You are probably great at what you do. The world desperately needs what you offer. But it often feels so overwhelming trying to deliver that.
It’s not your fault. There are sets of skills that you do not yet have in your toolbox. Marketing and sales is likely one set. Project management is the other. You did not need these to be good at what you do. But, now that you want to have a business, they are mandatory.
As one of my students said, “We have to be project managers if we are going to survive. These skills are as essential as our other expertise, because if we don’t manage this part we are not going to have a business. We’ll burn out.”
Another student said of the Make It Happen course that this post is based on, “This is the best thing I’ve done for my business in the last 5 years.” This article is an extreme condensation of the lessons taught and applied in that course.
Take the next few minutes and learn a simple, repeatable process, just 7 steps, that will have you getting the results you want without that familiar feeling of overwhelm and dread. You’ll begin to feel confident in your ability to attain your objectives every time.
The seven steps are:
- Divide and Conquer
- Estimate Effort and Costs
- Sequence and get a Road Map
- Communicate with your TEAM
- Execute, Track and Control
- Report regularly
- Rest and Renew
Climb these steps to get to the results you want.
Any initiative you undertake feels overwhelming. There are so many things to do, and you don’t know where to start. To feel a sense of ‘I’m doing something’, to gain some momentum, most people just jump in and do a little bit of everything. But they don’t make much progress.
What we need to do is take time to plan our attack (I know it sounds warlike).We have to be project managers if we are going to survive. These skills are as essential as our other expertise because if we don’t manage this part we are not going to have a business. We’ll burn out. #Youpreneur Click To Tweet
Step 1: Divide and Conquer
The very first step is to know everything that will need to be done to reach your goal. Do this by creating a mind map of all the tasks and activities you anticipate will need to be done. Begin with the very high-level sub-tasks in your initiative.
Once you have those major components, break each one into finer detail. Keep subdividing until you get to activities that can be achieved with 4 hours of effort or less. When you have a finely detailed set of mind maps add all the sub-tasks and their component activities into a spreadsheet like this:
Step 2: Estimate Effort and Costs
When you have listed all the activities that must be completed begin your estimating. Every one of the activities you foresee will take effort to complete. Some will also entail money being spent (costs).To the best of your ability, write down what you think it will take to complete each activity, both hours of effort and money spent.
At first, these will be guesstimates on your part. Get advice from people who have done those activities before. Capture your estimates in the Activity Sheet spreadsheet.
Step 3: Sequence and get a Road Map
The next step is to think through the sequence in which the activities can happen. Ask yourself for each activity, is there anything that has to be completed before it can be started? Make a note of that constraint. There is no point in beginning Activity B if Activity A needs to be completed first. You’ll end up wasting time because of rework.
When you have completed the sequencing you can create a Road Map with milestones. A milestone is typically a higher level sub-task that will have needed many smaller activities to be completed. For instance, all the back-end internet infrastructure needs to be in place before you can begin inviting people to see what you offer.
When you have completed the sequencing of activities and have a Road Map, you’ll see the true duration of your initiative. This is when you’ll begin realizing the length of time your initiative is really going to take. You’ll realize that you should not begin fretting about a lack of progress just a month into it.
Step 4: Communicate with your TEAM
This step may seem strange if you are a solopreneur. You may think that you are the only person ‘on your team’. Take another look. If you have a friend helping you, or someone who is building you a website, you have a team. Perhaps someone is writing copy for that site.
If anyone else is involved in getting the outcome you want, you have a team. And they need to know what the plan is, what’s happening now, and what comes next. I’ve always maintained that the essence of project management is making sure that people are talking to each other, that everybody knows what’s going on, and there are no surprises.
Step 5: Execute, Track and Control
Once you’ve done your planning and everyone knows what has to happen, you finally kick-off the project. This step feels like the biggest piece because it is. Unfortunately, most people want to begin with this step. A very important part of this step is the track and control part.
A plan is just a plan. It shows you the preferred path to your goal. But it is not reality. Circumstances will change, some of it quite dramatically. You must stay on top of what’s happening day-to-day, and respond to those changing circumstances.
Fill out the actual start and end dates of activities on your Activity Sheet. Keep track of the actual effort and costs. Note problems as they occur, and how you responded. This is how you keep your project on track. Not only that, but you are building a history that will inform your future projects.
Step 6: Report Regularly
Another thing that we don’t do is write regular reports. I mean, if we are the only person on the project, we know everything right? Yes, but …
I’ve always considered myself to be the prime beneficiary of reports.
This takes discipline, but it forces you to acknowledge what happened this week, what’s planned for next week, how that will get done, problems to be addressed, etc. By ‘regularly’ I mean weekly. On longer projects, you might create a more formal report once a month that gets sent to all the people who have an interest in your goal or objective.
You’ll also do a final report once the initiative has been completed. This final report is like putting all your lessons into a box that you can open up and review when you are planning your next initiative. You’ll find it to be invaluable.
Step 7: Rest and Renew
This final step may not seem like a step in which you are advancing your project. Suppose your initiative has a 6-month timeline. Break it up into four 6-week sprints. Go hard in each sprint. But at the end of each sprint take a break of a couple of days.
Use this time to rest and renew. It’s almost like taking a mini-vacation. You’ll come back to the initiative refreshed, ready to tackle the next sprint with the same level of vigor as the previous ones.
Well, there you have it. Seven simple steps to get your initiatives done. The one Action Item I’d suggest for you is: Apply these 7 steps. Start with tracking and reporting if your initiative is well underway. Do all the steps if you’ve just started an initiative or are about to start one.
It will feel uncomfortable for the first couple of times you try to do this. Keep at it. With deliberate practice you will get better at planning, tracking and reporting. These steps are essential to completing your projects successfully. Not only will you be doing what you love, but your business will thrive.
John retired after a 37-year career doing Profit Centre and Project Management. He also ran a solo side-gig for two decades doing software development and support. He now helps small teams to successfully complete their initiatives by applying project management skills and discipline. He is the “Boss They Can Fire”.