Just Give in and Plan! (Part 2 of Using Project Management for Personal Productivity)

“Dude we just need to let it flow, don’t put me in a box!”

...said the consultant to his client.  I thought to myself, “sure man, let it flow.”  Let those creative juices cascade down like white water rapids - don’t let that schmo interfere with your process. 

How’s that going for you? 

So you spent six hours working on that banner ad because you let it flow; you were in the zone…I’ll admit, that banner was dope!  You’re more brilliant than you know…

The thing is, you have a business to run and you’re client is ticked off now.

Wait, you also have a backlog of similar projects that will all be late next week now too, and “oh, by the way,” your client didn’t ask for that super-cool banner in the first place?  In fact, I get a sense he would’ve been perfectly fine without you adding it at all!

It seems there was a break down in communication.  

You’re late on the project, working into all hours of the night, and now your family is getting irritated because now you’re having to miss your son’s school play to make up for those six hours of lost time.

I know plan’s aren’t perfect; I know you can’t plan creativity, but did you even HAVE one?

It’s a crazy balance we need to play between not hindering our creative flow and not being stupid.  The picture painted above is a part-reality, part-fiction, totally dramatized version of a recent conversation with a friend not too long ago about his experience working with clients in the multimedia industry.

Reasons to Just Give in and Plan

Many of us fight the notion of planning projects because we believe it hinders creativity; it keeps us in a box, and creative people want to fly.  Yet, how much more creative can we be when, through planning and process, we are free from distractions that hinder creativity? 

Had we planned how we were to spend our time each day, we would have known that we only have two hours per day to work on creative projects. 

To take it a step further, if we incorporated project management methodology into how we tackle and accomplish tasks, we would have known exactly what to do within those two hours, because we would have previously defined our scope of work. 

When I place boundaries around the time commitments I’m actually willing to accept and invest to do specific types of work, I work to the commitments.  Working six hours on a banner ad is unacceptable and if it takes me that long to be creative there’s a breakdown in my creative process.

Even so, if I fail to meet the commitments I set out, I still have the freedom to adjust strategy, but only if it’s a good return on the time I invest. 

I’m a firm believer in Parkinson’s Law, that work with automatically fill the time we allot it.  Yet, I’m also a realist…limiting time allowed requires decisions, and decisions are hard! 

It takes energy to decide what we’re going to work on each day and how we’re going to dedicate our time.  To be completely transparent, it’s a lot easier to “work hard,” and let each day blow past me without getting anything of significance accomplished.

The hard truth is that working hard won’t necessarily drive our businesses or careers forward.  Making good decisions will. 

"If we want to do it all, we won’t be good at doing, at all."

I actually made this quote up (if you like it, you can click here to Tweet it!)

How to Plan Your Personal Project (the Right Way)

As outlined in last week’s article, my wife challenged my reasons for not shutting down work “on time.”  This in turn prompted me to challenge myself to take on a project that would ultimately require developing and implementing new systems and processes to foster work stoppage “on time.”

As a reminder, my agreed-upon problem statement per last week’s post is:

I have been unable to complete my job within the hours of 5AM - 4PM and it’s (1) creating a bad habit and (2) causing tension in the family.

I know that by pursuing this project, I'll no longer have the luxury of making excuses about how I choose to spend my time each day.  If I am serious about leaving work consistently by 4PM, 90% of what I do needs to be fully aligned with the best use of my time.  

Whereas last week I introduced the first phase of the Project Life Cycle, and initiated the project, this week it’s time to start planning it out. 

“Planning” is the second, and most time-consuming phase of the Project Life Cycle.  It’s how we should be spending the majority of our time when we work on a project.  

The stumbling block most people have is over-complicating matters.  An example is getting all torqued up about which tools we should be using, etc.

Plopping a bunch of tasks into Microsoft Project one time doesn’t constitute a Project Plan, especially if it’s never looked at again following its initial conception.

9 Critical Factors to Consider When Tackling a Project

Applying even cursory consideration to the following nine factors will make or break projects.  In the case of planning a project, I call these factors my “Nasty Nine.”  I’ve outlined how I intend to consider each as I develop my project to leave work on time.   If left unattended, one of these nine will most certainly come back to bite me (that’s why they’re “nasty”). 

Consequently, each of these factors must be managed to a reasonable extent, without overkill.

1 - Integration

Integration outlines how each phase and activity will work together via the project plan.  One could argue that documenting my steps within these blog post article could constitute a project plan; but there’s too many moving parts to make this feasible (in my opinion).  The plan will be developed as data comes in from my time tracking system and a scope of work generated to match it.

2 - Scope

A scope of work defines which activities will be included and which will not, and what the final deliverables will look like.  In the example of my time management project, documented processes and procedures for how I use my time for podcasting, blogging and coaching preparation are all within scope, but I would not include the time it takes me to work on home improvement projects on the weekend - this does not contribute to me leaving work on time, and should be considered out-of-scope. 

My preliminary scope of work is outlined in Part 1.  If I change the scope of my project, I need to have a plan for my stakeholders to review and agree with the plan.  In my case, as simple as it is, if the work being performed changes scope it’s something I’ll plan to bring up in my weekly project meeting with my wife.

3 - Time

This factor is essential to my time management project.  What activities will I be participating in to perform my time study and for developing my new processes and in what sequence?  My deadline is April 28th (when the new baby comes), but how long will the time take in between, and how will I know whether I’m on schedule at various checkpoints?

4 - Cost

Are there any costs associated with developing processes or implementing my solution?  If I plan to purchase software of a new application there are costs to that.  Depending on the final solution, if I intend to outsource administrative or other tasks I would be paying up-front and ongoing maintenance costs to leave work on time as well.  Project plans contain reasonable accurate cost estimates that are refined as the project progresses.  This is a critical component for developing budgets and requesting capital funding.  Further, a plan for managing costs must be considered up-front, in the Planning phase.

5 - Quality

How will I know whether the project deliverables satisfy the project’s original intent?  If I develop all new systems but still leave work one hour late each day, did the project meet my objectives?  Of course not.  This is a surprisingly overlooked factor when it comes to closing out a project…poor Project Managers are sometimes skilled at sweeping their Quality metrics under the rug and spinning bad decisions to make themselves look good.  Oh, how I miss Corporate America!

6 - People

Authority, Project team members, key stakeholders, decision-makers and support staffroles and responsibilities must be clearly documented and well-understood by the team.  For my project, I’m the PM and technician and my wife is the Sponsor.  If I require help outside my capabilities this outsourced assistance will be planned for up-front.

7 - Communication

The easiest, and most difficult factor.  It’s easy to assume everyone’s working as they should be, or that discussions were understood (even after they’ve been documented).  When critical activities are underway, a good communication plan that the team buys into is key.  Follow-up and decision-making protocol are to be included in the plan as well.

8 - Risk

What could go wrong? Define the nightmare…then define how to recover.  That’s all a Risk Management Plan is; a detailed outline of everything that could go wrong.  There’s also a bunch of stuff that could blow up that remain unknown.  Unknown risks must be budgeted for by a certain percentage of the project cost (depending on the level of project complexity).

9 - Process

Process controls usually have to do with how items will be purchased, which templates to use, etc. 

Don’t Make it a Big Deal

In many cases, especially with solo-preneur projects, just taking the time to go through this list and making a quite reference in Evernote is sufficient - this is NOT something to stress over…just something to think about that will help us in the long run. 

Do you have a process for managing your solo-preneur projects?  Have you had one of the “Nasty Nine” come back to bite you?  

Please leave your feedback with a comment below and let us know about your experiences.