For all You Workhorses…

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This snow we get in the northeast is kicking my butt!

There was a week where I didn’t leave the house for four days.  Four days!  I needed to grocery shop but I refused to greet 3 degree air so I became ultra creative with chips, broccoli, cheese and tuna.  Ew, I’m grossing myself out just thinking about it!  The snow has been a complete thorn in my side because twice now I’ve canceled trips to the city to visit Krista because of this darn cold weather.  And I’ll admit, I’m a baby.  If it’s below freezing, I’m staying in.  With my jacket on ha!

My hubs has had a snow day or two during this awful polar vortex too.  I thought it would be fun, that we’d be like kids who couldn’t go to school.  Unfortunately the business world still functions when there is snow, go figure?!  He was seriously on the phone or on his computer the entire snow day.  They say Vegas is the city that never sleeps, but I think New York, New Jersey and Connecticut must be the same because people burn the midnight oil working out here.  It’s gotten me thinking back to when I was working out of the home (because we all know being home with a toddler is work too!).  I was career minded; focused on working hard and smart.  I was driven– working my way up, albeit tripping a few times as I took each step.  I loved the working life until I took on too much.

A few years ago, I was drowning in my job.

As I mentioned before, I’m not one to slack off; I always always always work hard.  That’s one of my strengths.  That strength can be my biggest vice, though.  At the time, that workhorse within me took on a little too much and I felt completely worn out, overworked and overwhelmed.  I was drowning, and even this strong swimmer didn’t know how to get herself to shore safely!  My career was always extremely important to me and I feared I would look bad to executive management if I didn’t man up and just take it all in stride.  Inside, however, I wanted to quit.  I was ready.  I couldn’t take it anymore.

I eventually did talk to my boss and he let me hire help.  Thank goodness!  I hired two additional people to my staff and immediately I experienced the reprieve that delegation can offer.  I was motivated again and excited to take on more.  But then I got pregnant and moved to New Jersey and now stay at home with my baby– oh the irony!

As I’ve watched the fast paced career world out here spin well into the wee hours of the night (and yes, I know, east coasters aren’t the only ones who work long hours or have crazy deadlines.  But there is something different about the working world out here, I can’t explain it!), I’ve realized there are universal things I’ve learned from my experience managing projects, people, deadlines and budgets.  Whether you work in suburbia or in the big city, I think there are some  things that just “work”.  Here’s my go-to list for project management for all you workhorses!  This list isn’t by any means all-encompassing, but are things I’ve learned that have worked for me. 🙂

1.  Create a project brief.

Creating a project brief can be a lot of work, but if it’s done well it can really add a ton of value to the project as a whole.  The brief (document, outline, etc…) is just an overview of what the project is and it’s major components.  These may include the goal for completing it, how much it’s going to  cost, the schedule, the team members involved, and the impact to the customer (the customer could be five year olds if your project is a birthday party!!!).  Once your brief is complete and approved (many times executive management will want to sign off on things like this) you are ready to meet with your project team to review the brief and answer any questions, which leads me to my next point…

2.  Clearly communicate roles.

During your overview of the project brief, it’s important you lay out basic roles at this point.  Sure, details will change and tasks will be added or taken away, but responsibility and accountability should not.  Who is ultimately in charge?  Who approves things?  Who is the liaison with vendors, who is the one implementing?  Defining roles from the beginning ensures there’s no confusion on who is accountable to what.  This has proven me to be a huge success factor to getting the people involved in the project on board and supportive as they understand their role and commitment level.

3.  Establish a budget and a schedule.

Knowing how much the project should cost and what the implementation/planning schedule is critical to a successful launch.  For some projects, if you implemented flawlessly and on time but were over budget it’s a failure.  To others, the timeline is more critical.  Make sure you understand what the costs are going to be and plan accordingly when creating your budget.  Picking a number out of thin air won’t do you any good; do your research and figure out a number that makes sense for the schedule and the pieces that need to be knit together.  Also, understand your schedule and when you are ahead or behind.  You won’t understand the impact of your decisions unless you can tie them to how they will affect the schedule and/or budget of the project.

4.  Keep an up-to-date issues list.

Many projects require testing or approval prior to implementation.  Keeping an issues list will help you keep track of what currently needs attention and can aid you in knowing what action to take next.  Keep your vendors, team and management aware of any significant issues and the progress you’re making.  Designate one team member to update it so you don’t have multiple people duplicating issues or adding or deleting things.  This also helps to eliminate millions of little emails flying back and forth.

5.  Never assume…  EVER.  Did I say never assume?  I meant NEVER.  EVER.  ASSUME…!!!

One project I managed was coordinating the switch of one web host to another (I know, boring!!!!).  This meant copying every single URL, image, landing page, blah blah blah from the current host to the new web host.  I wasn’t the one copying over any of it, I was simply managing the moving pieces.  Work with one vendor, then the corporate team, then our new web team…  The thing is I don’t speak web lingo.  Drop that file where?  HTML code whaaaaat?  Link this source to fdalkfdsalfmjdk is what it all meant to me.  I assumed one group knew what the other group knew because I sure as heck didn’t know.  Wrong.  Don’t ever assume someone knows what’s going on.  Keep people informed and ask questions about the things you’re unsure of.  Get everyone in a room so there’s no “I thought… He said… She said…”

6.  Establish an implementation strategy.

As you are moving closer to the date you go live with your project (or event, or product for that matter) understand how you are going to implement it.  Write it down.  Collaborate with your team and management (keeping in mind to maintain clear roles and responsibilities!) to define how you are going to get this done.  This part of project management goes hand in hand with laying out an appropriate schedule.  Are you going to have a daily conference call to track the progress?  Or are you going to manage it by email or spreadsheets?  However you decide, be certain you and your team understand how the implementation should go which means planning way ahead before the actual live date.  What testing needs to be completed, at what point can you expose part of the project to management or others to gain feedback, etc…  Define a strategy for how you plan to get your product, event and/or project on the road with smooth sailing.  On implementation day the last thing you need is for someone to say “I can’t…”  You should be thinking of those things now and also preparing to ensure everyone can.

7.  Debrief, then move on.

After you’ve finished the project, take some time to sit down with your team and debrief.  Talk about what went well, what could have gone smoother, some ideas for next time and evaluate each piece.  Without a legitimate debrief it’s hard to go back and remember what exactly was done successfully.  The next time you go to plan a launch of an event, product or project you’ll have a clear idea of what was completed before, and the victories as well as the pain points to avoid for next time.

All in all, project management is fun.  I enjoy knitting together moving pieces to create something better than what was there before.  But it is stressful.  It doesn’t have to be perfect though.  Or maybe it does (depending on who you work for!).  Thankfully I’ve worked with a very forgiving teams!  Distinguishing between what’s critical to going live and what are pleasantries that would be nice to have is important.  Don’t aim for perfection.  Someone will always find a flaw in your work!  Have fun, drink lots of starbucks and breathe.  If you’ve followed the steps above, you’ll be on your way to a successful project!

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