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Everyone has projects of some type. Any effort that has a desired outcome, a beginning, an end, and a sequence of tasks or deliberations to achieve the end is a project.
Here are seven tips to help make any project a success, from project management expert Gary Robinson who runs the Mitacs Training Project Management workshops.
1. Establish criteria for success
Start with an understanding of why you are undertaking the project. What will the five or six most important criteria for success be? Create a positive but realistic vision of an outcome that will meet your criteria.
2. Define boundaries
Based on your vision, define the project as simply as you can. For example “my project is to graduate by June 2016.” Describe the last activity in the project, such as “attend convocation.” Without clarity on the last activity, some projects just keep on going. Identify any constraints or commitments that have been made, such as times when key resources are not available, cost limitations, or other commitments that you have.
3. Build relationships early
Identify who will be involved in the project and start building positive relationships with everyone, including your supervisor. Don’t wait until you need them – start building relationships before you need them. Very often this is a good time to create a project team. There may be projects that you conduct alone, such as completing a thesis or preparing a report or business plan. Even for those, you can always benefit by involving others. Graduate students can ask a colleague to be a “buddy” – a sounding board for ideas and for keeping you focused.
4. Set out specific tasks and a timeline
Start by simplifying the work into four or five categories. Examples could include “preparation,” “testing,” “analysis,” “writing,” etc. Then list the major tasks in each category. The concept of less is more is true here; too much detail creates frustration and does not add the clarity many think it will. Working with major tasks allows you the freedom to modify how the task is to done once it has started. Create a logical sequence and timing of tasks and you now have a plan to deviate from, and you will deviate since no project goes exactly as planned.
5. Review your progress
Compare your progress to your plan regularly and modify the plan as needed. Sometimes you may even want to modify the project definition as you get into the work.
6. Learn from what went well and what didn’t
Projects are usually judged on the quality of the product, but the greatest learnings and improvements come from reviewing how things were done. Give yourself time to sit back periodically and ask what has gone well, what has not gone well and what can be done to improve. You will always find ways to improve.
7. Take time out
Take care of yourself and others involved in the project. Take some breaks, limit the hours you spend working and enjoy your project.
Want to learn more about project management? Mitacs Training offers the Foundations of Project Management I & II workshops free to graduate students in Canada.
Sign up for a workshop in your city today.