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Five project management tips

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Taking on a big project can be intimidating. Most big projects are not simple to manage. There are many pieces to the puzzle, and the workflow is never completely linear. Projects usually involve multiple people and have several deadlines that have to be met in order for the next part of the project to move forward.

Here are five tips to help you successfully manage your next big project and keep the ball rolling.

Visual Project Mangement software, DropTask.

Visual Project Mangement software, DropTask.

1. Break the project up into categories or key components. More than likely there are parts of the project that can be worked on at the same time as others, and there will be other critical components that have to wait until others are completed. Let’s say you are launching a new product. One key component of that will be packaging design, and the other key component will be product design. Each one can be worked on simultaneously, but there are also certain aspects of the packaging design that can’t be completed until the product design is finalized. So, don’t let the completion dictate the start of one project when it can be started simultaneously.

2. Map out key due dates. Record every critical due date into your calendar. Going back to the product launch example. Many different things have to fall into place to get the product to market: product finalization, packaging finalization, turning in art work to the printer, producing the product, packaging the product, and delivering the product to distribution. All of these key time sensitive stages of the product launch have to happen at just the right time. So, recording down all the critical dates is crucial to a successful project.

3. Know who is responsible for what. Each key component of a project will have a person responsible for getting that done. It’s your job as the project manager to follow up with them and make sure things are moving forward. If getting packaging printed for your new product launch is a critical step you need to ensure proper communication is made with the printer to ensure they will be able to complete their end of the project on time. Frequent follow-ups are key to make sure a project happens on time.

4. Visual Project Management. I’ve mentioned KanBan in the past for visual task management, and I recently discovered DropTask for visual project management. I have been putting both of them to good use for the project I am currently managing. DropTask allows you to visually see each component of your project, assign deadlines, importance, and people to particular tasks. The white board method works well too in a small office, but the nice thing about DropTask is you can update it straight from your computer, make notes, and communicate with other internal team members involved with the project.

5. Communication is key. The most important component of successful project management is communication! As the project manager it’s your job to communicate with the team and make sure each aspect of the project is moving forward, and remind people of critical deadlines, and offer support if needed.

Project management can seem daunting, but as long as a bit of structure is put into place, managing the project will be easy. That doesn’t mean it still won’t be stressful at times, but with timelines in place, roles defined, and a visual course mapped out, your project is sure to be a success.

Project run America is truly inspiring

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Well, I ended up missing the past two days during my 30 days of blog posting, but I have a good excuse. I was attending the Team Red White & Blue trail running camp at Camp Eagle, in South Texas. I didn’t have internet access and I was spending the better part of the weekend running!

While I was at the camp thought, I had the privilege of hearing the story of Ehredt (of Project Run America), who, “ran 4424 miles alone, from Astoria, OR to Rockland, ME placing 4424 flags, one every mile, for each casualty we endured in Iraq. Then in 2012 he ran 2146 miles and placed the same amount of flags in remembrance of every casualty in Afghanistan. We now have a wall of honor and gratitude stretching 6570 miles across America.”

His story was touching and inspiring. What seamed like a near impossible athletic endeavor was complicated even more by the placing of a flag every mile, with a handwritten name on each one, and lets not forget the logistics of food and arranging for places to stay.

To me, Mike’s story is more than just a story about honoring veterans, it’s a story of perseverance, determination, and overcoming the naysayers that told him it was just a nice idea. Not only did Mike pull off the extremely detailed planning of this grand memorial, but he executed EVERY DAY, no matter how hard it was. Rain didn’t stop him, flat tires on the stroller he pushed didn’t stop him, cold weather didn’t stop him, aches and pains didn’t stop him. No matter what, mike hit the road EVERY day and ran 26-30 miles, without fail.

One of the things that amazed me the most was that Mike never got weary of running those miles each day, every single day he looked forward to them. As an entrepreneur I strive to have that exact same consistent determination – to get up every single day and pursue my passion with the same intensity as the day before, no matter what new challenge lay in my way.

Please, take a few minutes out of your day to watch the video above. It’s truly inspiring. A full length documentary will be coming out later this year and hitting PBS channels across the country.

