Whether your next contract is specifically for a Project Management role or for another role, having project management skills in your consultant tool box will serve you well.
Project management can be as large as managing an entire project, for example an install, or it can be as small as managing all of your individual tasks and deadlines. Either way, the key is to be organized and strategic on what tasks must be completed at what times to keep your project moving forward smoothly.
What are the skills and/or tools that are critical for project management success? Let’s explore several that will help you be successful during your next (or current!) contract.
Using a task board is a great way to manage tasks assigned on a project, along with keeping track of each tasks progress. This is especially helpful during complex implementation projects, where there are hundreds (and potentially thousands) of individual tasks that need to be tracked.
The principle behind a task board is quite simple. The board represents your project (or your portion of the project). The blocks within/on your board represent the tasks that need to be completed in order to complete the project.
Whether this task board is physical (could be as simple as poster board and sticky notes) or digital (using one of the many commercial products out there), the blocks should be movable. That way, you can track the tasks as they move through the stages to completion.
One common way to track progress is to create “swim lanes” representing different stages of completion. Common swim lanes include “Not yet started,” “In progress,” “In testing,” “Information needed,” “Ready for go-live,” and/or “Completed.” Find the combination that works best for you and your project. Once your swim lanes are defined, your blocks simply move through the swim lanes all the way to completion. You are easily able to see which step each piece of your project is in at a glance.
Schedule Time With Yourself
While working on a project, more often than not, your calendar will be filled with meeting after meeting, leaving little time to complete any tasks. As soon as someone sees a free moment on your calendar, they throw a meeting on there. While juggling multiple priorities and meetings, it is often difficult to find time to get your own work done.
A quick and simple way to improve productivity is by blocking off time on your calendar dedicated to yourself. In doing so, you afford yourself the time you need to get your top priorities completed.
An often overlooked and underappreciated skill for project management is note taking. Using a strategic and structured approach to your note taking, will serve you well. Developing your own system will allow you to jump into a project and be effective from day one.
Taking notes using paper and pen has advantage of cementing the information in your brain, but can be hard to organize and to keep in a manner that is easy to retrieve. Of course, it is possible to keep paper notes organized, but you have to develop a filing system that will work for you. If writing appeals to you, but filing makes you want to cry, one option to consider is to purchase a notebook similar to a Rocketbook that allows you to take notes on paper with a pen, but then can be uploaded and organized electronically online.
Taking notes electronically (ie. typing them) allows for quick note taking and organization. One popular option for taking notes is Microsoft OneNote or like programs. These programs allow users to take notes on “pages” and organize them within “tabs,” keeping notes organized and easy to retrieve. An additional advantage is the capability to search the notes for key terms.
In case you haven’t taken extensive notes since school, as a reminder, there are many standard note taking methods/templates with benefits to each one. Many colleges and universities have great resources for common note taking methods. See one great resource from the University of Tennessee with 5 of the most common note-taking methods.
Consultants have even developed their own templates for tracking typical build within their application. This allows for joining a project either on day one and having a roadmap to assist with build and project steps, or for joining mid-build and making sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
One universal constant in consulting is emails. Emails will start coming in on day one and they won’t stop until you join your next project… where the cycle will begin again. Managing your email box will allow you to find important emails quickly.
Similar to finding your note-taking style, finding your email organization style will be key to keeping up managing your email. Creating folders in your email box can allow you to organize by sender, by subject, or even by team. Consider what emails you will need to refer to in the future and how you would most easily find them. This will help you to create a system of folders that will allow you to find what you need easily.
Many email programs (such as Microsoft Outlook) allow for rules to organize emails as they come in without needing input from you.
One benefit is the ability to move automatic emails to a folder, if you do not need to review them, but wish to keep them. One cautionary note is that if you do not carefully create your rules, you can end up with important emails going into folders when you might not want them in folders. Make sure to carefully craft your rules and review your folders for several days after creation of rules for any stray emails.
If all else fails, become familiar with the search functions within your email program. It can assist with finding that pesky email from weeks ago when you are short on time.
No project is completed in a vacuum. Priorities are often set or affected by other groups and/or leadership. Priorities shift throughout the project based on project resources and needs. One thing you should never be afraid to do, is ask for prioritization from leadership. Whether that means your direct supervisor or upper management depends on your project management role.
Whenever competing priorities present themselves, reach out to get guidance on which takes ultimate priority. Doing so will make sure that you are keeping up with the expectations of leadership. Communication and clarity around priorities keeps everyone on the same page and keeps the project moving forward without delay.
Ultimately, the most effective tool is the one that you will consistently use. Try out one or several of the project management tools that are available to you and find one that matches your personal work style.
Have any questions about any of the Project Management content we have discussed here? Please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we are happy to chat about it!