Planning your project

Being a manager doesn’t only mean dealing with people. It also means dealing with projects.

There are many great courses in project management, and if you are given the opportunity, go for further training, as there are many helpful strategies that you don’t know about yet.

This post is definitely not an in-depth study of project management, but should give you some pointers and guidelines in planning and project and bringing it to a successful conclusion.

At the end of the post you’ll find links to introductory and “serious” project management training and accreditation, some of it online, and some with at least some face-to-face components.

Creating a basic project plan

When you are given a project, there are a few simple things you need to know. Basically you need to know

  • what the project is about,
  • how long it should take,
  • who will do the work,
  • how much will it cost and
  • what and when you need to deliver.

It is a good idea to create a simple template of these questions for yourself, because an important aspect might be overlooked in the heat of the moment. When you are excited about a project, you might forget that some of your resources are already busy with other projects, or you might forget an important cost.

So, create a simple plan for yourself, that you can discuss with your own line manager (boss), and with all the stakeholders (including the people working on the project), and keep it up to date the whole time.

What is the project scope?

The project scope answers the big questions: how long will it take, how much will it cost and what will you have when you are finished.

Depending on the project it could also mean that you will do A, but not B, for instance: if you are asked to work out a marketing plan for the company, what exactly are you expected to do?

  • Must you work out a plan for all the products in detail, or just an overall plan with broad sections covering all products?
  • Do you have to create marketing materials, or just plan for the creation of these materials?
  • Do you have to do it for a specific region or province; for national or international marketing; for print or digital marketing?

You have to ask a whole lot of questions to make sure that you know in the end: THIS, and only this, and no more than this, is what is expected of me.

And you have to make sure that everyone agrees.

And you have to make sure that they don’t change their minds halfway through your project – if they want to add to the scope of the project, you have to call a meeting, and work out a new project plan, with new costs and new deadlines and new deliverables.

What are the project deliverables?

The project deliverables are basically what you want to get out of the project. A project is a bit like a meeting: you don’t just have one for the sake of having one. You have one because you want to get something out of it.

A deliverable could be a service or a product or both.

If you are setting up a marketing plan for the company, then your project deliverable would be a completed marketing plan that all stakeholders have agreed to. Within this marketing plan, you could have a service as a deliverable (for instance, that you must set up a client query hotline), or you could have a product as a deliverable (for instance, you must create marketing brochures for your company).

Make sure that you know what you are supposed to deliver. In this example it could be just the plan. Or it could include the actual marketing brochure and hotline. Only your own boss would be able to tell you this.

Use the ‘assignment-repeat-assignment’ procedure to make sure that you yourself have understood your assignment. In other words, let them tell you what your assignment is, and then ask them to listen carefully when you repeat your understanding of what they just said, back to them. Clarify anything that you misunderstood or that you’re not sure of.

If there are more parties involved in this project, they might not all have the same idea of what the project should deliver – therefore it is critical to speak to them all (at the same time, if possible) and to get them to sign off on what they expect of you.

What resources are available?

The word ‘resources’ could refer to anything that is used in order to complete a project plan. There are many things that resources could refer to, but in terms of project planning it is usually human resources (people) or financial resources (money), although resources could also include information, materials, time, etc.

Human resources

Human resources are critical to the completion of a project. A project would not succeed without people doing things.

The people you will need for a project could be people on your staff (e.g. the workers); it could also be specialists from outside (e.g. webmasters, designers, and technicians).

Choose people

When you plan a project you need to decide who would be needed to do the work.

You might immediately think of the names of some of your best workers. Although this is the instinctive approach, it is not always the best, because a specific person might not be available, or might become absent during the course of the project.

Rather connect the tasks that need to be done to the kinds of people you need to do them. In other words, don’t say that you need Mary – rather say that you need an accountant with 5 yrs experience in the marketing business.

Assign people

Once you have done this, by all means allocate the people best suited to the jobs to those jobs and discuss it with your boss.

