Another birthday is rapidly approaching and it inspires me to reflect on what I have accomplished or failed at over the many, many years of my career. I have worked in consulting in the investment management industry now for approximately 18 years. Hopefully in that time I have picked up a little wisdom on how to manage in a complex project environment. I would like to share some of them in this blog. Some may be familiar and some may not—I hope they will help others in the consulting industry or those working with consultants.
Expectations and Pet Peeves
At the start of each engagement, I sit down with the client and ask them their expectations for the project, deliverables and for me. I also ask them if they have any pet peeves that I should be aware of as we are going to be working together. I don't need to add to the normal project stresses by unknowingly triggering more by pushing unknown buttons.
Plan of Action
Create a project plan that is manageable in that it shows the tasks, dependencies, timeline and resources required to complete the project but is not so detailed that you spend all your time updating the plan, trying to understand Microsoft Project "features" and ignoring other project requirements. Your project plan should be your guide map but does not need to encompass every pit stop along the way.
On my laptop, I have a library of templates for every type of documentation typically needed on projects. Agendas, status reports, future operating models, business workflows, functional specifications, design specifications, test plans, test scripts, change requests, database queries and the list goes on. I have gathered these and squirreled them away in my library over the years. Templates can be a godsend and save you hours of time when deadlines loom. Never underestimate the power of a great template to help you organize your thoughts and get the job done.
Learn to use the functions within Outlook that will save your sanity. Create folders to store emails that have been read and require no action but may need to be referenced later. Use the Outlook Follow up function and Categories to organize those that do require action. Establish a day each week that you "follow-up" on all unfiled emails. Seven thousand emails in your inbox is no way to live.
If the email conversation has a string of more than five emails and resolution is not in sight, schedule a meeting. Don't underestimate the value of an actual conversation. The tone of the conversation and potential stressors are much easier to hear than to read.
I attend meetings approximately five hours a day and the best meetings follow these simple rules. An agenda is provided and the meeting is kept to the agenda. The meeting topic is introduced and summarized. Questions are posed to the group. Feedback is provided by the group. Decisions reached and action items assigned are summarized at the end of the meeting and followed up with documented notes. Keep to the rules and you too can have a successful meeting.
Multi-tasking is a travesty. In my years of working on projects, I have never met anyone that is truly successful at multi-tasking. By definition, the individual is attempting to accomplish multiple tasks at one time but is in fact partially failing at all. If the topic is important, wait until they are finished with their current tasks or reschedule the discussion. If you try to proceed, you will only have to remind them about the topic and decisions reached at a later date because they won't remember the initial discussion.
Acknowledgement and Celebration
If you finally figured out that Excel function that is going to allow you analyze that data in half the time, give yourself a pat on the back and raise your hands in victory. Success is sweet. Take the time to savor success, acknowledge the accomplishments of your team and celebrate the milestones you have all reached. Sometimes the road is long on a project and you need to celebrate along the way.
In the end, if you establish your own set of core methods, they will serve as the solid foundation you will require to successfully navigate your next rocky project.