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What is your first step when given a large project? how do you organize it?

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14 answers

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Hagen’s Answer

Hello Daisy,

I don't have the same experience provided by David and Frank and they both make important points. I have a couple of others to share:

I ran a small electrical construction business in the Bay Area which involved managing multiple projects that would fade in and out of focus during the building process. As it turned out that kind of day to day seasoning taught me a lot I didn't really understand at the time. When I got a job in a corporation I was surprised most people didn't have that experience and didn't even know where to start when managing projects. A few things I learned are:

1. Manage Defensively. Assume and watch carefully for the unexpected - it will happen. Defining risk and your best guess as to what could go wrong is key to project management. For example, a vendor may not deliver components you need on time or there will be complications installing and integrating those components with existing systems. People in other departments on whom you depend, may not understand or care about your project resulting in delays. If it's a longer project (months or years) technology and priorities may change and force a revision of your plans.

2. Foster Prioritization. People always have a mix of priorities and keeping your project high on the list can be difficult. Therefore, establishing and maintaining a relationship with the key stakeholders and the people key to delivering the project is very important. If those people know and like you they will be more likely to buy into your projects success. They will also be more likely to share what is and isn't going well on the project so you know and can take measures to address those breakdowns.

3. Over Communicate. As stated in 2, you must keep yourself informed on the projects progress real time. When things get off the tracks it's critical to share that with your management and the projects stakeholders (those who sponsored and stand to benefit from your work). Letting them know early allows them to step in and help get things back on track. Failure to communicate with them early means they don't learn about the issues until significant damage has already occurred and you're much more likely to get blamed (with some cause) for the breakdown.

Hagen recommends the following next steps:

You can practice project management ANY TIME your tasks involve other people. If you tell your parents you're going to mow the lawn and there is no gas for the lawnmower or you don't know what to do with the clippings, anticipating and communicating those issues will be good practice. Keeping them informed on your timeline and progress is also good practice.
Volunteer to get involved in a project at home, school or at a charity and start to learn to recognize projects and what makes them succeed or fail.
Treat things you need to do as projects. For example, applying for college is a great exercise. You need to determine where you want to and likely CAN go. You need to familiarize yourself with the requirements and timelines. You probably need to get the registration fees from your parents. You need to provide funding for your education (parents, grants, scholarships, loans) so not just figuring out financing but securing it will generally be a challenge (and a great project ;-).
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Marc’s Answer

I am an instructional designer and regularly take on large projects that impact many people.

I would agree with those that recommended making sure that you understand the project deliverable or outcomes.

I am also very intentional about building relationships with my key stakeholders. Relationships foster trust and help ensure that everyone is on the same page together as you move forward.

Gather all of the data that you can, for me, it is learning content. I am trying to curate previously used content, institutional knowledge, compliance data, processes and procedures, anything that will impact the project. I then begin grouping like topics visually, I like mind maps and find them very useful. Next, I create storyboards - not the Hollywood movie storyboards, but a more detailed representation of how the project will go and what resources will be needed at each stage.

Once the stakeholders sign off on the storyboard, we start building and creating learning strategies that directly link to those original outcomes.

I find mind mapping and project mapping very useful in organizing my plan.

Hope this helps.
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Karen’s Answer

There are many great answers to this question and here is one more.

When starting any project, make sure you understand the objective. Write it out and get agreement with the key stakeholders.

Objective: What are you trying to accomplish, how will it be measured and what is the time-frame.
Project Goal:
What is in scope
What is out of scope
Who are the key stakeholders
What are the obstacles (no budget, competing against other projects, etc.)
What is the timeline.

Hope this helps.

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Kimberly’s Answer

Hello There,

That is a great question! Planning ahead is key. Larger projects can be overwhelming but when broken down can seem much easier. The first thing I do when I have a large project is set a finish date, or acknowledge the date set and see how much time you have to complete the project.

Kimberly recommends the following next steps:

Then, I make a list of all the things that need to be completed in order for me to reach my final goal. After, you want to go through and prioritize them from the most important to the least important.
Once that is completed set a time limit or goal for each of those small tasks. Take the time and plan your day so that you can accomplish everything on time. Everything is much harder once you fall behind.
Lastly, double check your completed work to make sure that you do not miss anything. This will allow you the chance to make any chances in order for your project/task to be completed and completed properly.
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Frank’s Answer

I am a forms administrator for a large insurance company and I have deadlines to meet every month. To meet my deadlines I start with a list of all the tasks needed to complete the project. Then I prioritize the list so they are in the order that they need to be completed. I then estimate the time each task will take to complete. Now I have my schedule of time needed for a project. When I receive a project deadline I use the project schedule to add each task deadline to my calendar so that I am meeting my deadlines for each task and I will be on time to complete my project.

