Managing projects effectively seems to be a sort of holy grail for every small business owner and project management professionals.
I've always felt that the best way to handle this is to reverse engineer things.
Start with your final project due date
When is the absolute and completely finished project due?
You have to start planning here, so you can be sure that you can meet the deadline. The time to tell your client when and whether or not you can meet the deadline, is right up front, not a week or a day before that due date, and long after it had been established.
What major things need to be completed along the way?
Depending on the nature of the project, milestones may or may not be easy, practical, or even possible to define. If it is easy, practical, or possible to define milestones, then it will help you break your project down into phases. Architects have this pretty well baked into their process, right?
Now you can assign a due date to each milestone.
Now it's time to add in the tasks.
If you do have milestones established, then the tasks need to be defined within each milestone, as in, these are the things that need to be accomplished, in order to reach this milestone.
Presumably once all of the milestones have been achieved, the entire project is complete. If after creating the tasks, this is not the case, then you may need to go back and add in milestones and / or tasks.
Of course the tasks need to be assigned due dates. In fact I have a rule in my own company, that every task MUST have a due date, or else it won't get done.
You might even have, as your final milestone (phase) something that addresses a review and recap of the entire project to ensure that everything that needs to be done, has been completed. This would be something you would want to set due at least a week prior to the final due date. My most successful projects are ones, where after I think I have it completed, I can walk away. Then I want to come back with fresh eyes and a fresh mind, just to be sure nothing was missed, before I reach out to the client and tell them this project has been completed.
Once all of the milestones and tasks with due dates have been established, if you haven't already, it's time to delegate.
First there needs to be a project manager, who will manage the entire project. Maybe that's you, but you might already have plenty on your plate. This might be a good time to think about the people you can trust to handle something like this for you.
Once that project manager has been established, THEY (not you, unless YOU are THEY) will need to assign the responsible parties for each milestone, and then each task.
Once you have all of the above set, then it's a matter of accountability.
The project manager should be reviewing a report daily, or weekly, showing what tasks are due or past due, and then following up with the responsible parties. Your Project Management Software should make this easy. If it doesn't, it's time to reconsider the software you are using.
Before you give the client a quote
Your first milestone / phase should be the planning phase, in which you define all of the above. I would go as far as to suggest that you not make any commitments to any clients, until this phase has been completed. Even before you give the client a quote, you should complete this phase. It might take a little longer, and allow for fewer projects, but I believe it will translate to a much higher success rate, and much lower stress if you do things this way.
Long term projects
With a long term project, such as a bookkeeping engagement, or a tax prep engagement, you can apply this concept, but the milestones will look a little different.
In a bookkeeping engagement, your milestones are going to look like this:
Define the monthly phase for each month of the year. This will allow you to handle the Quarterly and annual items within the appropriate months. That will result in some duplication, but I like that, because it serves as a good double check.
A spreadsheet is a good place to 'outline' your project, but you will never want to use a spreadsheet to manage a project. Spreadsheets lack the necessary tools for follow up, communication, and accountability.
In my next post, we'll look at three project management tools that you can use to implement the above.