How to break a project down into smaller steps

How to break a project down into smaller steps

So, you’ve been named “Project Manager” for your company’s upcoming charity event. If you’re like most, you’re probably asking yourself, “Where do I start?”

Taking an event from “idea” to “Of course, I’d be happy to accept this check on behalf of our organization,” can seem daunting to even the most seasoned office professional.

To succeed, you will need to break the project into smaller, more easily executable tasks. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll be the toast-of-the-ball and setting fundraising-records in no time!

  1. Define clear project goals

    There is a saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Defining the goals before you start a project may seem obvious, but you would be shocked at the amount of corporate initiatives that are undertaken with no clear direction and no agreement on the expected outcome.

    To help set challenging and realistic targets, ask yourself:

    • Why are we doing this?
    • What do we hope to achieve?
    • What business results will be impacted?

    Be specific! Good project goals should be quantifiable.

    • “The upcoming, company-sponsored, golf event should raise $20,000 for local charities.”
    • “As a result of this project, traffic to our website will increase by 8% over the next 6 months.”

    Measurable goals clearly indicate the project’s impact. They also help make mistakes more visible so that they can be absorbed and avoided in the future.

    Once you have defined the project goals, review them with the “Project Champion” (usually this is your boss or whoever assigned the project) to ensure they are aligned with the overall company strategy.

  2. Identify the project’s support groups

    Now that you have a clear direction and agreement on the project’s result, start thinking about what groups you will need to support the project. Will you need someone from human resources and accounting? How about technical support? An engineer, maybe?

    For every support group you identify, select a colored Post-it note to represent them. Depending upon the project, you may end up with a cornucopia of colored Post-it notes.

  3. Brainstorm: Start developing your action item list

    Once the required support groups have been identified, start brainstorming the specific activities you will need them to complete. Activities should be tasks, not mini-projects unto themselves. If you identify an activity that will require a team to complete, try breaking it down into smaller steps.

    Write each activity down on a Post-it note corresponding to the color of the group that will need to complete it. In addition to creating a list of action items, using colored Post-it notes helps to visualize each group’s workload and may indicate which group requires multiple project team members.

    Place each Post-it on a white board, bulletin board, or even the wall of a conference room – anywhere that provides enough space for you to rearrange or insert additional Post-it notes as needed.

    The key thing to remember here: do not rush the brainstorming process! The longer you think about it, the more activities will come to you. If you need more Post-it notes to list all of the activities, that’s good.

    There is nothing more painful than to get half-way through a project only to realize that you left out an important step and must backtrack. These oversights are a common cause for late or over-budget projects. Consider asking others for help. Different perspectives during this phase helps to ensure your project is successful.

  4. Write the expected start and completion dates

    Once you are satisfied that all the action items have been listed, write the expected start and completion dates for each task on the corresponding Post-it note. Rearrange them in chronological order to help visualize your project’s timeline.

  5. Assign an owner to each action item

    Next, assign an owner for each action item by writing their name on the corresponding Post-it note. Don’t worry about assigning the correct owner. You will review these with the project team and can reassign action items as necessary. As we’ve mentioned, it is more important that the owner is a person, not a group of people.

  6. Note project milestones in calendar

    You now have an action item list: complete with due-dates and owners. Be sure to note major project milestones into your daily planner or Outlook calendar for follow up.

  7. Transfer action item list to Excel or Microsoft Project

    At this point, you should transfer the action item list to Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Project. These programs, while not very helpful during the brainstorming process, are very good at providing a clear format for reviewing the action items during regularly scheduled project update meetings.

  8. Review the project plan

    Finally, review your project plan with the “Project Champion.” Ensure they agree with your vision for the project. Based upon their feedback, make adjustments such as adding or tweaking action items as necessary.

Look at that!

You have established the foundation on which all successful projects are built – a thorough project plan. Congratulations!

Now, stop patting yourself on the back and get to work!


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