When most people think of project management, they think of big, complex undertakings like building a skyscraper or developing a software program. But the basics of project management— let’s call it Project Management 101—can apply to any task with a start and end date. Using concepts from project management can make your work and your life run more smoothly and efficiently.
Project management is all about constraints. Time, money, people, and other resources are always limited, whether we recognize it or not. Project management acknowledges the constraints and creates a plan to get things done in spite of them.
Write it Down
Like the project manager who’s working on that skyscraper, you should create a written plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy—even hand-written notes on a legal pad will do. Maintaining a written record of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how it all turns out is a key element of project management that can help keep you on track. It can also help you remember what you did right for next time.
Professional project managers typically use Gantt charts to track all the aspects of their projects. The chart shows the start and end dates of a project—it graphically represents all the relationships between project components and what happens if a component changes. If you’re handy with Excel, you can create a simple Gantt chart to help you think through your project.
Define Your Project
Get specific about what your project entails. Are you writing a paper? Planning a wedding? Studying for an exam? Any defined task with a start and end period is a project. Don’t make your project definition too broad.
Break it Down
Split your project into bite-sized chunks, and create a schedule with deadlines for each step. If you’re writing a paper, work backward from your due date to determine when you need your research done, notes reviewed, first draft written, and final manuscript submitted.
Evaluate Your Team and Resources
Accurate assessment of your team members, budget, available equipment, and materials is critical to successful project management. For a school paper, your team is likely to be just you, and your budget will probably be nil. But if you’re planning a wedding, it’s an entirely different story—the team, budget, and materials are important.
Your time is your most important resource, and you must manage it well. Once you have your team in place—whether for school projects or wedding preparations—learn to delegate. Be selective in assigning tasks and make sure to match the right job with the right person.
Communicate Your Outcome
If your project is for work, you should document the outcomes, steps, and resources used to make it happen. Documenting can also be helpful for a school or personal project in the future.
Project management has helped humans handle their work for thousands of years. The people behind the Great Pyramids of Giza used project management concepts—and the results still amaze modern engineers. Today, you can use a written plan, good time management, and effective communication to improve your work, studies, and life.