Kicking off a big project can be daunting, even with the hundreds of free project management tools available online. Simplifying the process into a sequence of phases makes it much easier to not only effectively use one of those free project management tools, but also to keep it manageable for a single person to oversee. Almost any project can be organized into the following five phases:
In this phase, you need to define what the goals of your project are, the major milestones and timeline for completion, and the resources you have as support. You’ll also determine what your budget is, as well as any constraints you may be working with. For example, I moonlight as an interior designer, and one of my project constraints that I define up front is my schedule: I can only work weeknights from 8 – 11 PM, or weekends.
Once you’ve defined your goals, timeline, and major milestones, it’s time to develop a detailed plan of how you’ll meet them. I like to start by mapping out my timeline in a simple Excel chart, layering in the milestones according to the dates I’d like them to be completed, and then working backwards to identify the tactical steps that need to take place to meet each milestone.
This is the fun phase: you’ve got your plan in place, and now it’s time to start ticking off the items on your to-do list. If you took the time to do step #2 correctly, it should be really simple to get started because everything is in sequential order on your timeline of milestones and steps.
This phase goes hand-in-hand with developing and executing your project. If you’ve planned any major project or event, you know that things WILL go wrong. You’ll need to keep a close eye on your milestones and budget to recognize issues in advance. It will help you be calm and flexible in responding, and will also clarify what your options are to resolve any problems.
This phase is just as important as the other four: in it, you’ll make sure that all your expenses are paid in full, that you’ve collected feedback as necessary and documented anything you’ve learned along the way. It’s also important to keep final receipts and other documentation in one place in case you need to reference it again. For example, if that chandelier won’t stop flickering, you’ll go back to your close-out file for the contact information from the electrician who installed it so you can call him to give it a second look.
Once you understand these five phases, it’s pretty easy to build out the steps in each phase, execute them, and track your progress using a project management tool. For personal projects, I like to keep it simple so alongside Excel, I love using Microsoft OneNote to keep everything together in neat, tabbed folders. Do you have any tips or tricks for effectively planning and executing projects? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.
By Colleen Bordeaux