Whether you're a project management professional or a hard worker wondering why your company's group efforts always seem to flop, you've probably dipped your toes into project management – even if you haven't realized it.
Ever planned a family vacation or reunion? Sat in on a PTA meeting? Renovated your home? Moved?
Any time you wrangle together adults with varying work styles and experiences in order to accomplish a common goal – big or small, immediate or long-term – you're managing a project.
Of course, the stakes of such projects vary, and when we're at work, success or failure can mean our livelihoods. More often than not, though, the worst case scenario is just sleepless nights and early gray hairs. Project management aims to avoid just that, helping everyone do their job better and sleep at night.
So what is project management? A little recap if you're just joining us: Project management is all the processes, strategies, information, and skills applied to achieve a set of goals. Under the management of an experienced professional, ideally with the help of software, team members can more effectively prioritize work, achieve specific goals, and monitor success.
Project management, as a concept, is far-reaching and dynamic, and is broken it down more broadly in the article referenced above. For the purposes of this blog, we'd like to zoom in on two of the most important steps of the planning stage: determining project scope and establishing workflow.
Project scope and workflow
Your project's scope defines what your project is – and what it's not – by establishing its boundaries. Once you've outlined the scope, setting up workflow helps you get the project done in an efficient, organized manner. In other words, defining your scope and establishing workflow are how you establish the who, what, where, when, and why of your project.
The more clearly you define your scope and workflow system, the easier it will be for project managers to communicate goals, delegate tasks, monitor progress, and resolve confusion or roadblocks. Not only that, but it also makes it easier for team members to actually do their jobs well.
Defining your project scope
Let's say your company wants to produce a new training video for employees. A simple enough goal, but, under the surface, a whole host of details need to be hammered out.
Will the video train new hires on safety, basic company policy, or a specific skill set; or will it update current employees on new policies? What information will be covered, and how much video will be sufficient to cover it? Will it need to be a series of videos? Will production happen in-house or be contracted out to a production company?
Then there's budget, timeline, etc. You get the picture.
When you have clear, detailed answers to each of the above questions, you have a good idea of your project's scope.
What is project scope?
Put simply, your project's scope describes what's getting done and how it's going to get done. Of course, in describing what your project's all about, you're also establishing what it's not. You set up boundaries, then work from there to establish goals, set budgets and timelines, and anticipate roadblocks or limitations.
It's not enough to have a big, productive meeting, scribbling the answers to these questions on a giant whiteboard (though we're all for that approach).
Project management best practices dictate you document all those notes in a detailed but succinct project scope statement.
Why write a project scope statement?
Documenting your project scope in a dedicated statement not only keeps managers and team members accountable, but it covers you in the event that things go awry.
It's sort of like a contract between stakeholders, project managers, and team members, making sure all parties are informed of the expectations, limitations, and definitions of the success of a project. At the end of the day, it's also a great benchmarking reference.
What should a project scope statement include?
Off the bat, consider how specific your project is. Another way to think about this is whether your team can approach the project flexibly or if success means adopting a more rigid, highly-managed process.
Once you've determined how deep your project scope statement needs to go, be sure to address the following in writing:
Why undertake this project? Why now?
What does the project cover? Describe your goals.
Conditions of acceptance: Set the standard of work that will be accepted by stakeholders.
Deliverables: Determine the concrete or material goals to be generated by the project. Perhaps a training video for new hires, a test prep manual, three blogs, a certain ROI, a certain increase in site traffic, etc.
Name exclusions: What aren't you trying to accomplish? In other words, what isn't your team responsible for?
What are the possible limitations of your project?
What are the assumptions your team and stakeholders are working from?
What technology will you need to accomplish your goals?
Establishing a workflow
As we mentioned above, your project scope answers the “What?” and some of the “How?” of your project's execution. When you start asking “How,” you're probably ready to start establishing workflow – which will lead to “Who?” and “When?”
What is workflow?
Let's return to the corporate training video from above. Teams and departments are made up of people, not robots, and will need an established system to help guide the project from one place or person to another.
If you've contracted with one company for production and another company for post-production, for example, you'll need clear deadlines and processes in place for when the footage passes from the one to the other. You'll also need to communicate those deadlines and processes well and have systems in place for monitoring progress.
Your workflow is the sequence of steps or events that move completed tasks and responsibility from one arm of the project to another. Think of it as the process by which a project flows from one stage to the next, establishing accountability for each stage's completion.
Why is workflow important?
Workflow will happen whether you realize it or not – but it won't go smoothly without some effort upfront. A conscious, standardized workflow can do wonders for efficiency (and your budget).
Workflow helps with delegation, communication, progress monitoring, and stakeholder transparency, all while reducing stress and confusion for team members and ensuring deadlines are met and deliverables achieved. Put simply, establishing workflow helps each team member do their job better.
How can project managers establish workflow?
As we mentioned before, you should establish workflow as part of your planning stage. Once you've defined the project's scope, it's time to start deciding what steps to take and how to take them; who's going to take each step, and who's going to make sure team members follow through; how the project moves from one department or team member to another; and when each step should be complete.
Once you've figured out what you're producing (that will come from scope), establishing workflow handles the who and when of your project.
Keep this in mind when setting up your system. Then, using your scope statement for reference, answer the following questions:
How detailed will your workflow be? Will general guidelines suffice or should you document every single step?
What are the steps necessary to achieve your goals, and what's their order of priority? Be detailed here.
Once completed, where does each stage point next? What happens if something can't be green-lighted to the next step? Where does it go, for how long, and under what condition does something get green-lighted? Create directional arrows – think flowcharts.
What are the variables and contingencies?
What's your timeframe? Set deadlines.
Project management is a wily beast, and it takes practice to feel solid in your strategies. Not only that, but no two projects are alike, and there's no end to the surprises in store for even the most seasoned project manager.
Still, sticking to the basic principles – starting with the two important steps outlined above – gives you solid scaffolding for when projects get hectic. Because let's be real – they often do. Luckily, you'll have an A+ project scope statement and workflow plan to fall back on when you need to get things back on track.
Jason Martinez is a Cal Poly Pomona Alum, writer, and digital marketer currently working for Redefine Marketing Group. His work covers a wide variety of topics including B2B software, marketing, & SEO.