For some people, flying by the seat of their pants is just an inherent part of their personality. They enjoy spontaneity, they prefer to learn as they go, and they aren’t big fans of plans. If you’re one of those “fly be the seat of your pants” type of people, it may be difficult for you to understand the importance of setting project priorities before you dig in, but in truth, setting priorities is essential to make sure your project goes off without a hitch.
- Who’s doing what? Before anyone begins working on a project, make sure everyone knows what they’ll be responsible for. Defining each person’s responsibilities in the beginning will help to ensure that the process is handed off from one person to the next, as everyone involved will know what’s expected of them and who they can go for if they have questions about what’s already been completed or which steps come next.
- What’s the timeline? It’s nearly impossible to complete a project on time if you don’t have a specified timeline laid out ahead of time. Today is your beginning, and the deadline is the end. Fill in the middle with definitive milestones, and prepare for contingency plans in the event that things come up that throw off the timeline a little. Sure, meeting every milestone exactly on time (or even early) is ideal, but any good project leader knows that things will likely come up, so building the “what ifs” into your timeline will help you avoid the chaos and panic that can come from assuming that everything will run right on track. Lay out the timeline and milestones as though the project will never run off course at first. Define who will be doing what when, and apply those milestone target dates in order. From there, you can build in your contingency plan. If Bob hasn’t been able to complete the tasks that Jane needs for her part, will Jane be able to begin working on a different portion of her responsibilities while she’s waiting for Bob to complete his part? Look for ways to keep the project moving forward even when there are places that may be stalled.
- Which tasks have the highest priority? These are tasks that absolutely must have attention paid to them. If you’ve promised to call a client with a status update on a certain day, you can’t move the appointment. If a third-party vendor needs at least four weeks to install or deliver its product, you absolutely must get the order in on time. Once you’ve established the concrete “musts” on the priority food chain, you can fill in the gaps with the other stuff. An example we at OSO have encountered would include a video-tech business owner who came to us saying he “never got enough done”. We stepped in to help with some projects and realized that he would focus on the small side details (like blog videos and commercials before the website was in the works), never addressing the big picture, halting the process before it even began.
- How do you know what’s done? It can be difficult for many people working together to coordinate what tasks have been completed, where they are on schedule, and what still needs to be reviewed. A great tool to help with this is an online task scheduler, where all the people involved can track their to-do lists, where their co-workers are on their tasks and how the timing is going overall. Optimum Systems Online has found great success with our custom scheduling system. We are able to send eachother files and tasks, finalize the various steps of project with the click-of-a-button, and view the status of all without tracking down multiple players.
- How can you be adaptable? If you’ve set priorities in a way that is inflexible, you may be in for a rude awakening down the line. Adaptability can come in many forms. Besides the aforementioned ability to use contingency plans within the timeline itself, look for other ways to become adaptable. Are there other resources that can help you complete the project? Is there another person whose skill set can be useful if the project is falling behind? Are there technological innovations that may help improve the speed at which tasks are completed? Be open to input from the staff. As the project moves along, those people that are working the frontlines of the project may have some valuable feedback that can help you and your team adapt to situations and circumstances.
- Where do you start? A project isn’t usually a one day event. The majority of projects span weeks, months, or even years. That said, communication is key, whether you’re communicating with your staff members or just checking in with yourself. If you lose track of where you need to start, you’ll likely never finish on time. Set the priorities from the “big picture” down to the smallest detail. Ideally, you’ll want to achieve xyz by “this date”. From there, you can more easily understand what needs to happen each day to achieve that milestone. Each day, you and your team should be able to list their priorities for that day. Which ones must be achieved? Which ones fall lower on the list? Make sure everyone is on the same page with everyone else’s priorities; this way, if someone’s time frees up, they may be able to help a team member.
Have you experienced the downfalls that can come from not setting project priorities, please share your Lessons Learned in the comments section below!