Successfully Managing a Project: in 4 simple steps

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As you dive further into an internship, job or research program, you may find yourself with a project to develop, manage or implement as a part of your experience.  You may have worked on group projects in your classes at Whitman, but in a new work setting you may be asking yourself some questions like: Where to start?  How to organize?  What keeps it moving?  We believe the information and recommendations below will allow you to manage your project with confidence and success.  We’ve kept it fairly brief with additional resources so you can dig deeper.  Good luck!

Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI) defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a particular project.”   Whether the skills, tools and techniques are in your possession, or resources you must seek out, following the steps listed below will help you develop, initiate, manage and complete your project with success.

Developing a project plan

The best projects are well organized and thought-out with a goal, timeline and resource list to guide you.  Since you won’t have a syllabus handed to you, or faculty office hours in Maxey that you can drop into for guidance, you will need to use critical thinking – honed through many of your academic courses – to ensure that as you develop solutions, you do not create additional issues or challenges.  As your liberal arts education has prepared you, you will need to pause often to gather feedback and view the project plan from multiple perspectives.  It is often suggested that you begin with the end.  What is the goal(s) that you are attempting to achieve and why?  What would a successfully completed project look like?  If the project has been handed to you, ensure that you’ve thoroughly discussed it with the project sponsor (think “thesis adviser”), previous project manager (similar to the person doing research with a professor before you) and/or your supervisor so you can work toward a clear set of targets, including timeline and budget.

Once you’ve established the vision for completion and a solid understanding of the timeline & budget expected for your project, it will be important to develop a list of resources required to execute the project.  This will seem reminiscent of developing a list of academic journals or texts to consult as you began writing your first Encounters paper.  Whether financial (budget), functional (tools or software) or human (project team and/or key stakeholders), gather a list of what you will need and then, identify how you will acquire those resources.  Keep in mind that just as things shift when you’re planning a program for your campus student club, there may be necessary adjustments to the resource list and/or the scope of the project as you move through next steps.

With a vision, timeline, and resource list in place, you’re ready to develop the process, priorities and precedence for the work ahead.  While often your energy or excitement will push you to dive right in, if you have not thought critically about how you will execute the project, you may end up creating inefficiencies or avoidable problems down the road that may increase expense or push you to miss your deadline.  There are many tools to help you with this work – including project management platforms like Basecamp or Slack, the simplest form is a basic spreadsheet that will allow you to list priorities (order of importance), precedence (order of execution) and ultimately, the process by which you will achieve your goals.

Initiating your plan

Before you move to action with your plan in place, it will be important to share your plan with your supervisor, project sponsor and potential project team.  Their feedback and input is a crucial piece of the critical thinking that is necessary to maximize your ability to deliver a successful project.  At this point in the process, it is imperative that you communicate clearly and work collaboratively.  In much the same way that you would consider feedback from your Encounters professor on that first paper, it will require active listening and some flexibility on your part to ensure that you’ve gathered clear and complete feedback so you can adjust your plan accordingly.  Once this step is complete, you’re ready to move to action.

Managing your project

Throughout the course of your project, you will need to schedule touchpoints during which you can: 1) check your progress against your plan, 2) ensure that your project team (if relevant) are meeting their timelines and communicating any roadblocks to you, 3) confirm that your resources are still adequate and 4) make and communicate any adjustments needed to your plan or process.  Think about this like you would a meeting with your pre-major advisor to review your course selection for the upcoming semester, you should approach this meeting with updates and explanations for current project status, along with an open-minded attitude to hear and consider their feedback.

Once again, there are several methods for managing these touchpoints; these may include software platforms, verbal or written communication, meetings or visual updates.  It may prove helpful to address in your project plan what the process and timing will be for these critical check-ins.  Depending on the complexity and project type, you may need to adjust the cadence of your touchpoints as you near your delivery deadline.

Completing your project – yea!

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Regardless of the delivery method for your project – a product or program launch, a presentation, report, etc. – you may feel compelled to “just be done”, and maybe celebrate a bit.  However, the project is not complete without a review and debrief of what’s transpired.  From launch to process to delivery, it will be important to spend some time considering the efficacy of your work – What worked, what didn’t?  What needs to be adjusted?  How would you execute the project differently with what you’ve learned through the process?  Did you meet the goals and expectations of key stakeholders?  What is the feedback to these questions from your project team or key stakeholders?

And lastly… throughout the entire project, communication and documentation is imperative.  Even if this is a one-time event, the work that you’ve invested in this project may help inform projects in your future professional career, or may even help you tackle that next big class project or your senior thesis.  Document the plan, process, adjustments and outcomes and be sure to maintain a copy of the work for yourself as well as for the organization – it will be helpful to reflect upon later and to reference in future projects.

If you’d like to read more about project management, here are some good pieces with more detail that you can reference:  https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-to-successfully-manage-your-first-project-2276127  |  https://due.com/blog/how-to-manage-a-project-from-start-to-finish/

The Internship Doctor 🙂


Questions?

Contact Kimberly Rolfe, Director for Career Development, who is responsible for career and professional development programs in the Student Engagement Center at Whitman College (rolfekb@whitman.edu).

 

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