There was a great post quite a while back on Zen Habits called “Obsessive-Compulsive’s Guide: Top 12 Organizing Tips, Plus Resources“. While a great little guide to organizing one’s life and personal space, it can also teach us how to organize and run a great project. Here’s how it all applies:
1. Everything In Its Place
“Things” in a project are tasks. “Places” are who will do the task and when it will be done. Make sure you have everything that needs to be done scheduled, appropriate dependencies lined up, etc.
2. Start small.
You accomplish huge projects like one would eat an elephant, one bite at a time. Make certain that your work breakdown structure is discrete enough and breaks down tasks into small, easy to monitor chunks. It’s easier psychologically to allow a two month task to be two weeks late than it is to allow 8 one-week tasks to each be a day late, even though the second scenario is less late than the first.
3. Create Routines
Make your monitoring, communication and check-in process routine. Keep it simple, consistent, and follow it often and on a regular schedule.
4. Clean as You Go
Don’t leave stray problems. Don’t let your slack time get eaten up early on either. Solve problems quickly and decisively, keep up with issues, and close them as quickly as possible. Always do your best to make up lost time early in the project to clean up after yourself. Things will get worse later, not better- be prepared.
5. All info in one place
Create a central repositoty where you keep everything about your project. Make it public, organize it, and communicate it.
6. Put it away now
Fill out your status reports as you collect information. Waiting until time to write your report will just mean forgetting things.
7. Use an Inbox, and Empty it
Create a single point of contact in the project wherever possible. Ensure that data flows through that contact, and make sure that the contact passes on information regularly and often.
8. Keep a Simple Filing System
Don’t overcomplicate your project’s data repository, your reports, or your summaries. Organize information as simply as possible and communicate.
9. Google Calendar
Or any other calendar- but have a public, easy to access central calendar for all project information. Not just task due dates, but meeting times, when people will be on vacation, and other important info.
10. A Simple System for Pending Items
Keep a public issues list. Make it simple and easy to follow up on. Follow up often.
11. Make Your System Usable
“Usable” doesn’t mean that you understand your system. Usable means so simple that people can’t mess it up, misunderstand it, or have to make much effort to share information. If someone isn’t using your system, it’s likely not fitting in to how they work. Simplify.
12. Create a Landing Strip
Create a simple place where you can keep up to date and stakeholders can see the state of deliverables. Keep it up to date by ‘delivering’ updates to your ‘landing strip’. If people know that they can go there to find out the status of the project, then you’ll have fewer requests for information and free up more time for managing the project.
99% of this is extremely basic project management- just the same, it is a great reminder of basic habits to have to make sure you do to simplify project management.