Do you have a project that you want to get off the ground?
Perhaps you are organising an event, starting a business, launching an app, planning a wedding or looking to get fit?
Follow this simple process to get organised and to start, plan and deliver your project on time.
Let’s get started
What we’re going to do:
- Create a project plan
- Bring the team on-board
- Plan actionable steps
- Take responsibility and set deadlines
I’m going to plan an office Xmas party as an example project. Follow the same steps for your own project as you read along. My tool of choice is the free on-line project management tool Trello, loved by over 10 million users. It will only take a couple of minutes to sign up for an account and then you’re good to go.
Create a blank slate
The key to delivering good work on time is focus. A new Trello board separates tasks from everything else you’ve got going on and shows you immediately what to do next.
Task: Start a new Trello board for your project.
Add Your Team
Projects work best when the entire team is involved and empowered right from the start. So add everybody involved in the project to your new board.
You might be working alone – not a problem, just skip this step! As new people join or leave the project in future, simply add or remove them as required.
Now that everybody is on board you can get started with planning your project.
By the way: We’ve always found that the planning process works best with everybody in the same room. For distributed teams you can also use Skype or Google Hangout and share your screen over video. Your team members can follow along with what you do and will see changes immediately in their own Trello board.
Start with what you know
Guessing takes time and is in-effective. Start with what you already know and work backwards from there.
All I know at this point is that we’re going to have an amazing Xmas party, so that’s what I’ll put into Trello. It takes two steps:
- Create a new list – let’s call it ‘Planning’
- Create a new card with your end goal.
This single card also serves another purpose: It focuses your mind on the desired outcome. And that focus can help you reach your objective.
Work backwards to fill the gaps
Small steps lead to success. But how to you get from the single card you have now to a list of actionable, smaller steps? That might seem to be an overwhelming task at this stage. The trick is to start by working backwards from what you already know and then the list practically writes itself.
Get everybody involved and brainstorm what needs to be done. Create a new Trello card for each task. Don’t worry about the correct order or due dates or who will do what at this stage. Keep it simple, keep the momentum flowing and don’t get too bogged down in the detail.
Don’t start doing the actual tasks! That’s the ultimate time drain and will derail your planning session before you can say “Time’s up and we got nothing done AGAIN”!
Initially I will create cards for the basics that immediately spring to mind for my Xmas party:
- Choose a venue
- Send invites
- Sort out music
- Order food
- Plan secret santa
See how they’re all quite simple, fairly broad and in no particular order? I’ll show you how to drill down into finer detail and prioritise in a minute. At this stage, you want to be quick and avoid over-thinking the entire project. You’re always fighting the temptation to start doing each task, rather than planning it!
Do the same for your own project until you feel that you’ve run out of ideas. I can guarantee you that you’ve missed something but that’s just the nature of the beast and not something to worry about. The beauty of Trello is that it’s super easy to add new tasks and rearrange priorities as the project matures.
Drill down into finer detail
The devil is in the detail, as they say! So how do you move from your broad task overview to that final list of actionable steps? The answer is simple: Repeat what you’ve already done, start with what you know and work backwards from there.
Essentially each broad task becomes an objective in its own right. For example, all I know right now is that I need to ‘Choose a venue’. So I start with that objective in mind and work backwards from there.
A tip: Rather than litter your Trello list with hundreds of little sub-tasks, I like to use Trello checklists to keep the project easy to manage. I will open each broad task, start a checklist called ‘sub tasks’ and write down the nitty-gritty detail in a quick, brainstorming fashion. Do you see how you’re again working backwards from what you already know? Instead of creating new cards you create checklist items.
Eventually it will look a bit like this:
At this point I realise that the sub-task ‘Make a list of possible venues’ could easily be handled by a different person, so I decide to split it out into a separate card. Trello makes this easy because you can convert a checklist item into a card with just one click.
Once you’ve gone through each task in this manner, you will end up with something approaching a finished list of steps required to reach your final objective. Well done! It’s probably time for a quick tea-break at this stage!
Until someone takes responsibility for a task it is unlikely to ever be completed. So now it’s time to take the final step – assign due dates to each and every Trello card and assign a person to each card. Then reorder cards so that they end up in due-date order. This decides who is responsible and allows team members to see at a glance what they should be doing next.
Note: Even if you’re working alone it’s worth assigning cards to yourself, so that you receive due-date reminders and can see them in the Trello board overview.
Keep going until you feel that you’ve created a workable plan with realistic deadlines.
Don’t worry about making mistakes, your project will most certainly change and you can adjust your plan as time goes on.
Ready, set, go!
Time to get things done! As a final tweak, add ‘Doing’ and ‘Done’ columns to your board. Now you can get started with the actual work and hit those crucial deadlines! Well done, your project plan is complete!
Final thought: Champion great results
The best project plan will fail if it’s not kept up to date. Elect a Trello champion who will look after the board and carry out routine housekeeping tasks. They might add new cards, move cards around into proper columns and keep people on the straight and narrow. And I have a feeling you already know the perfect person for that job – yes, YOU!