Projects I: The Basics

Project – arguably the most overused word in management.

With good reason.

A Project is an easy way to put a boundary around some things and make a person or group of people responsible for getting those things done.

The first thing to consider are you working in a project or are you in an operations mode. Projects MUST have a beginning, defined scope and most important of all an END.

Projects without an END are operational activities or sustaining work.

So if you need to break up work – define a few projects, make sure they have a good stopping point and it might just help you delegate.

Projects are typically broken down into stages depending on what organization you are operating within. Regardless of the organization a project life-cycle will help to people understand what is needed.


Whether the project is the design, build and test of a part or the design and installation of a kitchen or the development of a software solution for multiple stakeholders in ten countries – some things won’t change.

Among the constants are – Risk and Effort – more of those in future posts.

Another common feature of projects is stages, which I quickly summarize as:

  1. Getting started
  2. Getting things done
  3. Stopping

Clearly projects can have more stages, but these are just sub-stages to the big three above.

In each stage different things will be important, some of which are consistent in every organization.  Some really aren’t and that’s where effort needs to be applied to determine what matches each organization. This will be discussed in subsequent posts exploring the stages of project work.

Exploring the three in turn:

Getting Started – The enjoyable stage

You’ve just started a project, it’s interesting, there’s lots to do.

Enthusiasm will be high anyone involved is happy to work on the new project, but…

You might just want to slow down a minute.

For a project to start successfully, you must, “start with the end in mind”.

So, what is the scope of the project? what will mean success? who is involved? what resources are need? does everyone know their roles? in what order do things need to be completed? what organization rules do you need to follow? what legislation applies? and potentially many more.

To underestimate this stage will lead to problems later in the project. Planning and preparation will be explored further, but for now, know it is very important.

Getting things done – The tough stage

The central stage of the project. All the people are busy doing things. Progress is being made (hopefully). Money and time are probably being spent quickly.

The challenge in this stage is finding the balance between monitoring and micro-managing. Between working hard and working smart.

Misunderstandings are common in this stage of a project, and they always cost you time. Future posts will explore this stage of project work but for now remember to keep your eyes on the big objectives and keep working efficiently on your things.

Stopping – The Hardest Stage

In almost every organization stopping is the hardest part of any project. Every organization contains people who will often be perfectionists or magpies*. Both of these personality types make it hard to stop, along with plenty of other personalty types that bring their own challenges.

Stopping means you’ve completed the scope of the project, verified with the client or customer that they agree that you are done AND taken care of any internal tidy up.

Remember – know when to stop. Remember projects MUST stop so figure out what this means and how you’ll do it.

* Magpies – people who see a new bright thing and want to go after it forgetting what they were doing before, similar to toddlers.


Staying with the basics of a project – plans.

Creating plans does not need a piece of software. If you want a software package many are available, one famous one, and a few others.

But as I will continually state if you can’t manage a process on paper you really shouldn’t start throwing software into the mix.  See the People, Process, Technology Golden Rule.

More on planning soon, it is a big subject. For now consider taking these actions.

Things to do:

  1. Recognize when you are working in a project.
  2. Define the stages of a project that match your organization.
  3. Identify what is important in each newly defined stage.

People I: The Basics

It has been stated many times that people make any organization. People define the organizations culture. People delivery on an organization’s goals. People deliver success or not. Finally people spend time working for an organization.

People commit.

Some don’t, but many do. This is where the challenge starts for both the individual and the organization.

I will discuss lack of commitment in later posts but for now let us stay with the committed.

In case you haven’t come across it before I’d suggest taking a few minutes to consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Very quickly you will see that people seek to fulfill some of these needs by joining organizations; companies, clubs, societies and associations. These commitments ALL come with one thing. Expectations.

These expectations will relate in some way to the “Needs” of the people.

The implication of this basic step should be significant for both the people making commitments and those running, managing or leading the organizations.

Firstly it’s a good thing. We all have a very simple method and basis to understand what people want from an organization and what the organization is providing to the people. Secondly by looking to the expectations of those people you will quickly, even if you’re not a people person, be able to understand potential reasons people are happy or not. Thirdly there is a way both people and the organization can trade expectations for needs to improve the relationship.

Here’s an example:

Small company has two employees doing the same basic job function.

The employees are different ages, different backgrounds, different personal situations and home lives.

Chances are both employees share some expectations: a fair wage, fair treatment, nice working environment – the basics.

Now consider just one possible difference:

For one employee the job is the sole income to the household.

For the other it is the second income.

The first employee might well value security and be looking to expand income and expect progression. The second perhaps not. Clearly the company should treat this individuals differently.

Other differences are almost guaranteed and could come from needs as diverse as; self-esteem, friendship, morality, creativity.  These are more difficult to assess and

What should be evident is that diversity is everywhere, but it’s not hard to make an effort to understand it’s impact on our organizations. It is not easy to meet the board range of needs that will exist but it does not mean effort should not be made.

We all can appreciate and think of examples where the diversity of the people within an organization is a real strength. What we must do is embrace that diversity and try to better help the people and therefore achieve success – and a bit of happiness too.

Here is the challenge:

Five actions for anyone as within an organization

  1. Identify what you expect of the organization
  2. Find out who should know – for example your manager or group leader
  3. Honestly review of the organization is meeting you needs
  4. Request a review with the person you identified
  5. Accept organizations have limits, but remember so should you – if your needs are not being met, do something about it

Five actions for those running, managing and leading organizations

  1. Make the effort to understand what your people expect of your organization
  2. Honestly assess whether you are meeting those needs and if they are realistic
  3. Determine whether the organization is prepared to bridge any gaps
  4. Give feedback to people
  5. Don’t ever treat people like fools. People know when you make commitments, create expectations and fail to meet them and they don’t like it.

Let’s get started – communication

In a week where dolphins can teach everyone something about good communication deciding where to start was simple.

Communication is the transfer of information. – Simple.

Maybe we should think a little more?

Communication is the transfer of information seen from one person’s perspective through a medium to other people with different perspectives.

Not so simple.

But, here is the trick. The over-whelming majority of communication in business occurs within the organization – and one basic step will help ensure you have been successful. Your message has been received, understood and shared.

You simply ask.

Verify your message was received. In practice this means:

  • When talking with others, ask how they interpret what has been said?
  • When sending email, follow up with a call or lead the email to set the scene and check again after the message is sent.
  • When sending reports to a wider audience sample from that group to ensure the message has got across.
  • In ALL FORMS of communication state clearly the key points. Executive summaries don’t just exist in documents – have one for your phone calls too and definitely for meetings.

The communication equation must ensure that the message going in survives the medium through which it is delivered to arrive with the recipient as intended.

Practical steps to ensure you balance the equation:

  1. Plan your message (what are you trying to say? to whom are you saying it?)
  2. Select the right medium (written, verbal, visual)
  3. Verify your message was understood as you intended

Lastly, know the rules for effective writing (available in many other places) they do really help, even if they are actually quite hard to follow on occasion.