You might find, however, that Mary would in fact not be ideal for the task you thought you wanted to give her, because she has no experience in marketing.

  • Then you have to decide: either arrange that Mary gets training in marketing (usually there will not be time to complete such training),
  • or that she gets the help of an expert to guide her in terms of the marketing aspects of her specific accounting task.
  • Or you could rather outsource this aspect of the job to an expert in the field. You might then have to pay a bit more, and would probably have to advertise to find such a person. You could, of course, also use your network of contacts to source such a person.

Shared human resources

If you use your own company’s workers, you will find that they are already working on projects and you will have to negotiate with management and with the various project leaders about using them on your project.

You cannot make this call – your own line manager will have to decide whether your project is important enough to put other projects on ice, or whether the workers should be shared resources, or whether it would be best to rather use outsourced people for your project so that the existing projects could still go ahead.

These are all strategic decisions – although you can give your input, you will not have a say in the final decision. Whatever management decides, you have to abide by, and work with.

Be very sure that you don’t take it personally and don’t break confidence by telling workers that you would have liked them to work on your project, but were prevented by management.

And especially don’t say anything if you think management made a poor decision – criticizing management is not just in poor taste, but also a sure way of making sure that you don’t get any  more promotions (in fact, don’t be too surprised if you get warned or demoted).

Strategies for sharing human resources

If you have shared resources, in other words, if the people working on your project also work on other projects, it is critical that you sit with all the project managers and work out a strategy.

  • Maybe the workers could work on your project in the mornings, and on theirs in the afternoons.
  • Maybe they could work on your project on specific days of the week.
  • Maybe they could be allocated a specific number of hours per week on each project.

Whatever you work out, remember that all projects need more intense working time just before deadline.

Communicate with shared human resources

Once you have drawn up a draft proposal, call a meeting with all the shared resources and all the relevant project managers. Now explain to the workers how they would have to divide their time, and ask them to comment.

It is important to get ownership from workers on your project, and this is a good way to handle it.

Explain to them why you came to certain decisions, and handle any comments. Prepare them for what is to come.

Sometimes workers come up with comments that send you and the other project managers back to the drawing board, but usually they will just have concerns and be generally unhappy about ‘being shunted around like this’.

Deal with their concerns and comments respectfully and in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

Let them know when the changeover will take place, and be ready to supply them with any paperwork they might need (for instance, they might have to keep a daily log on which project they are working at).

Sometimes problems arise only once the workers have started working according to your planning. Sometimes they are not happy, but are too timid to speak up on the spot.

Create channels for workers to comment on progress and on whether this plan works for them. You could ask them to give feedback to their different project managers by means of a mail, or a note on the manager’s desk.

In order to check on the real-life application of your plan, it is usually best to ask workers to work the plan exactly as you planned for a week, and then have another meeting with all the shared resources and all project managers to give feedback.

Financial resources

Financial resources are equally critical to a successful project plan. If you don’t have money, it will not be done.

If you want to make sure of financial resources, you will first have to break the project into milestones (specific objectives that you have to reach on a specific date) and then subdivide these into smaller action steps.

Look at detail

If you just create a broad budget, there might be huge expenses that you miss because you didn’t look at the detail of the project plan.

For instance, if you have to create all marketing brochures, you might simply phone a printer and ask them how much it would cost to print 5 000 brochures, and then add your graphic artist’ salary to this budget. You might then, when your artist has designed the brochures and want to deliver them to the printer, find that the printer needs it to be done in a specific software program. The cost of this might be a huge extra expense that you didn’t budget for.

Speak to everyone

If you therefore want to create a good budget, you have to sit with all the people involved and make sure

  • that they don’t assume that there is money for something, and
  • you don’t miss that cost because you didn’t ask.

The problem is that you cannot ask what you don’t know.

Budget collaboration

So you might have to ask them to create a budget (especially if the field is quite technical and you don’t have the expertise) and then you troubleshoot the budget with them.