 

Parkinson’s Law and Impossible Deadlines

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Today my business partner and I decided to pursue an impossible deadline to launch three new products in April of next year. On the surface it sounds like we have plenty of time, but because of deadlines for product submission, timelines for redesigning packaging, and getting the product to our distributor we are up against an extreme challenge.

Despite the seemingly impossible deadline we will get it done. On my way home from work today I was listening to a Podcast where the guest mentioned Parkinson’s Law, which states, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Essentially saying that if you really want to get something done and apply yourself, it will get done.

We have experienced this several times in our entrepreneurial journey, but it’s easy to forget about Parkinson’s Law. So, next time you have a project with a deadline that seems impossible, just remember that work expands to fill the time available to carry the project to completion.

6 productivity and time management tips

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Time is finite!

Time is finite!

You have heard somebody say it before, or you have said it yourself, “I wish there was more time in the day.” We all experience this at some point in our life. It doesn’t matter whether you desire more time in the day for personal projects, or work projects. Here are six practical ways to make you more productive and get more done in the day.

Baby steps: Realize your limitations

My first and perhaps most important time management tip is, realize you CAN’T get 10 things done in one day, much less an evening when it comes to personal projects. Come to grips with the reality that time is finite. Figure out what is a truly realistic amount of tasks that can be accomplished in a day. When it comes to projects, think in baby steps. Each day focus on a few things that help you get closer to finishing that project or task.

Utilize a project management system

I’ve recently touted the KanBan method of organization, and recently found a website that lists 10 different tools available for that system. I had only known about three of them when I started using this. But, it really doesn’t matter what system you use. Just use something that helps you stay focused and get more done.

I do recommend going beyond the typical task list. I have found that looking at a lengthy task list can just be overwhelming. It helps to at least break up your tasks in order of importance. Dave Ramsey recommends 4 quadrants; urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent and not important, and things that are not important and not urgent.

The advantage of the KanBan method is that it allows you to visualize your entire workflow, rather than staring at a long list of tasks and projects. You can visually see which things are merely a task that gets done quickly, and which things are a project that are ongoing, as well as projects and tasks that are pending; it essentially turns your laundry list of tasks into a workflow chart that is always moving forward.

Learn to say no

Time is precious. We have to learn to say no to things, especially things that fall into the Dave Ramsey quadrant 4, not urgent and not important. I’m probably most guilty of not saying no when it comes to meeting with people. My nature is to want to help everybody, but I have to remember it’s important to guard my time. So, now I make it a point to only schedule one meeting a week with people that are asking me to invest in them. I also have to be cautious about what calls I take. Too many times I’ve given in to taking a call that I know is a sales person, and 20 minutes later the sales person is still rambling and has wasted his time as well as mine. Learn to say NO, and you will free up more time for productivity.

Close your email and especially turn off notifications

Notifications are the king of distraction. And by king, I mean that annoying little kid that keeps throwing his toy on the ground and wants you to pick it up for him, all while giggling and stomping his feet.  Notifications are nothing more than a pointless distraction. My phone has zero notifications, other than calendar notifications and actual reminders related to life and work.
Turning off email notifications on your desktop email are also super important. It can be VERY easy to get distracted by a seemingly important email when you are right in the middle of working on a project that really is important. Better yet, when you are not emailing somebody, just close your email client completely. If you are able, I would even recommend only checking your email at set times throughout the day.

Delegation

This was hard for me when I first started growing my team. I was used to doing literally everything, and I wanted to continue to do everything despite my growing list of responsibilities. I always felt nobody is going to do this as well as me. This feeling is common amongst entrepreneurs and managers. But, I’ve heard it said, once you can find somebody able to do the job 80% as well as you can, it’s time to pass the torch. Some people will even go as low as 70% effectiveness.

Either way, you have to realize you are human and can only do so much. If having more time is important to you, you have to learn the art of delegation, and don’t be afraid to spend some time training a team member. The time you spend now will free up more time for you in the future. You just have to make it happen. Sure, there will be some bumps along the way, but when is running a business ever smooth sailing?

