Navigating the Chaos of Project Management

By: Nick Tran, PMP

When it comes to managing projects, chaos comes in all shapes and sizes. You have probably experienced the scenario of creating a to-do list for the day, only to have it go up in flames (figuratively, of course) by mid-morning. Even though you carefully planned out your day to ensure adequate time to complete project deliverables, you are suddenly pulled into meetings or asked to review or update a document that was not on your radar. When additional tasks are thrown your way, you must reprioritize to make room for them while still ensuring your original intended deliverables remain on track. Below are a few simple tips and strategies to help you navigate the chaotic world of project management.

Prioritize and Get Organized

Rarely in our line of work do you face a conundrum of having too many resources and too little work. In fact, most often, it’s quite the opposite. As the leader of your project or a key project member, at some point, your team will depend on you for answers to move the project forward. This situation can put additional pressure on you to get things done, especially when tasks are added to your plate. It would be easy in this instance to drop the ball, lose track of a deliverable, or forget to follow up with a client. Taking on too many responsibilities with overlapping timelines and competing priorities is problematic because you run a much higher risk of overload, burnout, or getting nothing significant accomplished by the end of the day.

To avoid being engulfed by the chaos, lighten your workload and ease your stress levels by using a prioritization method to identify which tasks require urgent attention versus those that can be accomplished in a more controlled timeframe. When developing your plan, assign anticipated task completion dates to quickly identify and track the order tasks should be completed. Tasks on the critical path with dependencies are high priority, directly impacting the overall project timeline. As you complete items, take them off your list and move things that can wait to the list for tomorrow or another time. With this method, you can structure your day around your priorities and better manage your time. As project managers, our goal is to foresee what’s coming and be two steps ahead. We are the plan creators, and our job is to anticipate risks and have a plan in our back pocket should we need it. There will always be a curveball thrown our way that requires immediate attention, so having a method in place to prioritize work will serve you well.

Technology to Do More

With a quick Google search for “Project Management Tools,” there is an array of available software to choose from to help streamline your project work. Keeping yourself informed with the latest and greatest project management software will enable you to be more productive and collaborative with your teams. With the countless options available on the internet, find solutions most fitting to your team’s process flows and work styles. Closely observing how your team tends to work can give valuable insights into achieving better, more harmonious outcomes for the project.

Ask your team and yourself questions to identify the most appropriate software solution. Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer to-do lists? Are there software applications that can manage your to-do lists digitally? What is your preferred form of communication (email, online chat, videoconference, etc.)?

Online project management platforms such as Trello or Asana are excellent for project team collaboration and work management. Software like Slack, Google Chat, and Microsoft Teams are wonderful to send a quick message to a team member when the schedule is full for an extra meeting. Collaborative tools like Smartsheet and Google Docs connect the project team to one working platform to manage activities and deliverables.  The available technologies can go a long way to save time and reduce chaos.

Leverage your Team!

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Learning to delegate effectively is an essential leadership skill. A common misconception is that the best way to get a job done correctly is to do it yourself. An old proverb comes to mind when I hear people think this way. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Spreading out team responsibilities and assigning tasks that play to your individual team member’s strengths will save tremendous time and ultimately provide a better product. Yes, this will require a little more planning on your part, but it will be mutually beneficial for you and your team in the long run.

A project team meeting effectively disseminates information, communicates with the project team and stakeholders, and aligns resources and tasks. Establish a regular meeting cadence, whether daily or weekly, depending on the project complexity.

Leverage your team’s strengths and skills to achieve the desired results. Research shows when someone has a higher chance of excelling, they are more motivated and engaged, which benefits the entire project. Delegating work to others should come with proper context. It should include what needs to be completed, due dates, work details up until the hand-off, and a channel to communicate uncertainties or questions.

Avoiding the chaotic project management world can be difficult. Understanding the cause of the chaos and applying these three simple tips and strategies can mitigate the impact on your work. Even if it feels like you have a million things on your plate, the idea is to set your schedule to allow time to focus on the priority at hand because chaos is only chaos if you let it be. Remind yourself to research and leverage the resources available, so you are a more functional YOU.