At this point in the year, you are likely in the process of planning where your company is headed in 2023. Whether you’ve been managing one long project or a handful of shorter ones, now is a great time to identify and apply some lessons learned. Over the past year, you’ve probably noticed that some things have worked really well, and others not so much. Now is a great time to rethink your project planning.
As we approach the downtime during the holiday season, carve out some time to evaluate and potentially reevaluate your project management processes and tools. You’ll almost certainly come into the new year feeling refreshed and brimming with ideas about how to improve your team’s efficiency, quality, and quantity of work. And don’t wait on it. Changes can take time to implement, especially if you have a large team. Refining your process is critical to your continued success. Your competitors are going to be looking for new tools and processes to give them an edge in the new year, and you should be too. Thus, you must make it a priority now so that it doesn’t fall to the wayside as the new year’s projects get underway.
I’m not talking about a top-down revamp of your process, either. There is a time and place for implementing an entirely new project management system, but resist the urge to do so just to “start fresh.” There are plenty of things you can do to incrementally improve your process where it counts to maximize your output. So where do you start? Today, we’ll break down three tips for rethinking your project planning in 2023.
Three ways to rethink your project planning
It can be overwhelming to look at your entire project management strategy and identify areas with the most potential for improvement. I did this once on a marketing team with a variety of different projects and contributors. There can be so many different needs to take into consideration. In the end, it boils down to making sure that everyone has the visibility they need so they can make the best decisions about how and when to get work done.
There are a few common considerations that can point you on the right track. First, zoom out and check on the health of your entire project portfolio. Next, do an informal audit of where uncertainty lives in your project plans. Lastly, make sure you have the flexibility within your process and your organization to flex with the economic waves that are especially pertinent this year. Let’s dive a bit deeper into each part.
1. Check on the health of your entire portfolio
Most organizations are managing multiple projects concurrently and in succession, so it’s important to plan your projects with respect to all the resources, budget, and work involved. Portfolio project management refers to the process of finding the best way to prioritize and interrelated, dependent, and connected projects. If your team doesn’t have a formalized strategy for portfolio project management, it’s worthwhile to establish one. One way you can do this quickly is by using software that helps with managing multiple projects, LiquidPlanner, for example, can automatically account for workload, availability, and priority over an entire project portfolio.
Regardless of your strategy, there are a few guiding questions for this step. How was the overall management of multiple projects this year? Did delays or changes in one project cause another project to fall off track? Were team members able to easily move between projects and still work effectively? Answering these questions will help direct your attention to weak points in your portfolio project management strategy so you can make proper adjustments. Note where you need support, and construct a plan for addressing them in the new year.
Remember that your project portfolio should align very closely with the major priorities of your business, so when looking at your work from this level, ask yourself; are there any projects that can be added or removed? Can one project be expanded or constrained to make room for another? You might notice that some projects can be adjusted to run concurrently, or that swapping the order of two projects might help you meet your organization’s main goals more effectively.
2. Identify where uncertainty is hurting your projects
One of the most powerful things you can do to improve your project planning is better understand and track where uncertainty arises along the way. All too often, projects take too long or require rework due to unforeseen requirements, hidden hurdles, or timeline miscalculations. It can lead to missed deadlines, overworked employees, and mismanaged expectations with clients or stakeholders. The more you can do to account for uncertainty in your project plans, the better. You and your team deserve the best visibility you can possibly have not only to the status of your project, but also potential problems that could set you back.
As you look back at your projects from the previous year, identify where uncertainty caused you headaches. Were there any deadlines missed due to inaccurate work estimations? Consider adopting a new way of estimating that accounts for uncertainty, called ranged estimation. Were any delays caused by mistakenly overloading one employee or resource? Consider reevaluating your communication tools and processes to foster better workload awareness on your team. Did you hit any roadblocks that forced you to partially or fully redo a section of project work? This kind of uncertainty is trickier to control, but you can make sure that you have systems and tools in place that allow you to be as agile as possible to communicate and respond to unexpected challenges. It often helps to invest more time in the planning phase to make sure that the scope of work and work estimates are indeed correct before embarking on the work itself.
While drawing out project timelines might seem commonplace in contemporary project management, there is a noticeable difference in both performance and morale when you are able to seek out and eradicate the uncertainty that’s causing your delays. You will move faster, and your team will feel more accomplished and empowered.
3. Poise your team to flex with economic waves
It’s no longer speculation that we’re currently in the midst of an economic downturn. Interest rates are up, stocks are down, and many of the large corporations have made substantial layoffs. In the new year, you might find yourself trying to figure out how to meet the same performance benchmarks as you did last year with a smaller team or less money. So, how?
Efficiency is often touted as the name of the game when resources are scarce, but what about agility? It’s equally important to make sure that you can quickly reallocate time and resources between tasks and projects so that you can operate with maximum efficiency. Achieving this level of flexibility is challenging at any level, from small teams to large. It depends highly on your tech stack and the protocols you have in place to dictate changes to day-to-day work.
In your review, address both. Start with the question, “when I need to make a change to my project work, how do I notify my team?” Then work your way through analyzing how your message makes its way from your mind all the way to tangible action on your team. Do you send an email, create a list of action items, and break out assignments? Do you have to go into an excel document to update schedules and assemble a series of meetings with your team? Or, do you simply update the data in your project management software so that everyone can see what’s changing in real time? Note the tools involved in your process and look for ways to consolidate. Additionally, make sure that everyone on your team knows what their responsibilities are in keeping records and colleagues up to date.
You can never do enough refining to your project planning process. Each day, you’ll notice friction points that cause unnecessary frustration or delay. You can keep track of these along the way or look back and evaluate periodically, but the point is that you should pay regular attention to opportunities for project planning improvement. It doesn’t have to be all criticism, either. You may review your work from the year and notice that you’ve done 5 things wrong and 10 things right. Don’t let your mistakes overshadow your successes. And vice versa, don’t let your successes lure you into a sense of security. As the market changes and technology advances, the most optimal route to project success will also change. In order to have an edge on your competition, you need to understand as much as you can about your projects so you can provide the best solutions for your team, clients, and stakeholders.
This year, remind yourself that “nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” If you have the right attitude and processes in place, making changes and improvements to your project planning will become a routine endeavor that your team approaches with curiosity and enthusiasm instead of fear.