Do Your Homework
You'll hear constant talk about the project phases, starting with initiating the project and moving into the planning process. There are countless graphs, charts, diagrams, pyramids, flowcharts, and other manners of presenting the series of steps needed to effectively manage a project. Theories, methodology, and discussion of these steps are important only to the point at which you understand what the steps mean. Once that has occurred, it's time to stop talking, put down the graphs of the big picture, roll up your sleeves, and get to work!
Yes, there are a tremendous number of aspects and elements that can be discussed regarding projects, and plenty of buzzwords and project-friendly phrases, but the bottom line is that at some point it will be time to get busy. This separates those who talk about projects and those who actually do them. If you're a doer, then start the project by doing your homework.
Homework includes plenty of research. Gather information from as many applicable sources as possible. You will also need to verify that your sources are accurate, especially if you surf unfamiliar territory on the Web. In business, you will want to review the minutes of meetings leading up to the formation of the project. You may also want to look at the following:
Previous project reports
External reports, such as neighborhood studies, demographic studies, and consumer studies
Books, articles, and Web sites that pertain to the nature of your project
You may even review personnel files to find people with expertise in certain areas. You'll also want to use the Internet or your local library to gather facts and figures that support the projected outcome of the project. You'll need to scope out anything that exists in the media that may be helpful. Anything that can lead to resources will also be of value. As you build your team, you'll be able to delegate tasks accordingly, and the team members will be able to seek out information on their own.
Holding meetings with team members as you build the team will allow you to share and gain information. You will be able to describe the overall project and they may be able to demonstrate their knowledge of a specific area. Take good notes.
You cannot expect to lead a team effectively unless you know the project's scope, details, and place in the bigger picture. You need to be able to answer questions and show that you have a firm grasp of what is being done and how it will commence effectively. You also need to network — it's very important. Talk with other team leaders, especially those who have led similar projects, and potential team members, as well as others who you feel can provide information. Gather benchmark data against which you can measure vendor quotes, resource prices, your projected project time frame, etc.
Any project needs some degree of research before it gets off the ground. Besides making the initial determination of whether a project is or is not feasible (see Chapter 1), you'll need to investigate ways to proceed and research all possible pros and cons of the process you select.
Before you build a new bathroom in your house, you'll need to read up on the latest in bathroom fixtures and get an idea of how the plumbing operates in your home. You may have to look at blueprints of the house and assess the land before you start work.
Without doing solid research, how will you know if you have the best team members or whether you have someone who can't perform the job? You can't hire someone to create a new data entry system for your business if you don't know whether they've done such a project before. Likewise, you don't want a computer software program that is wrong for your project. Every step of the way, you will have to do research or have others do research for you and for the good of the project. If people are doing research on your behalf, make sure they know exactly what you are looking for so they don't waste your time searching for extraneous or unnecessary information.
Research and searching for information is also significant in helping you return to your stakeholders with valuable materials that may benefit them and even alter their projected results. You may have discovered a city ordinance that will force you to alter your plans slightly, or a new technology that will help you complete the project a week earlier than expected. Run your discoveries by your stakeholders; often, they will have information to share with you as well.
Avoid diminishing returns by using your resources effectively. Just because a computer software program has 800 functions, it doesn't mean you'll need all 800 for your project. Focus on the project, not the mechanics! Once you have everything up and running, move on.
One of the most common pitfalls of projects is failing to get them done on time without a mad rush to the finish line that often results in a less than satisfactory outcome. Many people who take on a project spend far too much time planning, plotting, and arranging and rearranging their schedule. After all that, they realize they've jumped into the take-action phase too late. A good project manager knows the value of the initial planning process, but also knows when the time is right to stop planning and start doing. Planning is important, but even a marvelous plan that never gets off the ground, or gets off the ground too late, is not worth the effort because the risk of failure increases.