If necessary, scare them a little (only a little!) by saying, repeatedly, ‘Are you sure there are no other costs that we should include? Remember, if you come to me at a later stage, you yourself will have to explain to Mr Big Boss where the extra costs are coming from.’

If you don’t scare them a little now, and make sure you get the information you need, you might have a huge scare waiting for everyone if unexpected costs arise at a critical time later in the project plan.

Multiple quotes and questions

When working with a budget, it is also necessary to try and get more than one quote and see that you use the best (which isn’t always the cheapest) supplier of a service or material.

Ask as many questions as you can think of, and don’t hesitate to ask outside suppliers or service providers for references so that you can see if they are the best fit for what you need.

To outsource or not?

Another sum you might have to make, is to compare using your own staff with using outsourced experts.

This is especially true if the project calls for a certain level of expertise, which your staff might not have.

In such a case you might still decide to invest in training your staff, as long as the training time and expense involved in training can fit into your project deadline.

Most often you will find that it would be best to at least have an expert mentor your staff, and to allocate time and money to make that happen.

Empowerment of people should always be part of a company’s core values, but not at the expense of product or service delivery. You can have both. You just need to plan carefully.

… links to further training

If you want to train further, whether online, face-to-face, free or paid, you can click on the links below to get an idea of what’s out there. Be warned, though, that project management certification’s expensive and challenging. You might want to start with some of the free online courses to upskill beforehand.

Blog posts and website articles:

The 10 Best Online Project Management Courses for Accidental Project Managers [Capterra]

17 Top Online Project Management Courses (Free & Paid) [Workzone]

Free Project Management Courses [Onlinestudyaustralia]

Project Management training and certification

Coursera: Project Management courses [Coursera]

edX: Project Management courses [edX]

Prince2 Courses and Certification for Project Management [Prince2] (select your country in the top bar)

PMI Online Courses [PMI]

Certifications [PMI]

About the author:

Lalien Cilliers

Lalien Cilliers. Project Manager. Content Development Manager. eLearning Developer & ICT Trainer [MIITP]. Website creator and social media pager. Helping others learn tough stuff the easy way. Eternally curious.  Author of:   9 things you should know … if you ever want to become a manager: The New Manager series and   A Guy’s Guide: New Home: How to Find and Furnish Your Own Place


Should YOU really be a manager?

Yes, you might have worked like blazes to be noticed. Or you might have worked like blazes because you are proud of what you do and want the product or service to be a huge success.

That doesn’t make you management material. That doesn’t deserve a promotion. It does, however, deserve a raise!

Answer the following checklist and see how you measure up.

Worker Manager
1. I enjoy thinking strategically about how a specific task can be done more efficiently yes no
2. I enjoy thinking strategically about how resources within the company could be better applied no yes
3. I love sitting down to a task and doing it to the best of my ability until it is finished. yes no
4. I find it easy to delegate tasks to other people. no yes
5. Conflict is something I actively avoid. yes no
6. I like giving guidance to others in what they should do. no yes
7. I give my all during working hours, but that is usually where it ends. yes no
8. I see the value of networking with other roleplayers and stakeholders and don’t mind doing it to achieve my goals. no yes
9. I am prepared to take full responsibility – the buck stops with me. no yes
10. My working day is pretty regulated – I go to work at a set time, have lunch and/or tea at a set time, and leave work at a set time. yes no
11. I know I am not supposed to bring my problems to work, but sometimes it just happens. yes no
12. It is easy for me to motivate others and get them working as a team. no yes
13. I find it exciting to learn new skills, such a presentation skills and setting budgets for a project. no yes
14. Although no likes disciplining a co-worker, I can do it without taking what happens personally. no yes
15. I believe the most important thing is for everyone to be friends. yes no

Okay, it is perfectly true that the checklist is a bit simplistic. A great worker might share some of the characteristics found in a great manager, and a weak or young manager might share some of the characteristics found in a worker – but you get the idea.

You need to think carefully about the road ahead. If you have the desire to lead others, and the skills to do it well (even if those skills have not been fully developed yet) – by all means: ask for that promotion!