Cut the cable and kill your television

When it comes to finding more time in the day for productivity, one of the easiest things you can do is kill your television. The result is lots more free time in the evening that can be spent on being productive, as well as more quality family time and time for personal projects. Just about anything has more long-term benefit than watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad.

Literally adding more hours to the day is, unfortunately, not possible. But, you can make better use of the hours you do have. It just takes developing some time saving disciplines: realize your limitations, utilize a project management system, learn to say no, turn off notifications, delegate, and kill your television are the ones I feel are most important. Another great blog for time management skills I recommend is Time Management Ninja. There you will find loads of good content on time management – something we can all get better at.

Personal KanBan a visual way to manage work

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I’m addicted to Evernote to some extent. I use it as a mind dump. I use it to manage my massive to-do list, take meeting notes, record receipts, track mileage, and store important information that I need to access frequently. It has many uses, but recently I have realized it fails in the way I need it most…managing my to-do list, and this is by far the most important need.

About two weeks ago I was so overwhelmed with my LIST, that it crippled me from moving forward. I couldn’t even figure out where to begin. But, a week ago  I met my saving grace, and was introduced to Personal KanBan. Personal KanBan is a way to visualize and complete work. It moves beyond the typical to-do list and allows you to see everything going on at once.

My biggest hang up with my LIST was that even if something was in limbo, or I was waiting on somebody to finish something before moving forward, it remained in the list, so it looked enormously huge, even though I was actually making progress on many of my tasks.

KanBan basically utilizes a horizontal and vertical column system to visualize work flow. For example, my Personal KanBan has 6 columns that work flows through: To-Do, Ready, Today, Waiting, In Progress, and Done (within this column I break it into horizontal columns by day).

Personal KanBan

My Personal KanBan at Bearded Brothers.

To-Do: Obviously, this is my list of stuff to get done
Ready: This represents the things I plan on working next, or things that are not, “future projects”, they are tasks ready to be worked on in the very near future
Today: Represents what I need to get done that day.
Waiting: Represents tasks I have started working on, but am awaiting a response to move forward, or waiting on somebody else to finish another piece of the puzzle.
In Progress: Simply means I have started the project, and I am the one responsible for completing it and need to take further action.
Done: Means I have completed that task and no longer have to worry about it.

The system is amazing. I have never been so excited about a way to mange my work before. The only other methods I have seen prior to this were variations of the typical task list…just version 2.0 of Overwhelming.

I have only been using the system for a week now, and already feel way less overwhelmed, and I have an excellent grasp of everything going on. I’m going home at night with less stress; I don’t have my list swirling around in my head because I know exactly what I need to do.

I also plan on using it with my team at Bearded Brothers to manage projects and work flow. Since it’s column based the columns can be used to represent different stages of a typical workflow, and the project moves through the columns until it reaches completion, thus allowing you to track its progress and always know what the status is at any given point in time.

The best part about this system is that it helps you become more efficient in your work. As you use the system you will start to see where things are getting bogged down. For example; at the start of my week I had nothing in the “In Progress” category, but within a few days I had five tasks sitting in there, I also had 5 tasks in the waiting column. This lets me know I have a lot of things I need to follow up on, and possibly need to be more diligent in following up with people and/or making sure I’m doing everything I can to move projects forward. It will also give you a realistic idea of how much you can complete in a given day, how long projects typically take, and it will help you determine high vs, low value tasks.

I’m really excited about continuing to use this system and eventually adopting the digital version of my large physical KanBan, so I can work from anywhere. I have been making an effort this last week to work in the office every day so I can get a better feel for what KanBan is really all about, and I have honestly enjoyed taking my PostIt Notes, placing them on the wall, and moving them through the various columns until completion.

Here are a few more resources for Personal KanBan. I also wanted to say thanks to Gerry, our Couch Surfing guest from Canada that recently stayed with us and introduced me to this system.

Personal KanBan – Visualize Learn Improve
Blog post on Nomad8 – Also sells small physical KanBan boards
Lean Kit – The digital version of a physical KanBan baord