When you want to be organized on a project: write it down

The most basic step I see missed all the time in managing projects is a lack of documentation. I once had an executive tell me that she thought creating project plans was a huge waste of time. She felt some project managers make the project plan the deliverable instead of using the plan to drive the real deliverable.

Sure. Some can create over-the-top documentation. Some people who are professional Project Managers use MS Project, create Gantt charts, document the critical path and spend time estimating effort and duration. I am in no way suggesting that this is not necessary for certain projects. When you are managing numerous workstreams and lots of capital dollars, you need this.

For most of us managing smaller projects or ones that aren’t using significant capital, I honestly think a decent project charter and a high-level task list can suffice. Then, I recommend two other documents: a RACI Chart and a Communications Plan.

Project Charter – Create one page that lists any pertinent background information, project objectives, deliverables, approach, milestones that match your deliverables and resources. If there are risks to the project, I would document those too.
Task list – You decide at what level to capture tasks but they should all support your deliverables with deadlines for each. I find it helpful to list deadlines for deliverable reviews too. Reviews often take more time than any of us ever think they will.
RACI Chart – Document who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed about the project and its deliverables. This is key to avoid any misunderstanding of who should be involved and how deeply. I find ensuring you know who needs to be consulted vs. just informed on a project can save a lot of wasted time and headaches.
Communication Plan – Document who are you going to tell what message, when and using what channel. Most of our projects involve a change of some sort so having a communications plan will help keep people informed.

Taking the time to write these items down, actively manage the task list and share them with the appropriate people will help you stay on track.

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