at DY Patil School Patna, Bihar, India
Trainer & Head of Operations, Otermans Institute
Chief Product Officer, Solar Botanic
Researcher, Brunel University London
Whether you are planning a project at home, participating in projects at work, or you’ve been inspired to start an open source project during the 'lock down', the way you manage the project will make the difference between you celebrating a success or grieving over its failure. In this lesson, we will explore the basic life-cycle of a project and find ways how you can use these theories in your everyday life.
Just like a person, animal or tree goes through its cycle of life from birth to death, so does a project. The project can be born from a need that you want to satisfy, a problem that you want to solve, or simply a creative urge, and if acted upon, it will continue until that target of achieving the project is reached or at a moment when that target becomes unreachable.
As the manager of a project, you will guide it through several stages during its life. First, you will define the project in the project brief, which serves as the input for the design of the project where the proposed planning of the project is documented. Then it is time to follow this plan as closely as possible during the delivery of the project.
This can be an enjoyable process and it is tempting to walk away from the project once it is delivered. However, after you think the project is done, we at Otermans Institute suggest that there is one more thing for you to do: Evaluating how it went and find out areas of improvement, so that you are even more prepared to take on the next project!
Have you ever participated in a project where you were frequently lost about which direction the project would take next? This can be avoided with a good project definition. The project definition is the foundation of the project. It clarifies for everybody involved, what their expectations and requirements are, sets the goals and objectives, and develops ideas or concepts about how these can be reached. More importantly, it outlines and presents the vision for the team!
At this stage, the first thing you do is to clarify the expectations and requirements of everyone involved; the stakeholders. To get this information can be as easy as asking questions face-to-face, over a phone call or by email. All of these can be used for your own home-made project that you can start during the current COVID-19 lockdown. However, you should firstly do some research yourself to avoid wasting the valuable time of others involved. Well, you may say that this advice is directly opposite to our lesson on team work! What we mean here is that you should ask every question you think matters, but don’t simply rely on others to answer all your questions, especially those that could be answered from a simple search on Google. People understand the difference between diligent questioning and laziness.
After this, you can set clearly defined goals. These goals should be realistic to achieve in the time that you have individually or collectively set to finish the project, but also challenging enough to keep yourself (and others involved) motivated to keep pushing themselves to get to the goal. This is also when you will have the time to explore different ideas and ways to reach the goal. Maybe you already had an idea of how to solve the problem when you started to define the project. However, don’t become blind to other possibilities, that emerge as the project progresses, to reach a successful solution. This is the time to find the best solution, so open your mind and let the creative ideas flow!
Now, it is time to design the project. The first step is to understand the resources that are required to bring your bright ideas to life. It is important to always start with the end in mind. This includes planning the activities to have an idea of the knowledge, skills, materials and budget required at any given time of the project, as well as knowing how to access these resources. This can be anything from seeking tips and knowledge from your old classmate, to a full team of staff and external suppliers. You should think deep enough and diligently about each option to have a reasonable estimate of the time, people, money and risks involved in the project’s life cycle.
This starts broadly with questions like “What is the cost of this solution?” and narrows down to more detailed questions when you have decided on a final solution and the potential design of the project, such as “Is there any team training required to safely use this solution?”
A 'lock down' scenario question: “Do I have the essential materials or equipment to make this at home or procuring these while maintaining social distancing?”
When you are defining the project, you will more than likely find out that there is more to do than you originally thought. This means that it is also likely that more people become involved in your project. They will have their own expectations, skills and requirements that you need to manage. In most cases, these will not influence the project’s needs, goals and objectives much. However, if an item you need is only available in green, whilst you want it in blue, you need to review the expectations, requirements, goals and objectives; inserting the shortcomings of what can be supplied in the project plan and removing what is improbable. This means that you may need to be flexible, but always keep the end goal in mind.
Now, you can compare your ideas. A useful tool you can use for this is a decision matrix, in which you list the important expectations and requirements, and give each option a score on how well they meet these criteria. Stay objective here and choose the one you believe is truly the best option to design your project by using a reasoning processes like the decision matrix. By now you will have a clear and mature vision on what problems you will address in the project, how you will address them and how feasible your idea will be incorporating a reasonable time and budget.
