Updated: Aug 4, 2021
My first experience creating and managing a project schedule included fumbling my way around in MS Project. Although it looked much like Excel, I quickly discovered that the functionality was quite different, and it wasn’t intuitive. The advice I was given was to have one set of hands making the updates, to avoid messing up the logic (predecessor/successor tasks) and having to spend hours fixing it. The project schedule was saved on my desktop and I coordinated updates with team members during our weekly meetings, via email, and on the phone. It was an extremely time-consuming and manual process. Project management tools have come a LONG WAY since this experience and my approach to managing the work has too. I now prioritize team collaboration over project management tools. A plan can only be successfully executed if the people buy in and know exactly what is expected of them, regarding the completion of tasks. You can have the best project schedule in the world, and without the people doing the work, it is worthless.
Team collaboration is critical when creating and managing a project schedule and working to meet project objectives. Below are my top five tips for successfully setting up a project and maximizing collaboration:
1. Identifying the Project Sponsor and Project Manager. This should be one of the first tasks accomplished when initiating a project. Executive sponsorship is key for authorizing resources for the project and ensuring there is a clear escalation path for critical issues. In fact, PMI’s Elevate Success Report from 2017 shows that the percentage of actively engaged Executive Sponsors are on the rise, helping to ensure success of the projects. The Project Manager plays a huge role in moving the planning forward and building the team – they will oversee the required resources, scope of work, and timelines.
2. Creating a Project Charter. One of the biggest mistakes that I see project teams make is skipping the Project Charter. This is a vital document that ensures everyone is aligned on what is being accomplished. Information to include in the Project Charter consists of: Project Sponsor name; Project Manager name; expected start / end date of the project; deliverables; success metrics; key milestones; project overview; project objectives; in scope and out of scope; constraints; known risks; resources required; subject matter expertise required; budget estimates; and signatures to approve the document (i.e., the Project Sponsor and Project Manager).
3. Developing the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The Project Charter is an input into this effort, breaking the deliverables into bite-sized actionable pieces of work. The deliverables are the outputs of project execution and the task list is how you will get there. This is a foundational piece of project planning and helps ensure clear assignments to project team members.
4. Entering tasks and the team member(s) responsible for accomplishing each one into a project management tool that is accessible to the entire team. Making the work visible to all team members supports collaboration and reinforces self-organizing teams. There are so many great project management tools to support this! Two of my favorite tools right now are Smartsheet and Asana. These both allow you to have a one-stop-shop for storing your project data and managing the work. You can upload files, tag team members, include logic in your schedule, and mark the tasks as complete as you make progress on deliverables. They offer numerous ways to organize the work (e.g., Kanban board, lists, etc.) and integrate with other tools that you may be using as a team (e.g., Slack, Dropbox, etc.), making it easy to stay aligned. If you have already created your WBS, then it should be relatively easy to enter the work into a tool to keep you organized. In addition, both of these tools have options to customize dashboards to provide project stakeholders with the information they want and need. If you’d like to further explore Smartsheet and Asana, check out our YouTube channel for tutorial videos focused on how to incorporate these tools into managing your projects.
5. Creating a team charter. Agreeing on team interactions and how to communicate will make a significant difference when it comes to accountability. Let the team come up with these agreements and how they will hold each other accountable. Areas of focus: how often people should be updating their work in the project management tool (i.e., daily, weekly, etc.); how often the team will meet; the duration and format of the meetings; how someone should be contacted if something urgent comes up (i.e., text, email, phone call, instant messenger, etc.); if the team needs to be available during specific hours; and how issues will be escalated.
It has been exciting seeing new collaborative project management tools hit the market and the pandemic has only expediated this. Don’t ever let project management tools replace collaboration with your team – they should enhance it!