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


 

A manager’s intro to a presentation program

The presentation program

Being a manager might mean that you will need to make presentations to clients or staff at some stage.  An easy way of doing this is to use a presentation program, such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides. Use the free version of Google Slides online if you don’t want to buy a presentation program just yet

Look at templates

Usually when you open the presentation program it will automatically open up a slide that you can use to type in and where you can insert additional sheets. However, presentation programs also have templates of different slideshows that have already been created and that you can modify to suit your own presentation.

This might be a safer option to follow until you know your way around slideshows a bit better. As with the word processing program, there are also lots of online support, either from the specific brand’s website, or from a video channel such as YouTube.

The Title Slide

The first slide always has space for a title and a subtitle. If you use templates, you will notice that certain colour fonts and specific font sizes have been chosen for you already. You can use this as is, or adjust to suit your taste.

Font size

Remember that a presentation has to be clearly visible from a distance and it is best to use a font that your audience will be able to read without straining their eyes – under normal circumstances you should avoid using anything smaller than font size 18.

Links and inserts

Different types of templates also make it easy to add columns, images, tables, a video or sound clip. You could even add a website address in the form of a hyperlink which will take you to the specific website – of course only if you have Internet access.

Animations and transitions

Something you might have noticed on other presentations, are the animations and the slide transitions. Animations are the ways that letters or pictures move around, appear and disappear. Transitions are when slides enter or disappear in different ways, e.g. fading in or appearing by using patterns.

Familiarise yourself with these options, but don’t overdo it as it could distract from the message of your presentation or simply irritate the audience. Remember to view your final slide show once you have added any animations or transitions, to check that it runs smoothly, makes sense, and isn’t overdone.

Creating presentations seems simple, but you might have sat through some pretty boring or exhausting presentations. Here are some tips and hints to keep in mind when creating an effective presentation:

Cheatsheet

Don’t use too many words

The idea with a presentation is that it is a tool that you will use when acting as a speaker. Often speakers write out exactly what they want to say in the presentation. Why is this wrong? Because it will turn you from a speaker/presenter into a reader. You will turn your back on the audience and read the words. They are not children. They can read what you have written, and will probably read it faster silently than you can read it aloud.

So write down main concepts that will act as an anchor for you. Then speak the rest.

If you feel that you need more extensive notes to guide you, you could use the notes setting on the slide show – this means that you will be able to see the notes, but your audience will just see the slides with the key words on them.

Don’t use too few words

If you cut down the text too much, you might get stuck – there is nothing worse than looking at a word and not, for the life of you, being able to remember what you were going to say about it.

This is also important if you want to give a printout to the audience afterwards, or if you would like to give them a copy of the presentation digitally for their own reference afterwards. If you used too few words, they won’t be able to remember what the point is that you were trying to make.

Try to use some graphics or pictures

As a manager it is really important that you play with the presentation program enough so that you know how to change data in a budget, for instance, into simple graphics like a bar graph or a pie chart. It is really true: a picture is as good as a thousand words.

Also learn how to add pictures. Presenters often use a picture as a bit of comic relief in the course of their presentation to lighten the mood or to end on a light note. Don’t overdo this, but do use this where the situation calls for it.

If you can manage it, you could also add in podcasts or videos, but make sure these are not too long as the audience came there to listen to you, and not to someone else. You will also feel pretty strange standing still, listening to the video, instead of interacting with the audience by speaking yourself.

Don’t overdo animations and slide transitions

The most important thing in a presentation is the message you want to bring across. Don’t let this get lost in the midst of fancy animations or slides that will leave your audience nauseous.

Using too many animations or complicated slide transitions makes you look like an amateur. Or worse still, it makes you look desperate. Be careful – a professional uses animations where it is really important to highlight a word or concept and nowhere else.

Overdoing this might also make you presentation harder. There is nothing worse than waiting in front of an audience for a word to move in, letter by letter, if you are a bit nervous. Something that looked great in the dark of night behind your computer definitely doesn’t look as great when standing in silence before and audience waiting for a special effect to finish.

The best way to guard against this is to prepare your presentation well in advance, and allow yourself time to practise doing it as a slide show. Do this standing next to your computer, and doing what you will be doing in front of an audience. It will soon be clear if you should remove some of the animations, or if you should rather use mouse clicks or a timed slide transition. If you do this a few days after creating the presentation, you will also be able to see if you used too many or too few words.


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


 

The manager and effective online searching

How to use a search engine

We live in an age where information is freely available and where it moves at a tremendous pace. If you want to be successful, you should be able to navigate around the Internet at high speed, so that you never have to tell someone ‘I need more time to research that.’ It could mean the difference between getting or losing a contract.

