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How to Manage a Project From Start to Finish

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Big or small, well managed projects usually have a better end result. Whether you're working as your own general contractor to build a house or assembling a complex presentation at work, the same basic steps for project management can apply.

KNOW YOUR PROJECT.

Understand what your project really is. "Building a house" is a pretty broad description. But you can refine that description: a "green" house, a two-story house, a retirement house. By being more descriptive, you can focus on what the project really is. For your green house, you might be looking for solar panels, or earth friendly building materials or contractors. For a retirement home, possibly easy access bathroom facilities, or easy maintenance, non-slip flooring.

Start big and then narrow your focus. When you have a clear scope of your project, write it up. With an employer, you may have to present a formal written presentation. For your own personal project, type up a neat document and keep it in a binder for reference.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE.

If you're building the house, or have a large project at work with many individual components, you may want to look for project management software. Construction projects in particular need meticulous planning upfront to avoid costly building mistakes. There's no sense in having the drywall contractor finishing the walls when the electricians need access to run wire. It can save you time and expense to have an accurate plan in place.

In the Resource section is a link to a Wikipedia article on project management software that has an extensive list of software available.

BUILD A TEAM.

If you're going to need help with your project, think of who might be on your team. At work, you may not have much choice, you may be assigned co-workers to assist you, or already have a staff in place. With the construction example, think of your contractors; plumbing, electrical, structural.

Add the names of your team to your reference material. For contractors, get addresses, cell phone numbers and any other pertinent information. Add your family as well, if any of them are decision makers in the project process.

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR TEAM.

Hold an initial meeting, and outline the scope of your project. In a work setting, you may be able to meet with everyone at the same time. For the home builder, you're probably not going to get all your contractors in the same place at the same time. But you will need to communicate with everyone.

Document your meetings, who attended, and any outcome that affects any schedules that have been put in place. Update your schedules, and distribute the updated information to the team.

DELEGATE.

If you are the project manager, that doesn't mean you do all the work. Parcel out and assign tasks to your team. Try to give assignments according to skills; at work you may have an administrative assistant who is a whiz at assembling stunningly organized and impeccably indexed presentations binders, but hates research. Let her do her magic with the final product. Your husband may be a genius with budgets and spreadsheets, but lacks "people" skills. Let him manage the financial aspect of the construction. Know your teams' strengths and use that to your advantage.

BE IN CHARGE.

Take responsibility and take charge. At work, let your team know to come to you with issues, questions or complaints. Listen and keep the final goal in mind and work out solutions towards that aim.

If you're working with contractors, you may need to be proactive in keeping up with them. They most likely have other construction projects and are working on their own project management issues. Sometimes being in charge means being available for them to contact you that works for their schedule.

FOLLOW UP.

Always know the status of your project. Continue to meet with your team, document where everyone is at. If someone is falling behind, find out what you can do to get them back on track. If your construction project isn't on schedule, you may need to get assertive in your efforts to follow up. In either scenario, don't badger, don't berate, but be open and listen, and then determine what needs to be done to keep things on schedule.

APPRECIATION.

When the project is complete, let your team know you appreciate their hard work. Buy them lunch, write memos for their personnel files if they've done outstanding work, let their managers know. Treat your contractors to doughnuts or lunch on the site. And the simplest thing....say thank you.

Tip

Be flexible. Most projects have deadlines, but try to work in some wiggle room for unexpected delays. People get sick, copy machines breakdown, it rains.

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