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Project Management Redux

COW Blogs : Mike Cohen's Blog : Project Management Redux

As the year comes to an end (or a screeching halt if you are heavily invested in the market) it is time for my annual self assessment of...myself.

This year I feel I have made the most progress in project management. I have blogged previously about various workflow improvements, experiments and systems for managing multiple projects, and/or managing a single project to completion. Rather than looking at these nuances or exingencies of workflow, in this post I will analyze my overall project management philosophy.

Some Background

Over time I have figured out the right way to, and of course the wrong ways to do the same things. There is, in fact, no definitive right or wrong way but trial and error weeds out the errors.

Anyone else confused?

In project management, as in MS Proect, you have dependent and independent tasks. You've gotta stay organized or there will be gridlock combined with chaos. The goal is organized non-chaos, although chaos often prevails.

Solution to chaos is organization. Some people may use lots of sticky notes while others may use MS Project. I have used MS project and to quote Mr. Horse from the Ren and Stimpy Show, "No sir, I didn't like it." You become a slave to MS Project. I once tried to make a Project file for a client with multiple long time range projects, and it became unweildy quickly. In fact if you look up "unwieldy" in wikipedia, there is a picture of my GANTT chart for this project. Nothing? Tough crowd. Not a fan of the GANTT chart, although if a client sends me one it is usually a sign that the client keeps organized, which is a good thing.

Moving on...Lately I have been using Excel, another MS creation, but one based upon simplicity. You could just as easily use a Word table or a large markerboard. But e-mailing a large markerboard to others really clogs up the server. Plus without the sweet licorice smell of the dry erase markers, it just isn't the same. Mmm, licorice... Excel lets you get as fancy or non-fancy (simple) as you want to, and is easily updated. Thus I am using Excel not for its spreadsheetness, but for its easiness of information dispersal (infomersal?!)

I have experimented with Basecamp, Campfire and other web-based PM tools. But again, you need to keep these updated, which eats into limited time to actually complete project tasks. A project task should not have to include managing the managing of the project. The managing of the project is part of the project itself. You should not have to remember to manage your project - managing the project IS part of the project itself. This IS getting confusing, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to invent some new words. Let me climb into my hover car and get back to my point. Insert Jetson's car noise here "bbbblllllloooooooeeeeeeaaaahhhhhhhoooooooeeeeeeeowww...!"

Now once you have organized your chaos using an assumedly simple yet flexible solution, you need a method to manage your managing. To do lists work for me, usually revised or re-written daily. I have tried using web and MS Office-style methods, but a great new portable technology works the best for me...paper! I re-use misprints from the printer and other scraps of paper that would otherwise go to the dump. My Grandpa Morris used to use the backs of envelopes for note paper, so it is in his memory that I too recycle! He was "going green" when gas was $1.00/gallon.

The to-do list tends to get packed with other last minute tasks, phone numbers, phone messages and the odd drop of mustard or mayo from a sandwich, so I go through a lot of to-do lists. But there is nothing like the satisfaction of crossing out tasks with a pen or the mother of all task completing instruments - the yellow highlighter.

It is also important to set reminder alarms for planned conference calls or time-sensitive tasks. I use my phone's calendar. I stopped wearing a wristwatch years ago, although I do miss the watch outline on my wrist, proving that despite my pale appearance I do get sun exposure. Now if you want to check my Vitamin D intake you need to be married to me. Sorry ladies, I'm spoken for.

So I have a method for organizing and sharing project status, a schedule from important communications and a habit forming way to track my own tasks. Next is the much hyped management philosophy.

• Get stuff done in a timely manner

• Own the project. You can't "sort of manage" a project. It's all or nothing.

• Avoid procrastination

• Practice delayed gratification (anything involving the word gratification sounds good to me!)

• If something is unpleasant to do, do it first. Often these tasks only take an hour or so and don't seem so bad once finished.

• Stay organized.

• Keep up with correspondence. If a paper trail is important to fully understanding or explaining a project, review the sequence of events from time to time.

• Be your own best critic. It is easy to be your own cheerleader. It takes courage ot be critical of oneself - be constructive.

• Finally, take care of yourself - eat, sleep, exercise, floss (seriously, keeps your co-pays under control), laugh, sing, paint, whatever.

I mentioned owning the project. I think this is most important. Even if you are not an expert in the subject matter, you can and should become an expert in the subject matter of the particular project, if only so you can notice things to correct before the client does. In other words, know your content. If you have a book with 300 pages, of course you cannot know the material by heart, but you can have a decent understanding of each chapter and will probably remember one or two important aspects of each chapter, each author and the layout and images. Same goes for a video project. Perhaps you cannot view the video in your head with your eyes closed, but you know all of the key moments in the video (which is why you wake up in the middle of the night humming Acoustic Underscores Track 20 and you start seeing the furniture in your living room as a series of Photoshop layers).

Sometimes in project management, it pays to take the extra time to review something one more time, sometimes in such detail that if you ever have to look at it again you will surely go mad. Such attention to detail may not catch every mistake, but you have done your due diligence as a means to respect the client and the client's money.

So in summary, my project management philosophy is to get stuff done. My way. However my way needs to comply with the company's way, that is, in the interest of the bottom line.

Thanks for reading. I'm gonna go practice infomersalizing.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Dec 5, 2008 at 8:14:14 pm workflow

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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