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time management, handling the big projects

Block Letters: Time Management for Lawyers, Part 6: Handling Large Projects

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Well, this is it: the final installment of our time management series. (Read parts one, two, three, four, and five, if you want to catch up.) It’s been real; but, it had to end sometime; and, this is the end of the line. This final post will focus on managing large projects — perhaps I should have read this before I started . . .
The common perception is that big projects equal big headaches; but, really, it’s just a question of management. The issue that most businesspersons have with big projects is that can’t get over the hump of breaking them down, and managing the constituent parts. Oftentimes, big projects get ignored until they’re about to become due. Of course, then, it’s a scramble to get them completed, the work suffers, and everybody start to think that big projects are really just big headaches, all over again. It’s a vicious cycle.
Now, I don’t think I’m saying anything Earth-shattering when I relay the above. I think most people feel that way about big projects. I also think that everyone is at least surface-aware of the solution: break up larger projects into smaller projects; it’s just a matter of how you get there, what steps you take to reach the overarching goal. There are, of course, a lot of bright people who have a lot of enlightening things to say about project management, which is a process that is making further inroads into legal with each passing day; unfortunately, I’m not one of those people — I’m only a svelte three sigma belt holder — I think that’s . . . orange? — so, this isn’t that kind of discussion. What this is is a set of simple tips to guide you through a large project implementation at a very basic level. If you want more depth, holler at us, and we can supply it. This’ll be a good test, then, for us to see where the interest level lies for solo and small firms concerning project management.
Now then, let’s address some approaches to big project management:
Basic Tips. There are some basic requirements for managing big projects. The following six items should be accounted for within any larger undertaking, at specific points in the arrangement:
(1) Acquire/Load Data. If you’re going to be working on a project that requires the use of specific data sets, you’ll first need to be certain that you actually have the data available to you. If part of the project includes the acquisition of data or the inputting of data, establish your process for acquiring and rendering the data ahead of time.
(2) Establish Assignments. If the project is a group project, figure out who’s going to take on which aspects of it, and assign those. That way, everyone involved will know in advance what his or her specific role is going to be, potentially at a granular level.
(3) Define Critical Project Dates. Every stretch of highway includes mile markers; and, any large project should have milestones. Milestones are, essentially, the most important sub-goals, that will move the project forward. Milestones can offer some additional motivation during the general slog of major project work, and can be useful markers for establishing progress meetings. Plus, if you’re breaking up a big project into various small projects (the sum of its parts), milestones are representative of the beginnings and endings of those bite-sized pieces.
(4) Schedule Regular Progress Meetings. As alluded to above, settling the dates and times for these around major milestones seems like an effective method; but, it’s not the only choice you can make. Holding regular progress meetings means, among other things, that initial mistakes can be corrected — before they become big mistakes, resulting in the dismantling of significant progress. The last thing you want is to feel that you have completed a project, and have that satisfaction comes to nothing when a fatal flaw, that could have been discovered early in the process, overturns everything.
(5) Avoid Scope Creep. Another important reason for holding regular progress meetings is to limit scope creep. Every project will necessarily have a limited scope: you’re trying to accomplish a specific thing. Of course, that’s easier said than done; and, unmonitored projects become unfettered projects. Especially when a large number of people are involved in a big project, it is important to guard against individual agendas taking over the project mission. Perhaps a big project spins off other, important projects; the key is to be certain that you’re only completing one project at a time.
(6) Evaluate the Project after Completion. We talk a lot about return on investment (ROI) at this blog, and in various other places. Certainly, you should view your large projects through the prism of ROI, once they’re completed. Get the post mortem going in a seasonable fashion, while peoples’ gripes are still fresh. Was the project managed in the most efficient way? What would you change next time around? This review process will help you to improve your project management skills over time.
Milestone Management. Milestone management is maybe the key component of effectively rendering big projects. So, it’s important to spend some time developing and managing your project milestones. If you’re a bit fuzzy on what the components of your project should look like, take some time to brainstorm those markers, developing your milestones out of a broader, freer-form discussion. While large projects tend to appear as unmanageable, your operating principle should be to continually come back to those smaller tasks that appear to be more manageable — even if, in the aggregate, they become daunting again. Part of this is the creation of a psychological construct, that forces you to save the end result for the end. Once you’ve derived your milestones, you can commence achieving: get to the first milestone, move to the next one, and so forth. (At this point, it may be useful to take a brief digression, in order to discuss the method of publication for milestones, respecting group projects. If you’re working with others, establishing milestones is one thing — publishing them in a coherent and accessible fashion is another. There are a number of ways to manage this, from the lawyer-friendly Outlook task feature to case management system calendars to project management tools, like Asana. Regardless of the specific platform you choose, your job, as a project coordinator, will be to get everyone on the same page.) The key is to move the progression ahead. Finish one aspect of the project in full, and move to completing the next. Rinse. Repeat. Ultimately, as alluded to above, you’ll want to determine how effective your process was, after you’ve completed it; but, if you’re particularly thoroughgoing, there is no reason you can’t conduct an ongoing review process, as you move through the stages of project completion.
Cascade. In a complex world, in which many of us are overworked, pre-built structures and turnkey solutions can be very appealing. If you’re looking for an effectively delineated project management system that you can sort of plug and play, maybe the cascading to-do list is for you. The approach is laid out in detail at this article; but, it’s essentially a conversion of the GTD system for project management. When you have created your list of tasks, your next job is to drop them into time-sensitive buckets: Which tasks should be completed in a given month, in a two-week period? Which specific tasks should be completed each day, to arrive at the end goal, or sub-goal (read: milestone)? Even in the context of this bracketing, you’ll want to be careful not to squeeze yourself too heavily: Don’t schedule more than 2-3 project-related tasks each day. Be sure to leave time during each day to manage unexpected events or issues, as they occur. As with GTD, you’ll look to review your progress each day, preferably in the morning, so that you can define the next segments of your activity.
Theses. Each person has his own preference for managing his project load. But, when it comes to big projects, no matter your specific election, there are three guiding principles you’ll want to adhere to:
-Split up large tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks.
-Define and stick to project milestones.
-Develop a consistent review process.
. . .
Liner Notes
Machine Gun Kelly (Live)’ by James Taylor
James Taylor Live is one of the funniest dudes on the planet. He plays deadpan better than anybody else. (Well, almost anybody else.)
Machine Gun Kelly‘ is one of his most underrated songs. That thumping bass line is killer.
(See what I did there.)
. . . I’m sorry, it’s just ridiculous that his new album is his first #1 record. I’m still bitter(sweet) about that.

CATEGORIES: Law Firm Management | Planning | Productivity | Technology

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