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Project Management for the Rest of Us

I’m not sure if it is because I am getting older or if it is because life continues to get more chaotic, but I find myself constantly looking for better ways to get things done.  I am not a Project Management Professional but I have found some very important and simple elements from the basic principles of Project Management that have helped me.

Everyone has projects at work and at home that we need to get done.  How do we plan these in order to accomplish them in a timely fashion? For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say our project is to move the file room.


The first step is an obvious one:  Set your Goal.  What is it that you need to accomplish?  There are lots of smaller projects in moving the file room that you may want to assign to different people.  What are those pieces and who do you need to involve?  Make a list of all the things that need to be accomplished in order to accomplish your goal.

In our example, here are some things we may want to accomplish:

  • Clean out old files from the current file room
  • Organize the files logically to eliminate any issues in finding files
  • Identify the right location to move the file room to
  • Determine if we will need new file cabinets or other fixtures
  • If needed, purchase new fixtures
  • Move cabinets and files to the new location

The second step (which is probably done at the same time as the first) is to set your timeline.  If I don’t identify when I need to accomplish the project, it will likely go on indefinitely or will only be accomplished through dumb luck.

To accomplish a project by a specified deadline you need to put things in order.  Some steps can be done at the same time while some need to be done before others. But sometimes, the order may be based solely on personal preference.  Look at the list of steps we listed above.  Do we need to organize the files before moving?  It may be a personal preference to do this first but it might also be alright to organize when you get to the new location.  Additionally, it may appear logical to organize as you clean out the old files and to do this before the move so you won’t need to carry files to the new location and then to the shredder.  But what if the shredder is beside the new location?  You may want to study kaizen now, but that is a whole other topic!

Some of these steps absolutely need to be done before others.  For example, you have to identify the right location to move to before you pick up all the files and carry them or you probably need to determine if you need new fixtures before you start moving or you might not have anywhere to move them to.

The third step is to set your deadline and milestones.  I think the biggest reason people don’t accomplish projects on time is that they do not set milestones.  They decide on when the project needs to be accomplished but don’t plan for when other pieces need to be completed in order to make that deadline.  If, for example, I want to move the file room by December 31st, I can’t wait until the day after Christmas and decide I need new fixtures!

I like to start from the final deadline and move backwards.  If I want the file room completely moved by 12/31 then I need the files physically moved by 12/15 so we have time to put them in their place before the deadline.  It may not take 16 days to organize but don’t forget to consider things like holidays, weekends, and vacations.  If I am going to move by the 12/15 and I need new fixtures, how long will it take to order and have delivered?  If that will take 30 days, then I need to place the order before 11/15 which also means I need to determine if I actually need new fixtures long before that.

During this step you also need to determine who should be part of this project.  If it is all being done by one person, it may need to be a more linear timeline but if you have multiple teams, they may be working on different steps at the same time.

In 1786, Robert Burns wrote the poem “To a Mouse.”  The famous saying “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” comes from that poem.  So what do you do when things go wrong?  What happens when your needed fixtures are backordered or key people get sick?  By allowing time for hiccups in the plan, you can find another source for the fixtures or modify your schedule.  The biggest key here is to be honest and transparent.  If something happens during the project, identifying it early and communicating its impact will help others plan for any delays or changes in the project.

The bigger the project, the more people it impacts, or the more people involved; the more important communication becomes.  Regular meetings of key people become more critical.  Talk openly and honestly about meeting milestones.  There will always be bumps in the road but if you identify them and address them you are less likely to cause a flat tire.

I know this is an over-simplified description of project management but if you focus on these things, most projects should be less stressful, more efficient, and more likely to be on time.


curtis-thompsonThroughout his time at YHB Curtis has provided IT audit and consulting to clients, even while holding the position of the firm’s IT director for several years. Now, as head of the YHB Risk Advisory Services Team, Curtis focuses on assisting organizations in a variety of industries with internal audits and IT-related audit and consulting services. Also, he frequently speaks and gives presentations on SOX compliance, internal controls, and data security.

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