Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Managing Deadlines: 5 Steps to Successful Project Management

Ever work with a project manager? The people whose primary responsibility is to ensure the project moves through the process from concept to customer? They're the ones who keep track of deadlines and deliverables. Communication is the crux of their job, followed very closely by organization. They are arguably the most well-connected people in a company. The bane of their existence is when somebody slips a date and doesn't tell them in advance. (Feature-creep is a wholly different PITA.)

I have had my ass schooled by learned from some of the most efficient project managers who mastered herding cats. I've carried those best practices into my author career. If you've followed this blog for a while, then this list will sound very familiar.

5 Steps to Successful Project Management 

  1. Prioritize
    • You are the only one who knows your workload. Don't expect others to intuit all that you've got going on. Your path to sanity is via prioritizing tasks and projects. Even the repetitious ones, like taking the kids to/from school. Anything that demands your time gets prioritized. Note the things that are flexible and those that aren't. You can reschedule a conference call. You can't reschedule the start of a public school day.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations...then add two weeks.
    • So you attracted the interest of a Big Publisher. Congrats! They want to sign you for three books. Awesome! They want those books delivered in six-month intervals. Uh...You only have the first one written and that took you three years to get into a query-ready state. Talk to your agent, be frank with them. It's better to decline an offer than to be in breach. 
    • Always add two weeks to big projects. That's wiggle room in case the flu strikes, equipment fails, or your brain goes on strike.
  3. Confirm Dates and Times
    • Seems logical, but it's amazing how many problems crop up because of ambiguous phrases like "30 days." Is that 30 business days or calendar days? "The end of the month." What if the end of the month falls on a Sunday? Is the deliverable due on the Friday before or the Monday after?  Even "COB " is suspect what with time zone differences, flexible hours, and people who never.stop.working. 
  4. Communicate as Soon as a Bump Appears
    • This is the one that a lot of people resist because they're afraid of the perceptions and the consequences. They think they can "power through" and "slide under the deadline." Worse, some folks stay quiet and hope an elf will magically fix everything for them. Peeps, don't do that to yourselves or your team. The ulcer isn't worth it. Tell your contact/team as soon as you know there's an issue because date slippage has a ripple effect. The sooner the team knows, the faster they can compensate. Missing your date might not be that big a deal...or it means they get someone else to do your piece of the project. Regardless, fess up fast. Don't work yourself into an oozing pustule of anxiety. 
    • See Jeffe's post from Sunday about Big Trouble vs Daily Shit
  5. Reassess & Reset
    • Whenever you complete a project, take a beat and assess the resources and time it took you to finish. Did your accurately estimate what was needed? Do you have similar projects in your schedule? Based on what you learned from the completed project, are there any adjustments you need to make to the future projects? Are there any people who need to be informed about the needed adjustments?
Adulting. Sometimes the hardest part is being honest with yourself. Once you are, it's a lot easier to be upfront with others...even about moving deadlines.