Projecting Professionalism Into Your Projects

It seems like every time we finish a job, our first reaction is to think of all the ways things could have turned out better if only we had done some things differently. Second-guessing is just human nature, as is learning from our mistakes. Meanwhile and all too soon, the next project is upon us, bringing our old friends mayhem and madness pounding at our door.

But here is where sitting back and exercising our gray matter can really pay off. I always figure that if I can solve the predictable problems, the surprises won’t seem so bad. They still are, but I have the consolation of thinking,  “Imagine how buried we’d be if I hadn’t tried to think things out.”

While you can never eliminate all of the surprises that will come your way, with a little thought and a well laid-out plan of action, you can certainly minimize the damage they can do. Such a plan includes establishing objectives, planning ahead, timing the ordering of equipment, delineating roles and documenting the processes.  Take Stock of Your Goal, Time Table, Resources, Obstacles

The first step in any type of project is to define your objectives. To do this, ask yourself four questions:1) What do I want to accomplish? In simple terms, what is left when the dust settles? 2) What resources are at my disposal? Include people you could call in case of an “emergency.” That way, if you see one coming, you can let them know ahead of time so they won’t be surprised.3) When do I expect the project to be completed? Not, when does the customer want me to be out of there, but my realistic assessment of the time frame. Remember, this is a battle plan that no one else needs to see. Be realistic.4) What obstacles can I expect to be thrown into my path? This last one is often a list that keeps growing.

As these new obstacles appear, we often find ourselves going back to step one and starting over, so try and stay flexible.

Plan Well, Watch Everything Fall Into Place

Once the picture is in place, we are ready for the next step—planning. I figure that every hour I spend planning a project saves me at least 10 hours of aggravation down the road. I first make as complete a list of the components needed as possible. You’ll need to order them sooner or later anyway, so you might as well do it now. Nuts, bolts, connectors, cable ties, touch-up paint – nothing is too small or insignificant. That item you figured you “can just run out to Radio Shack and pick up” will be the one dogging you some day.

Try and complete the drawings, charts and other instructions as if you were going to drop dead or catch the flu tomorrow. Your mind is always the most focused at this point—you’re hyped up and anxious to get to work. Later, when you have 15 people shouting at you, a beeper that won’t quit and a deliveryman that just arrived, you’re bound to have trouble figuring what that little squiggle at the bottom of the page meant. Write it down or draw it out now while you’re thinking about it.

Have All Your Equipment, Materials on Hand

The third step is ordering the equipment and other items you’ll need to get the job done. How you do this depends on the size of your company, how it operates and the items involved. If you order everything yourself, fine—just pick up the phone and go for it. If there are other people involved, things get more complicated. Here we come to another area where the proper planning can reap substantial rewards in the days or weeks to come.

Organize your list of equipment needed, not by manufacturer or type, but by source. For example, group all hardware items (electronic components, rental equipment, tools and clean-up supplies) together. Don’t assume that the person ordering these items will know exactly where to go.

Jot down suggested vendors, including phone numbers and names of contact people if handy. If you’ve already looked it up and it’s on a little scrap of paper on your desk, don’t make someone else duplicate your effort. If you’ve already received pricing, attach it, even if it was just a rough, over-the-phone ballpark estimate.

Proper Scheduling Leads to Smooth Operations

Another important consideration is the scheduling of equipment arrival. If you simply request that everything arrive on the job site on the same day, you’ll create more problems for yourself. Storing, security, damage—all of these problems can be avoided if you coordinate the arrival of the system components with the installation schedule. Let the suppliers handle your warehousing for you.

This assumes that your supplier will reliably ship the items when promised. If you have concerns about their reliability or are ordering the last widget to come off the assembly line for the next six months, by all means get it in your hands as quickly as possible. We must always balance just-in-time delivery with not-in-time added labor costs.

Coordinate Your Team, Assign Clear-Cut Roles

Once the job is documented and the materials are ordered, the next step is to inform the various players of their roles. Sit Spike and the gang down and review all of your material with them. This is a good time to catch those little oversights (perhaps you forgot something silly like connectors and cable!).

During the installation process, I like to look for ways that things could be improved. The company that boasts that they have done a zillion identical installations has never learned from any of them. Everyone involved with a project brings his or her own personality, skill, and technique to the job, and each job is a learning process. As an effective project manager, your goal is to always be looking one step ahead. If you can actively look for better ways of doing things and seeking out suggestions, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Document the Job’s Progress, Train Users

As each aspect of a project is finished, some sort of acceptance test or punch list should be completed and documented as well. This allows you to close the book on a certain part of the job; when all of the books are closed, you can pick up your toys and go home.

If you wait until the entire job is finished before forwarding a bill to the customer, you are guaranteed that every little add-on and modification will have to be completed before the bill is paid. By having portions signed off along the way, you stand a better chance of at least getting partial payment, while remaining friends.

Even if it is not required, follow-up training is usually a good idea. By seeing what has been forgotten and what features are constantly used, you will be able to revise your initial training program and fill in the gaps. This is also an excellent time to gain user feedback and avoid future problems on other jobs.

Effective Management Brings About Peace of Mind

While efficient project management seems like a good goal for your organization, try not to lose sight of the final, and perhaps most important, benefit of all—your own peace of mind.

By planning, discussing and actively evaluating each project, you can reduce the stress and fatigue caused by that next job. This has a dramatic impact on the ultimate bottom line—the amount of time you can spend with family and friends bragging about what a great job you did and how easy it was.

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