Project Management is a team sport, just like Thanksgiving is. Connect with others who do projects and shore each other up. Notice and share your lack of confidence and fear, and then agree to re-frame the craziness into the experimentation of innovation, doing amazing things that have never been done before. You and your peers are the ones who will forge a new solution, and bumps and bruises are required to get it right. Be thankful you have the ability to drive value in your organization.
Okay, I have never had Fried Clams for Thanksgiving, but being from Massachusetts I always wish I could have Fried Clams. They really don't ship well. There's a special gift much appreciated in Project Management. All stakeholders (people) get a brief, high level email every Monday AM from you - the project manager - which clearly states what each need to do that week (if anything) and how everything is going. Impressive, right? Status Reports are the best path to you looking like a Rock Star even when you don't feel like one. Use a simple list of tasks and/or milestones with Task Name, Owner (person) and Due Date, check them off when they are done and send the updated spreadsheet (as a PDF) every week on the same day to all your stakeholders. They will be thankful for YOU!
Stop trying to figure out every little task on your project and how much time it will take to complete. It is impossible to answer that question in today's chaotic workplace. Here's an example - you estimate five hours for IT to create new login IDs for your e-learning program. Is that five hours on the clock or five hours of effort which will take two weeks? See how confusing it is? Instead, work backwards from the due date and use milestones to put tasks together into neat little bowls of goodness just like the bowl of corn.
There are two secret tools that are amazingly effective but rarely used- like cream of mushroom soup and fried onion strings are to green beans. If you do these two things, you will out-rock most other project managers. First, figure out a Communication Plan which includes regular and predictable Status Reports (use a boiled down version of your schedule to double-dip - I use Excel here). Tell everyone over and over again what the context of this project is and of course, how cool it is. See Bite 2 for tagline guidelines.Don't stop sharing until the project is done. Next, figure out the Decider. Figure out who is the one person who can say your project is done. Then figure out people who have the clout to change your schedule, budget and scope. Take them to lunch - a lot. These two steps ignored are the primary reason projects fail to end.
As a hopeless optimist, it is natural to resist thinking about all the bad stuff that’s about to happen on a project. Face the fear and you'll become amazingly resilient. Risks, things that have not happened yet but might are created by your powerful intuitions if you listen. Trust them. Then quickly think how you could avoid if, possible, or react to these smart thoughts created by your observant brain. Constraints are things you can't do anything about, so don't let them bring you down. Instead, figure out how to go around them. Determine what the rank order is for your Project Sponsor of these three things: Time, Budget, Scope/Quality. Make sure your plan reflects these priorities, not the ones that you prefer. It's not about you.
My favorite tool in the Project Charter is the Project Scope Diagram. List all your stakeholders including the Project Sponsor (see Bite 1). Stakeholders are roles that will provide you with or get something (usually both) for/from the project. Put a circle in the middle of a flip-chart sheet. Put the name of the project in the circle. This is where you, as the role of Project Manager sit since you are coordinating the project, just like a traffic coordinator. Put each stakeholder role (for example, HR) on a Post-It and put them around the circle. Draw at least one in and one out arrow from each Stakeholder to the circle, labeling what gets handed off. I bet you a Turkey Leg that you learned a lot about your project by doing that. Share with all stakeholders, and adjust this picture as the project goes on. Bad News Early is Good News.
The Project Charter can be made into a nightmare by over complicating it but we have one that only takes 45 minutes - fill in the blanks. Really- it's available here. Once you build your first Project Charter, you can reuse it for another project. Need a bit more help- here's a webinar recording (1 hr) that shows you how to fill it in.
Do not start with the Project Schedule. It is stupid, stupid, stupid to build a plan before you know who is involved and what they want. How can you build a Plan without knowing why the solution will bring value to your organization? Move away from the over-promising software tools and skip ahead to Bite 4.
Context is the awesome-gravy of all problem solving. Relentlessly look for it. Although you may not always believe it, every leader in an organization makes decisions based on the reality he or she perceives. Figure out what the reality is that is seen. Ask them (do not email them). Then ask everyone who thinks they know. Work out what the real problem is, sell the dream and put a project together to conquer it. Put a tagline together that starts with one of these two phrases: "This project will Increase Revenue by…." or "This project will Drive Cost from the business by…" and recite it to everyone who wants to know what you are doing. Even pet projects have a reality somewhere if you dig deeply enough.
Figure out who your Project Sponsor is and go talk to him or her. It's never you and usually not your boss although she/he thinks they are. Ask who's idea this was and why is it important to the business. If you can't figure out who the Project Sponsor is, stop working on the project. The Sponsor will find you if there is one. If you have multiple Project Sponsors, figure out who is your best ally and strategize to nurture that relationship to cope with the confusion of multiple sponsors (yuck).