Frank recommends the following next steps:

Practice by creating a project list for yourself such as a special event you want to attend or a household chore you want to accomplish.
List the tasks to complete the project and add them to your calendar.Then you'll be on time to your event or complete your project on schedule.
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Carol’s Answer

Hey there-
Basically, you will need to figure out the scope of the project first.
Then make sure you have all the key players that will be involved lined up.
Stay on top of deadlines and keep everyone focused.

Hope that helps!
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Jeff’s Answer

I've worked as an IT project manager for several years and at a few different companies. I think the first step when given a large project is to make sure you understand the end deliverable and the success criteria associated with the project. Throughout the life of the project you might be very effective at managing tasks, communicating status, staying on budget but at the end of the project if the customer isn't happy with what you deliver then a lot of the other good things that you have done could be overlooked.
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Anthony’s Answer

This is a really great question!

So, whenever I'm presented with a large daunting task, it can present itself initially as overwhelming and almost impossible in it's large, looming form.

The point is to make the task several or many tiny tasks and you can ask yourself these things:
- What is my objective at the end of this task?
- How can I break this task into one goal per day/week?
- What can I see happening if I meet the goals I've set per day/week?
- How much time can I dedicate to meeting the small tasks?

The "small stuff" is what makes up the "big stuff" so concentrating on the small stuff over time will not make the big stuff seem so big.

Like I've been told in the past, "Every drop of water shapes the stone."
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Chaz’s Answer

Be sure you understand the scope of the project. Working with the project team break the project down into smaller activities. Work with team to estimate the effort for each activity. Identify milestones that can be used to track progress. The milestone should be something tangible, such as fist porotype completed.
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Van’s Answer

I am not a certified project manager but what I have learned working through different projects within my company is:

1. Understanding the scope of work
2. Identify all stakeholders
3. Understand the deadline
4. Always provide updates/delays.
5. Identify any scope creeps and communicate with stakeholders.

For a successful project completion is being able to communicate with the stakeholders.

Hope this helps. Good Luck!
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Telmo’s Answer

Short and simple

Break that project down into simple tasks/milestones.
Know the key people that will need to work on the tasks.
Exclude everybody else!

Try to have key people commit to a particular timeline for each task.
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Brian’s Answer

Hello Daisy,

The first step to me is to determine who all the stakeholders are. Depending on who the stakeholders are will determine how you execute the project. If the group is all technical than you will take one approach with the project versus a mixed group from different business units (finance, sales, etc.) I've had projects where I didn't have all the stakeholders involved from the very beginning and it made the rest of the project problematic. You'll have folks who want to rush into getting the project going but skipping the stakeholder step can screw you up down the road. To determine who the correct stakeholders are you'll need to spend time with the project initiator and get clear on what the objectives/priorities are of the project. As the project manager you'll need to understand more about the project than anyone else so until you feel that way you're probably not ready to kick the project off.


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David’s Answer

Wow, that's a really broad question. I'm a PMP and as a project management professional, being handed a project is not quite how it works. We'd handle project initiation and planning: budgeting, scheduling, etc. Ok, that might be the wrong answer to be helpful.

Here's what might be a more helpful answer. Take the assignment and make confirm the requirements: the factors that define success. If you are very clear on what has to be done, you have a better chance of doing it well. Map out the timeline for getting it done. Add more time just in case because everything takes longer than we think. Think about what could go wrong and plan how to avoid or respond to these risks.

Work through the assignment. Take time to check in with the person who assigned a project review. If that's not really appropriate, email your assignee on the specifics of your progress. Communication is always a good thing. Think about the lessons you are learning along the way too.

I hope this helps.

David recommends the following next steps:

Plan your work timeline
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Carolyn’s Answer

Hey Daisy!
What a great question.
Projects come in all different types! For me it is important to first understand who my audience is and what is the primary goal of the project. From there I start to identify the "BIG ROCK" items. Those are the key areas I need to focus on to reach the project goal. For example, if I am putting together an event that will have multiple participants and guests I will need to identify the theme, select the platform for the event, solidify who will attend, select a date for the event, create a get the idea. From there I write down the steps associated to each one of those items that will help to complete the task. I normally use a project plan or excel spread sheet to categorize the tasks and create notes highlighting each step as I work through them to keep the project organized. I hope this helps!