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How to Effectively Plan and Execute a Project

written by: Joe Taylor Jr. • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 7/4/2011

According to successful project management professionals, leaders who can effectively plan and execute a project routinely follow six critical pieces of advice.

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    According to successful project management professionals, leaders who can effectively plan and execute a project routinely follow six critical pieces of advice.

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    1. Let the project and the team determine the tools.

    Too often, team leaders marry themselves to tools or technologies that don’t mesh well with the project objectives. For instance, a project leader that makes daily adjustments to tasks and priorities on her Palm device without communicating those changes can run the risk of confusing and alienating her project team. Other professionals feel hamstrung by project management software that works only on one platform or only inside a company network, alienating potential contributors.

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    2. Making decisions based on the limitations of existing project management tools almost always spells doom for a project.

    Instead, successful project managers leverage their knowledge of their teams by creating the right environment in which to achieve their goals. Leaders, by nature, wield the most influence over selecting tools. However, remaining flexible and supportive by choosing systems that work for everyone on a team can eliminate potential conflict later in the project cycle.

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    3. Communicate early and often.

    Finding the right mode of communication can mean the difference between a strong team and a failed project. For example, some teams work well with the “scrum" approach of meeting every morning for ten minutes to discuss daily obstacles and achievements. Other teams prefer fewer verbal exchanges and more communication through group project management software tools. Either way, team members that engage each other throughout a project are more likely to leverage the talents of their colleagues than professionals who avoid collaboration.

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    4. Leave room for adjustments.

    Novice project managers often marvel at the complexity of their project schedules, at least until team members start missing deadlines. What looked like a carefully orchestrated set of assignments can turn into a total mess without some release valves for time and energy. Effectively planning and executing a project requires adding contingency measures throughout a team’s timeline. That way, an illness or a sudden change in direction can be buffered by emergency resources instead of causing a team to totally fall off track.

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    5. Keep an eye on opportunities and threats.

    Although business leaders love to use sports analogies when effectively planning and executing a project, imagine what would happen if some of the most common business challenges and opportunities turned up during a major league game. For instance, what would your favorite basketball team do if the court was suddenly round, with four baskets. What if a football team faced opponents who were allowed to field two dozen players during the third quarter? What if you could recruit the competitor’s star player during halftime?

    Successful business leaders understand that the rules of the game can change at any moment during a project cycle. Competitors can accelerate launch cycles by announcing new products. Team members might drop out, while new members bring different skills to a group. Selecting a project management software tool that can accommodate major changes can go a long way in helping teams cope with sudden success – or sudden disaster. When leaders can quickly communicate new plays (or entirely new playbooks), they can teach their teams to overlook challenges and to absorb new energy.

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    6. Keep an open mind and a sense of humor.

    Though few business leaders admit to their failures right away, most successful company leaders understand how facing major challenges allowed them to build crucial skills. Stepping back from a stressful situation and allowing team members to do the same can help create the right sense of perspective to overcome challenges. Building time for fun and reflection is crucial to effectively planning and executing a project. Without it, team members can burn out quickly and lose sight of the ideals that attracted them to a project in the first place.