The Project Recipe: 3 Key Ingredients

Photo credit: Barnaby Norwood http://www.barnabynorwood.co.uk

I have come to realize, almost every task I do as a Church Technical Leader is a project – from a video shoot to a room remodel to implementing a new initiative. Good project management is like a recipe. If you start with great ingredients and combine them in the proper way, you will get good results.

The basic ingredients of successful projects are three-fold:

  • effective project management
  • well executed individual contributions
  • seamless communication

This post is going to be more about tasks – the doing part of the job. Just knowing you are responsible for the outcome is not where the secret lies. The secret, if there is one, is in the ingredients. And, for all my church techies out there, these principles mirror the way God leads, and that’s how you know you are getting it right.

Effective Management

The definition of management is the process of controlling things or people. Although control in the workplace is usually seen as negative, it’s not innately bad and it sure beats the alternative–chaos. If you’re in charge, take control. Don’t like the word control? Let’s define it: control = the power to influence or direct people’s behavior. I don’t see anything scary in that definition. I know there has been a lot of noise glorifying leadership and disparaging management. It’s a stupid and false dichotomy. Leadership means going first. Management means control. Both are essential. If you are going to successfully manage a project, you must take responsibility; step up to the plate; get in the ring.

How do you do it?

Get clarity on the objective.

What are you trying to accomplish? You have to manage to something. That something should be the goal and budget. This is not what you dream it is or hopes it is, the target is given to you by the person who delegated the task. But this is not blind obedience. There is a best alternative hidden in your goal and budget that your expertise will turn into reality.

Assign who does what by when.

Your role is to make sure expectations are clear and deadlines are met. You provide accountability by following up. That’s not micro-management, that’s management. To do this well, you must live in the details. You aren’t leading until it’s clear: who does what by when.

Ask questions.

Great leaders understand that there are many areas where their co-workers have more skill. Good questions help you uncover and understand what’s really going on. If you don’t know what’s really going on, you’re not in control. See how that works?

Make decisions.

There is always compromise lurking between your goal and budget. Consider the wisdom of your team and make the best choice. Don‘t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Keep the project moving forward.

Individual Contributions

Your goal as a team member should be to accomplish your delegated area efficiently. You have been given a seat at the table. You have a voice and opportunity. Use it.

How do you do it?

Keep your promises

You must be honest about your capabilities and limits. If you say you can do something, make sure you can. If you do not have the resources (including time or talent) to meet the project requirements, a good manager will assist you in crafting a solution.

Raise the red flag early

The quicker a problem surfaces, the faster it can be fixed. This doesn’t mean trying to solve it first before communicating. This means letting your supervisor know first, including any solutions you can try. Suck it up, expose the issue, take your lumps if necessary, but bring the issue to light. Remember, mistakes don’t destroy trust, but the lack of honesty about mistakes does.

Seamless Communication

Complete communication is the life blood of well-run projects. When you reach a decision, or make a change, pass that information on. There is no virtue in holding information on a need-to-know basis. Eliminate that diminishing notion from your life.

How do you do it?

Make communication your first step.

After defining the goal, start communicating. Pay special attention to people who are outside your normal sphere of influence (like sub-contractors, or your accounting department, etc.). A summary update email, that goes to all of your co-workers involved in the project, is a great way to do it (first monthly, then weekly, and then daily as necessary). No one likes meetings, but if your meeting requests include an agenda, you start on time and stay on purpose; you can ease the pain.

Avoid assumption.

Full communication eliminates the vacuum where assumptions develop. If you don’t know something, ask. Make yourself available. My rule is that if I have a contractor in the building, I am there when they arrive and stay accessible until they leave. Period. (Keep in mind, the person who is there gets to make the decision. If you’re responsible, make sure it’s you.)

Debrief.

This is sometimes called a hot-wash or after-actions meeting. Whatever you call it, the point is this: a learning organization has honest conversation about what went well and what didn’t. Stop repeating the same mistakes or being caught by the same assumptions. Debrief to expose areas of oversight. The communication is over not when the project is finished but when there is an opportunity to learn and improve. Define some next steps that will put your learning into practice.

Conclusion

I improve with every project I do (which means, of course, that I miss things in each go around). When projects falter, trust is weakened; we lose faith in our teammates or they lose confidence in us. By focusing on these baseline essentials, we will have done everything we could to insure the success of our responsibilities.

Good project management is like making a recipe. If you put in the right ingredients – in the right proportion – you will achieve tasty results.

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