As your business grows and develops so does the complexity of your work and the number of people/services doing the work. Owning a professional services company myself, I find I am constantly shifting between different projects for different clients with different resources. What I have learned is that the key to effective management is in the upfront planning. Done well — I can juggle many people and balls and keep things moving forward. Done poorly or not at all – I waste loads of time, money and most importantly, results.

My “tool” then is a simple template for setting up a new person or new project:

  • Goals: This is likely the most important piece of information. Gain agreement on what you hope to accomplish through this project or by hiring this person.  Is it to complete certain project deliverables like a website or accounting system? Is it to improve certain performance numbers? (Don’t forget to put in your numbers right now as a base.) The more you can be very specific in what you expect, the more you are likely to either achieve your goals… or have a clear reason for switching people or services.
  • Key milestones: Mark all the hard and fast deadlines you wish to achieve. If possible, put in a caveat into your agreement for late work or missed deadlines.
  • Tasks: Work though all the tasks or steps needed in accomplishing the project. If it is a repetitive task, copy these tasks for each month for the next six months to one year.  You will likely need to clarify, reorder or add but this is an excellent way to kick off work with a new person. If needed, assign contingencies – meaning that one tasks is dependent on another to complete.
  • Responsible Person: This is just one person that you can contact to determine if things are on track. It forces accountability and complete ownership clarity.
  • Date: Agree on a completion date.

I then use an enabling technology for additional efficiency. I have worked with three levels. Each level comes with more features, more cost and more onboarding training. Ideally you can start with the easiest and migrate up with your needs:

  1. Free Tools: You can create a document in a spreadsheet on your computer or via a shared document like Google Docs.
  2. Simple: I recommend a simple project system like SmartSheet (shown above).  I personally like Smartsheet because it is intuitive and easy to use (meaning I do not need to train new people.) I get automatic reminders and can keep all my files and status in one place. Most importantly, I get out of email.
  3. Robust: I have recently used the Asana project management system.  Asana allows for complex projects with many remote players. An excellent tool worth the investment.

But whatever technology you use, the important step is to form the decisions and plans up front.

Do you have any project management systems you have found especially effective? Please share below.

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