Sounds easy, hey? But finding the RIGHT information when you get a bazillion possible hits, might not be so easy. You need to know how to use a search engine, such as Google, effectively.

Be specific

In the first place, you must word your search as clearly as you can. Let’s say that you need to make sure that your client has the correct permissions and licences to be able to sell his product with the branding of the next Soccer World Cup. Right. So what do you type into your search engine’s little window?

If you type in the words Soccer World Cup you are going to get hits from every possible World Cup that has ever and will ever take place. You will also get helpful hints about the world, and about cups of all shapes, sizes and types. Too much information! You need to be more specific. How can you remove those other pesky little suggestions and get the search engine to focus on Soccer World Cup?

Use double quotation marks

Well, one of the little secrets of doing a great search is to use double quotation marks before and after the words. This means that the search engine doesn’t look for the world or cup or soccer or any combination of those three words. It looks specifically for the words, “Soccer World Cup”.

The only danger is that you might have misspelled any one of these words, and then you might get you all the sites where people also misspelled these words, but none of the sites where the words have been spelled correctly. Be very careful when using these quotation marks.

Use the minus or plus sign

A safer option might be to use the minus or plus signs to make the search more specific. Again, suppose you typed in Soccer World Cup without quotation marks and you want to get rid of all the sites referring to the Rugby World Cup – what can you do? You can keep your entry Soccer World Cup and then you can add minus (use the normal short hyphen or minus sign) rugby. The words in your window will be:  Soccer World Cup -rugby. Remember: don’t leave a space after the minus sign and before the word that you want to deselect. What you did, is that you asked the search engine to look for any sites in which the words soccer, world or cup appears, but to remove the sites that refer to the word rugby.

You can do the opposite as well, by adding a plus sign before a word that you want, although you might as well then just type the word into the space.

Use “what is”

Another trick that you can remember is to use the words “what is next to the specific word that you are looking up. Some of the top sites that you will get in such a case will give you the definition(s) of the word.

This is very handy if you want to check that you are using terminology correctly, or if someone used a word that you don’t know and you want to make sure that you understood the person correctly.

Overall

So, in general, when doing a search, remember that if you use too few words, or make it too general, you will get way too many sites and that might mean that you don’t get to what you are really looking for.

On the other hand, if you get too specific, you might miss a very useful site that just happened to use a slightly different word.

So aim for the middle: enough words to be specific, but not too many that will lead to exclusion of possible sites.


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

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


 

4 great apps for managers

In the midst of your busy life, software on your laptop, or an app on your smartphone or tablet can make your life MUCH easier. Here are four apps I use all the time … have a look at the YouTube videos to get an idea if they’ll become your favorites as well.


Google Keep

google_keepThis is a note-taking app. It’s super-easy and you can type a note, write it with a stylus or your finger on a touch screen, take a photo, or even record a short message, which is then typed on your screen.

I love this app and use it all the time. It’s especially useful because it’s also available on my laptop, saves notes automatically, and syncs between my smartphone and my laptop.

Have a look!

Android app on the Google Play Store here.

Web-based version that runs in your browser here.

Look at the YouTube video below to see how it works:

 


Trello

trelloI use Trello for project management – it’s super easy to use. I can add all the detail I need to, but also get an overview of the state of the project at a glance.

It’s also available as a mobile app for your smartphone and also as a web app. Syncs across devices. You can collaborate with your team using Trello.

Try it and let me know if you like it as much as I do!

Android app on the Google Play Store here.

Web-based version that runs in your browser here.

Look at the YouTube video below to see how it works:


Jing (by Techsmith)

jingLove this little app. Runs on my laptop and I’ve set up a keyboard shortcut to instantly take a screenshot of whatever I want on my screen and save it as a PNG.

The reason why I love it so much, is that you can capture a screenshot, and then annotate it by drawing arrows, boxes and textboxes. It’s the easiest way to “discuss” something on your screen … I grab a screenshot and email or WhatsApp it to a team member.

You can also do short screencasts (videos of what is happening on your screen).

Web-based version that runs in your browser here.

Look at the YouTube video below to see how it works:


Pocket

PocketYou know how you sometimes find a great website and when you go looking for it a month or three later, you just cannot find it? That’s a problem you won’t have if you use Pocket. Pocket is an easy way to save links to anything online, and you can use keywords to sort what you find into categories.

There’s mobile version of it, but also a plugin for your browser, so that you can save directly from your laptop.

Android app on the Google Play Store here.

Web-based version that runs in your browser here.

Look at the YouTube video below to see how it works:

 

 


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