This stage is the most exciting, as the vision that you have created in the previous stages comes to life and starts to take shape in front of you! Even working in a home setting, you yourself can reach this stage in a matter of days! However, this doesn’t mean it’s easy. In contrast, you can be challenged in unexpected ways and plans might have to change overnight when things take an unexpected turn. As we say at Otermans Institute, always be ready to pivot. Especially when working with larger teams or with other parties that give input to, or expect outcomes from your project, it sometimes becomes more about management of expectations than anything else.
Managing expectations and keeping up morale, motivation and trust, even in challenging times requires effective communication with the relevant people involved and regularly updating them honestly on the progress and challenges faced. You never know, they might be able to lend a helping hand to overcome them. However, don’t overdo it; you will end up spending more time writing about progress than making progress!
As you learned in our lesson on team work, Otermans Institute also strongly advices to develop a no-blame culture in the project. You are all working towards the same goal, so when a problem occurs, the focus shouldn’t be on who to blame but directly shift your collective focus on how to fix it and to avoid it in the future.
It is unlikely that the project would have run smoothly from start to finish. We at Otermans Institute see this often-forgotten stage as the most critical for your personal growth as well as the growth of your team members. Maybe you see that you have delegated tasks to the wrong people or spent too much time controlling what other people are doing. Whatever the reason is, go out and find a way to avoid this next time. What would be worse than making the same mistakes again?
It is also important to reflect on what went well during the project. Did your own planning skills surprise you? Was there a team member with a hidden talent that came to light during the project? In this way you can dramatically increase your own confidence and that of your team members!
Note that if the project fails, it is just that: It is the failure of the project and not of you as a person or of any individual team member. You’ll learn a very hard but valuable lesson that you carry with you into every project you’ll be part of later in your life, so don’t be afraid to try!
Avoid falling in love with one idea too quickly and becoming pre-judgmental to other ideas! While coming up with ideas and concepts, it is extremely important to remain open-minded and have the creativity to come up with new ideas.
Keep notes on all your assumptions and decisions: As you get further into a project, new knowledge can change these assumptions, as well as the decisions that resulted from them. Also, you may never know when you have to fall back on an old idea!
The project manager should set the priorities, not leave it to others: The project manager has the best overview of the project. However, always remain open-minded to the expert advice and be flexible to change your approach if needed.
Continuous evaluation: When evaluating, not only focus on what can be improved, but also celebrate what went well and give credit where credit is due.
You can practice your project management skills using these tips and exercises that have been curated to a home setting.
Self: Manage your morning. This may seem simple, but it is one of the tougher things to manage.
Define your morning: As soon as you wake up, get a notebook and a pen and write down what you want to achieve that morning. Do you want to work out? Have a healthy breakfast? Call a friend? Who and what is involved to do these things? Look at how much time the things take that you want to do and see if it is realistic to do them all. Alternatively, you can also define your morning immediately before going to bed the previous night.
Design your morning: Plan the activities that you have selected in a good order and take into account, for example, when your friend is available for a call if that is included in the plan. Write down in detail who and what you need to do; the things you’ve set out to do and how you can access these resources; for instance, do you have a phone number in you need to call someone. Do you need to buy groceries to make that delicious breakfast? And, how much is all of this going to cost?
Deliver your morning: Follow the plan that you made and keep notes on what you do, how you feel, what you think about, etc. Write a short report including the start time of your morning, the time that you finished all your planned activities, which resources you used and where they came from (with prices if applicable) and other facts like materials that you used and need to be replaced for the next morning.
Evaluate your morning routine: What can be done quicker, cheaper, or better? Don’t forget to also reflect on what went well or what you improved on as compared to yesterday!
Family: Now you have gone through the steps of a small project, it is time to challenge yourself and use your talents, passion and resources to start an open source project.
You can also pick up something that the family intended to do at home for years and make it your 'lock down' project using the skills from this lesson to plan and execute it finally. make sure you involve your family members in the process. All the best!
We look forward to hearing from you what your purpose is, and your plans on how to live a life with this purpose! You can connect with us using the form below.
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