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How To Plan A Project When You Have No Idea Where To Start
I remember the first planning meeting we had after I became Project Manager of Timeneye.
There was a lot of awkward silence, me shuffling through papers, and changing the monthly plan back and forth.
As a first-time project manager, planning can be challenging without past experience to rely on. Estimating deadlines, workload, and due dates become a guessing game that requires constant adjustments.
No reason to panic, though. Here are a few guidelines on how to plan effectively when you have no planning experience.
How to plan a project when you don’t know when to start
When you’re tasked with managing a project for the first time, planning requires a lot of guessing and adjustments. Without past experiences in your baggage, how can you estimate deadlines and due dates? How can you decide how much workload can any team member take?
Poor planning is, unfortunately, a common first-time project manager mistake.
This is are the best tips to avoid it, based on my experience at Timeneye.
- Be aware of the planning fallacy
- Reach out to someone more experience
- Talk with your team members
- Plan the short and the medium-long term
- Take ideas from any experience you may have
#1 – Be aware of the planning fallacy
How is that even with the best, carefully prepared plan, the execution often takes more time than expected?
Enter the Planning fallacy.
The Planning fallacy is a common cognitive bias and it’s linked to the poor ability of the human brain to estimate time.
Basically, we’re often convinced to have more time than the one we usually have. It makes us overestimate how much time we have to perform a certain task, and underestimate how much time and effort it will take to get it done.
While planning the steps for delivering a certain project, a new project manager should always be aware of the risk of underestimating deadlines.
Once there’s an initial time estimate for a task (we’ll talk in detail about estimating tasks further down the article), it’s always a good idea to extend it. Sometimes, you can go as far as adding twice the time, to make up for the unexpected.
#2 – Reach out to someone with more experience
One important thing that every new project manager should keep in mind is: it’s OK to ask for advice.
May it be advice from your boss, or a co-worker in the same position, or the former project manager who worked on the project before you: ask for tips and best practices on how to draw the perfect project plan.
I know that at the very beginning, people want to affirm their expertise and leadership in the role. Nobody wants to give the impression of being hesitant, or worse, incompetent.
Still, don’t be afraid to reach out to other people and ask their opinion of your planning and priorities.
As the work proceeds and you become more confident and experienced, you’ll be able to do it on your own.
#3 – Ask your teammates in their area of expertise
Not only it’s OK to ask for guidelines. It’s also OK to admit you are not an expert in something.
With highly technical tasks from a field that’s not yours, planning is more difficult because you have no idea how the task is actually done.
So reach out to the real experts: your teammates or colleagues who are competent in that type of task.
Personally, I am a marketer with no developing experience or skills. So when we decide to introduce a new feature, I usually reach out to our developing team and ask them for an estimate of how much it will take to get it done. We break down together all the subtasks we need to take care of to complete it all and estimate those as well.
That estimate is the first and crucial element that helps me plan everybody’s workload.
#4 – Plan the short and the medium-long term
When setting up goals and plans, it’s always important to keep an eye on the big picture.
So when you plan the short-term activities, try also to outline what will be done next. When you have completed a week of planning, do the next as well. You can even try and plan ahead for months.
This way, you’ll be able to put all the tasks into a bigger perspective. It will also be easier to adjust the plan on the go if the priorities change.
Granted: the more forward they go, the more plans become foggy and uncertain.
It still doesn’t hurt to have a forward-thinking mind.
#5 – Take as much as you can from your experience
Unless you’re a rookie starting with your first job, even if you’ve never got your hands-on project management, you must have gained some experience on your resume.
It could come from any other job position you’ve held in the past.
For example, digital marketing has taught me to keep an eye on different channels and many tasks at the same time.
Maybe, you have been managing tiny campaigns or projects on your own. You definitely can translate that experience into your new managing position.
Everything you’ve done this far has built your expertise and leadership – all things that contributed to you being appointed as a project manager in the first place.
Remember: it’s a lot of trial and error
Don’t worry if you’ll have to make a lot of adjustments to your plans along the way.
Take these steps as a starting point for your first project planning experience. Don’t forget to track how the project goes, with both a project management tool and a time tracking tool.
As the work goes on and you become better and better, your project management skills will truly shine.
Be confident in yourself and your team and bring every project to success.
In conclusion, being a first-time project manager can be scary, but with the right approach, you can effectively plan and execute your projects. It is important to be aware of the planning fallacy and allow for extra time in your estimates. Don't hesitate to reach out to more experienced colleagues for advice and guidance.
Plan both the short and medium-long term to keep the big picture in mind. By following these guidelines, you can navigate the challenges of being a first-time project manager and achieve success in your projects.
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