sure you understand it completely and there are no questions left unanswered. If you’re the one who is supposed to make a plan to reach that goal, you’d better know what you’re trying to reach.
STEP 2: KNOW YOUR TASKS
Once you’ve got your goal, you should start planning the tasks. Some management frameworks, like Scrum, call this a product backlog. Regardless of its name, in order to start your project, you need a list of tasks. The initial list is going to be pretty broad and general, which is just fine. It’s there to get you started. As you start making progress and learn more about the project, you’ll be adding more tasks to the list.
As you start writing down the tasks, some will be bigger (require more time and resources) while others will be smaller, faster to complete. The order of the tasks will depend on their importance, which leads to Step #3.
STEP 3: KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES
As you start listing your tasks, you will realize that some tasks are more important than others. Prioritizing tasks can be daunting, but more often than not, you’ll know what needs to be done first in order for other things to happen. In case you need some help, you can always use the Eisenhower Matrix of task prioritization by urgency and importance.
Keep in mind that priorities can change as new information about the project comes to light, but setting your priorities will take a lot of stress away and it will prevent you from getting stuck with completing a bunch of smaller, unimportant tasks when you need to focus on the more important ones.
It sounds quite simple, right? And it is, but do not take these steps lightly. It takes time and practice to get them right, which is why so many projects turn into a mess quite fast. So, before you get down to execution, give yourself some time to plan right. Following these three steps is one way to do it, but there are many other ways out there. The important thing is to have a system in place which will enable a project flow and give you some peace of mind.
What is your experience with project planning? What tips would you share?
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