5 Tips for Combating Project Plan Chaos

For many type-A people, having a messy project management system is simply unacceptable. It’s as annoying as an overflowing inbox or a pile of unopened mail. Hot-wired into the DNA of type-A people is the raging need to restore or impose order on disorder.

Unfortunately, keeping a shared project management system orderly and updated is a constant chore that requires more attention and effort than sorting through your small mountain of mail or email.

So what can you do to maintain your sanity and the cohesion of your project management system sanity?

Liz Pearce, vice president of sales and marketing at LiquidPlanner, offers some tips. LiquidPlanner is a Seattle, Wash.-based provider of online project management software. Its LiquidPlanner software provides a shared framework for goal-setting and transparently communicating task and project status, while aggregating information and data for managers.

Project Management Tip #1: Appeal for Respect

Sharing a project management system with the team is a bit like sharing an apartment with roommates, she said.

“If your roommates leave their dirty dishes, unopened mail, and wet towels all over the place, they’re not respecting you or your space.”

The same goes for not updating the shared project plan. Everyone can’t be perfect, but they should do their part to keep it livable for the rest of the team.

“A clear understanding of how to use a tool is the first step, combined with some easy-to-follow processes for where to put things,” said Pearce.

As the old saying goes: a place for everything and everything in its place.

Project Management Tip #2: Throw It in the Junk Drawer

“Let’s face it, sometimes there’s a bunch of stuff in a project plan that nobody cares about anymore,” she said. “Someone might care about it someday, but for now it’s just getting in the way and bogging people down.”

In this case, why do today what can be put off to tomorrow?

Pearce’s solution: create a ‘holding bin’ for those miscellaneous items and get them out of the way, but also make them easily accessible if they are needed.

“Technically, there’s still clutter behind the scenes, but it will keep things looking neat and tidy on the surface,” she said.

Project Management Tip #3: Schedule a Cleaning

Small but regular updates to project plans are relatively painless, and they sure beat a panic-driven long-haul session when a report is due.

“Sometimes all it takes to stay on track are regularly scheduled maintenance windows,” she said.

“Try booking a weekly or bi-weekly 15-minute meeting on each person’s calendar for general clean-up,” said Pearce. In some cases, one meeting a month will do it.

Ideally, managers should plan to make themselves available for as long as needed to troubleshoot during those meetings, so any hurdles can be overcome immediately.

Project Management Tip #4: Do It Yourself

“On every team, there are one or two folks that just can’t bring themselves to update their tasks in the project plan or track their time,” she said.

Trying to convince them to participate can be a big waste of time, said Pearce. Getting their approval to update items on their behalf is the best strategy.

One good way to encourage slackers to do proper updating is to ensure they receive regular updates from above, she said. Such updates may spur them to jump in and participate.

“Maybe they’ll even catch the updating bug and make updating a priority,” she added.

Project Management Tip #5: Know When to Let Go

Pearce thinks that the pursuit of perfection can be the enemy of good project management.

“For example, a team with 80 percent participation in a collaborative plan is light-years ahead of a team that flounders about with a rarely-updated, centrally-managed project schedule,” she said.

Finally, she encourages project managers to accept that team members’ attention to the project plan can come in waves, and ‘true-ing’ up the plan is easier when the whole team works towards it.”

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