Have you ever walked a tightrope?
Or at least watched someone walk one? Even you must admit your palms got a bit sweaty from just watching them do the balancing act.
Project planning is like that. It’s a skill that requires a subtle balance between multiple constraints and desired outcomes.
How do you tackle a project with poise so you don’t drop off in the middle of the show, just when the tempo starts to pick up?
PLAN YOUR PROJECT LIKE A HIKER
So, the other day, I went hiking with my dog, Sherman. I thought we’d take a walk in the woods and get a breath of fresh air.
As we hiked, I had a sudden moment of clarity. It occurred to me that hiking was a lot like project planning. The similarities were all too amazing and I figured if we could see things through the eyes of a hiker, then maybe planning your next project wouldn’t be so daunting.
13 WAYS TO SUCCEED WITH PROJECT PLANNING
- GET A MAP
A map is like a snapshot of your journey and how you intend to navigate. It mentally prepares you for the walk ahead and offers a point of reference, should you feel lost along the way. Likewise, a project plan prepares you for the work ahead and helps you evaluate and make decisions about your project. Your plan will also help you recentre from time to time, because managing your project can get a bit tense. As a visionary, you’ll naturally be drawn to the big picture. Your project plan is that big picture. Use it.
2. ESTABLISH YOUR ENDPOINT
Your endpoint is so important that it’s probably the one thing that’s going to be flashing through your mind as you move along the tracks. You’ll picture yourself many times coming out at the other end. In project planning too, you’ll need to establish upfront your end goal, that is, the desired outcome of your project. This could be anything from having your functional website up and running to executing a successful launch. Nailing down your end goal will set you up for the very next step of the process.
3. DEFINE YOUR STARTING POINT
A clear definition of your starting point will give you an idea of how much distance you need to cover to get to your endpoint. When planning a project, ask yourself, “where am I right now?” or “what resources do I have available to commence this job?” Questions like these will tell you how much work needs to be done to get you to your desired outcome.
4. MARK OUT YOUR BLAZES WITH MILESTONES
A hiker always looks out for the blazes, or the painted markers on the trees that indicate they’re going in the right direction. Imagine how lost a hiker would feel if those little pointers weren’t there! When you plan your project, you absolutely must set milestones. These are indicators that show you’re on course towards your goal.
5. GIVE IT A DATE
Who goes on a hike without estimating how long it should take? No one, unless you’re up for an endless wander-fest. So, start by marking out a date for the final outcome. Then, follow up by setting a date for each milestone. Establish project timelines early on and make sure everyone on your team is in the loop.
6. KNOW YOUR TURNS
Every right step and every right turn you take in your hike gets you to the next blaze. In a similar way, every action you take on your project gets you to the next milestone. Make an outline of all the individual tasks that will get you to each milestone. These are the little “in-the-weeds” tasks that must be done at a base level.
7. MEASURE YOUR PROGRESS
After Sherman and I had been hiking for a while, I couldn’t help wondering how far we’d gone. “Should we turn around or should we keep going?” But then, I looked at my map and realized, “hey, we’re over halfway there!” So, we just kept trucking. As you work on your project, you might start to get a little beat-down or lose steam. Go back to your plan and see how far you’ve come. You’ll find your motivation to finish the project. Never fail to track your progress.
8. PLAN FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Experienced hikers will tell you to always plan for the unexpected. You probably know this already. So, plan for things that might go wrong. And that’s not to say they will; it’s to save you from panic if they do. From sickness of a team member to outright ghosting or going AWOL by a subcontractor, anything can happen. While you must expect the best, plan for when the best doesn’t happen.
9. AVOID COMPARISONITIS
Along the trail, we saw lots of people. Some were running, some were on bikes and obviously faster than we were. But we were on our track and going as fast as we could. In business, you might see other people going a lot faster than you. Don’t be swayed by what others seem to be accomplishing. At the end of the day, it’s your journey –your track – and you have to do it at the pace that you can.
10. CELEBRATE MILESTONES
It can be hard when you’re in the middle of a long project to keep up enthusiasm. You might even start to feel like it will never end. How do you avoid losing steam? As a hiker, there are signs along the trails that tell you peaks reached or how many miles travelled. And when you see these, you do some sort of happy dance, even if it’s just mentally. So, be sure to celebrate project milestones. That’s right. Give yourself a pat on the back or a treat somewhat to say, “I did it!” That’s what milestones are for – to remind you that you’re moving.
11. MAINTAIN A RECORD
When you go through a project planning, record it. Just as keeping your map will let you hike a trail again, keeping a record of how you execute your plan lets you know what the path looks like, if you have to come back and do it again. You’ll especially find this useful, if you have a team or hire someone to do the job in the future. It can even be the foundation of your business SOP. Recording as you go will help you duplicate the process or delegate it later.
12. DON’T LOSE TRACK OF THE BIG PICTURE
Remember the reason why you started the project in the first place – remember the endgame? Yeah that. Don’t lose sight of it. Keep your eyes on the prize and visualize yourself coming out at the other end, prize in hand. Think of a hiker and how he feels when he reaches the summit. He stands there, soaking in the gorgeous view, and at that moment, everything else pales into insignificance. There are few things more thrilling than that.
13. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
Despite your best efforts, you might still find yourself in a quandary over certain aspects of your project. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Decide which part of your project you need assistance with and outsource this. If you’re not sure what aspects to outsource, download this free checklist on hiring a contractor. In it, you will discover my pain-free process to hiring a contractor and setting up yourself for success.
ALWAYS KEEP TRUCKING
If you are struggling to stay motivated in the middle of a project, don’t lose faith. Think of it as a hike.
Start with your big picture and work backwards. Define milestones. Give them dates. Do regular check-ins to measure your progress and celebrate every win. Check back every once in a while, at the big picture. And remember –
ALWAYS, always keep trucking.