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


 

9 things you should know … if you ever want to become a manager

Hi there!

  • Are you a ready for management?
  • Ready for that promotion?
  • Maybe new to management?
  • Maybe even new to the business world as a whole?
  • Or just with a few gaps in what you should know before you aim at that promotion?

Then you’ll need a simple, basic guide to show you how to fill the gaps quickly and start on your road to success! And that’s what 9 things you should know … if you ever want to become a manager in the New Manager’s series is all about. 9 things you should know ... if you ever want to become a manager_COVER_Lalien Cilliers

There are many ways to stand out from the crowd, and you’re going to learn a lot of strategies in the course of this book. Some of them you might instinctively follow already – and that’s great! But some could be new – and might even feel a bit strange at first.

So, what are those nine things you should know if you ever wanted to make it as a manager?

  1. Know what you want
  2. Know what matters
  3. Know how to look and act
  4. Know your job
  5. Know your numbers
  6. Know how to pitch
  7. Know your company
  8. Know the competition
  9. Know the market

Scroll down to read an extract from this eBook, or click here to go straight to Amazon to get yourself a copy.


SAMPLE EXTRACT from the eBook

Chapter 9: Know the competition

Two big questions

What are competitors?

Direct competitors

Indirect competitors

Replacement competitors

Potential competitors

Disruption


Chapter 9: Know the competition

It would be simply great if we could just create a product, put it in a shop, and have a sale.

Unfortunately, things are not quite that simple.

In fact, they are getting tougher all the time. Business models are changing all the time – and companies who don’t keep up with the competition won’t survive.

If you want to stand out as potential management material, then being an expert of your company’s competition is it.

Two big questions

If I ask you today who your main competitors are, and what they offer that you don’t (and vice versa) – would you be able to answer me? What if your boss were to ask you?

Or, worse still, what if a customer asks you, “What makes your product better than the product on special at Company X’s website?”

*crickets*

Yes. So maybe a bit of homework won’t be too misplaced, hey?

What are competitors?

But, hey, what are competitors? It’s really nothing new. We all know competitors.

  • At school your competitor might have been the school superstar who always got all the awards and positions you so badly wanted.
  • In love relationships your competitor is the sexy (or funny, or charming) other that might woo your partner and leave you all alone.

In business it’s pretty much the same.

  • It’s that other company who’s always coming up with amazing new products or sought-after services.
  • It’s the company that can charm away your precious customers and leave you all alone.

Because you have to see the cheetah in the grassland before it grabs your mate, it’s important to understand that competitors come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s look at a few kinds of competitors.

Direct competitors

Direct competitors are companies within the same sector competing for the same clients. Although they could offer some unique products or services, overall what they offer to customers are pretty much the same.

For example: in your neighborhood there might be more than one cake shop. What would make you go to the one, rather than the other? There are a number of factors, and usually price and quality are important factors.

But what if both cake shops supply great quality cakes at reasonable prices? You’ll find that branding and relationship become hugely significant.

As a manager you need to be aware that the human factors should never be underestimated – especially when two competitors offer similar products to the same group of customers.

So, learn more about branding in general, and your company’s brand specifically.

And build those relationships with customers, suppliers and possible partners, as soon as you can, and as well as you can.

Use any and all strategies and media, but keep in mind what humans like in a good relationship:

  • Someone they can depend
  • Someone they can trust.
  • Someone who makes their lives simple and rich.
  • Someone who cares about their opinions, likes, and dislikes.
  • Someone real.

Indirect competitors

Indirect competitors are rival companies in the same market space as you. You might share many of the same products, or not.

But they offer indirect competition because customers are moving to them, instead of staying with you – and this happens because they offer something that you don’t have to offer.

For example: Let’s refer to our cake shop again. But this time, let’s suppose that it’s the only cake shop in your neighborhood. So, things are going well with the cake shop – because it’s the only place where customers can get their lovely, fresh cakes.

But one day a bread shop opens up just down the street.

The cake shop owners are not particularly worried – bread and cake are different things, so they won’t lose customers, will they?

Oh. But the bread shop supplies a variety of bread, buns … and milk. And they even have a small selection of freshly baked cakes in the corner of the shop.

Suddenly your customers start trickling away – they go to the bread shop to get bread and milk, but sometimes buy a cake there as well – “because it’s convenient”. Eventually they go buy their cakes there, “because then I can just as well pick up a loaf of bread for the family while I’m there”.

What should a company do when it has an indirect competitor?

There are many strategies, but most importantly is being seen by the customer. The customer should know that your company adds value to their lives.

So, you can create specials or promotions for your present products or services – or you can have a good long think and actually adjust your business plan to provide direct competition (such as the cake shop stocking some unique breads and fresh milk as well).

Replacement competitors

Now this is where things get tricky. A replacement competitor competes with you for the customer’s money, but they’re not in the same industry as your company.

They provide something that a customer could use rather than your products.

…. [CLICK HERE TO BUY THE AMAZON EBOOK AND TO LEARN MORE!]

 


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