If you are not sure that would be a great cup of tea for you, then rather ask for a raise, or ask for more specialised training in your area of expertise, or consider a horizontal move (e.g. to another company doing a similar type of work, but with other applications).

About the author

Lalien CilliersLalien Cilliers. Project Manager. Content Development Manager. eLearning Developer & ICT Trainer [MIITP]. Website creator and social media pager. Helping others learn tough stuff the easy way. Eternally curious. Author of: 9 things you should know … if you ever want to become a manager: The New Manager series and A Guy’s Guide: New Home: How to Find and Furnish Your Own Place


Being a manager in the digital age: devices


Of course you are able to project manage using pen and paper and a pocket calculator. It will just take forever and slow you way down. To be truthful: you do need to become digital in some way.

One thing you have to remember about digital devices and programs: they are being developed and upgraded the whole time. You need to keep upgrading if you want to be able to keep in touch effectively.  Start low and slow if you must, but always put money aside for regular updates and upgrades.

The kind of device you choose will depend totally on your own tastes and needs. If you need lots of space, use a desktop computer or a laptop. If you need to have an ultra-portable device that you could take to meetings, use a tablet or a smartphone. There are lots of different devices (and many more to come), and these are just a selection of some of them that you could consider:


The desktop computer

carl-heyerdahl-181868-unsplashThis is usually a computer screen, a tower, a keyboard and a mouse, or a all-in-one computer. It is kept in an office or in your home office and, although you can cart it around, it is really actually meant to be in one place.

These devices usually have lots of storage space and is ideal to be used as your main device or main back-up space. They run off electricity.


The laptop

glenn-carstens-peters-203007-unsplashIf you want to be able to carry your information around easily, you would possibly choose a laptop. These come in different shapes and sizes, and could have quite a big storage space and can also easily be used as your main device.

It consists of a screen with a keyboard attached, and usually a touch pad, although some users might prefer using a mouse that can be plugged into the side.

Laptops usually have built-in webcams and speakers. Laptops can run off electricity or a battery which can be charged.


The tablet

daniel-canibano-540363-unsplashTablets come in different brands, sizes and with different features.  Some are limited in terms of storage space, but with others you can increase the storage in various ways, such as SD cards or using cloud storage.

Tablets are great in terms of portability and Internet connectivity (if they have a built-in mobile data or WiFi  capability) at any time, any place. Some tablets can be attached to a small keypad which often prolongs battery life and some come with a pen-like device called a stylus. Otherwise they work by means of a touch screen and a digital keyboard.


The smartphone

rawpixel-557123-unsplashSmartphones are developing at tremendous speed and each new version has new apps, greater speed and more storage.

These are phones with Internet connectivity and mobile apps making it possible to work with documents and spreadsheets as well as viewing videos and images.

They can be used for social media or if they have the apps, they can be used as a mobile eReader. They run off a rechargeable battery.

The smartwatch

luke-chesser-22238-unsplashSmartwatches are wearable computers similar to a simplified version of a smart phone, worn on the wrist like a wristwatch.


The external hard drive

andrew-neel-237802-unsplashExternal hard drives, like memory sticks/flash drives, are not independent devices, but are ways to store and back-up your information. If you need to be able to take large amounts of information on the road with you, it might be a good idea to use an external hard drive or memory stick, where you could load your bigger files, such as video presentations. It is also ideal to use as a back-up devices.


Cloud storage

Picture15This isn’t a device, but can be used instead of external or internal hard drives. These are storage sites such as Google Drive used to store data, images, audio or video and a great way to make sure that you can always access your documents, as you can use this from any and all devices and it synchs if you prefer to do it that way.

About the author

Lalien CilliersLalien Cilliers. Project Manager. Content Development Manager. eLearning Developer & ICT Trainer [MIITP]. Website creator and social media pager. Helping others learn tough stuff the easy way. Eternally curious. Author of: 9 things you should know … if you ever want to become a manager: The New Manager series and A Guy’s Guide: New Home: How to Find and Furnish Your Own Place


Management Myth # 2: A great worker = a great manager

This is one of the greatest myths – that a great worker should get promoted and – voila! – would become a great manager.

Why is this not true? Because:

  1. You lose a great worker;
  2. You might not gain a great manager.

The math just doesn’t add up.

Because you have two very different skills sets.

A great worker

  • A great worker is committed, dedicated, organised and follows instructions to a T.
  • He loves his job and is proud of doing his best.
  • He is the ‘bum-on-seat’ superhero of the company.
  • Whatever needs to be done, he will do. And do well.
  • True, he does come up with his own ideas, his own plans. He thinks of ways to work more effectively, to make the product or service perform better.
  • He is highly organised and can put his finger on any aspect that his boss might call for at any given moment.

So – why NOT make him a manager?

(Especially since he sometimes asks for the promotion – might even deserve one without having to ask for one.)


Because a manager is, in essence, not a worker.

  • He delegates. He tells others what to do.
  • He might do a bit of bum-on-seat, but most of that would be related to planning work for others, structuring it, allocating resources – and then he opens the office door, and starts giving instructions to his workers.
  • Although he is as task-focused as the worker, he has to deliver his tasks to people, and much of his time is making sure that the communication is happening easily and correctly.
  • He deals with conflict.
  • He reallocates tasks or resources.

So, what the problem?

And if a good worker

  • is not able to delegate (but would rather do the work himself),
  • is not good with conflict (especially if he is a bit of a people-pleaser),
  • is not willing to take responsibility for success as well as failure that others might bring …

… then he would not be a good manager.


So what should you do with a good worker who doesn’t have good managerial skills or has no inclination for management?

Make sure that he has the option of being promoted so that he could become an expert in his field.

Not a manager.


About the author

Lalien CilliersLalien Cilliers. Project Manager. Content Development Manager. eLearning Developer & ICT Trainer [MIITP]. Website creator and social media pager. Helping others learn tough stuff the easy way. Eternally curious. Author of: 9 things you should know … if you ever want to become a manager: The New Manager series and A Guy’s Guide: New Home: How to Find and Furnish Your Own Place


Management Myth # 1: Management is easy

There might be hundreds of ‘Management in 7 EaZee Steps’ books out there. That doesn’t make management easy. It makes management a good topic for a clever writer.

Management is a complex career choice.


It calls for a variety of skills that you will have to use at any given time.

Product or service

Obviously you will know the product or service your company sells, well.

That is a given. Unfortunately it is not the only one.


You will have to be able to work with people.

And not on a social level. Being a ‘people-person’ doesn’t make you a good manager. Because this isn’t chatting to your friends over a beer after work.

  • This is telling people who used to be your friends, to pull themselves together and stop stealing work-time by playing endless Facebook games.
  • This is networking and reaching out to connect with people you absolutely abhor because they are an important link in achieving your company’s goals.
  • This means setting aside your personal and political beliefs to be able to act in a way that isn’t biased or discriminatory.


You have to be able to communicate.

  • Clearly.
  • Regularly.
  • In person.
  • On the phone.
  • On paper.
  • Online.

You have to be able to use different platforms and styles of communication.

  • If you are not sure how to write a report, you will have to learn pretty fast.
  • If you have never created a proposal or a presentation – now’s the time to learn how to do this!

You have to make sure that people who nod and agree with what you tell them to do, actually understood you clearly.

And initially you will be stuck in a perpetual state of ‘how could they not understand?’.

Get over it.


About the author

Lalien CilliersLalien Cilliers. Project Manager. Content Development Manager. eLearning Developer & ICT Trainer [MIITP]. Website creator and social media pager. Helping others learn tough stuff the easy way. Eternally curious. Author of: 9 things you should know … if you ever want to become a manager: The New Manager series and A Guy’s Guide: New Home: How to Find and Furnish Your Own Place