What is Project Management? Your Ultimate Guide to Getting Started

Managing a project is no simple task. Generally, most business projects don’t attain goals they were initially set out to achieve. That’s because most companies are still guilty of outlining project plans and objectives that are not backed up with correct practices. Project management is something you can’t learn straight out of college–it’s a competency that can be acquired only through years of experience and practical knowledge. Typical project management courses are offered to students who already have experience managing projects and require prior hands-on experience. In the current global economy, it’s necessary to understand and continually explore project software that can lend itself to bringing resources together. Organizing remote resources efficiently not only makes management easier, it helps to decrease project timelines lower overall project costs.

What is Project Management?

Project management refers to the ritual of planning, organizing, safeguarding, leading, managing and handling resources to achieve particular objectives.

Projects are temporary endeavors that have a marked beginning and end. They are basically undertaken to add value or effect beneficial change. Managing a project can be quite challenging in the real world. Achieving all project goals while honoring pre-determined constraints – such as time, scope, budget and quality – can be difficult. This is why a lot of effort and planning should be put in before actually beginning real project work.

Get a Project Going and Keep it on Track

1. Defining the Project

Some project teams dive right into the work without clearly defining project goals and requirements. The time properly spent on project planning would lead to decreased duration and cost and enhanced quality over the course of the project. A project definition encompasses the planning work and elucidates all attributes of a project.

2. Planning the Work

Once a project has been defined, you must create a work plan, which entails the instructions to produce project deliverables. If you need some inspiration, ideal to use resources available to you and seek out any prior work plans from similar projects that may be available. The work plan should throw sufficient light on assigning resources and work estimation, taking as many uncertainties into consideration. For each uncertainty or risk, you must determine the likely effect on the project. Certain activities cannot be clearly defined right at the onset. You should therefore revisit your work plan time and again to alter certain aspects as you make progress.

3. Start Executing

Once you have planned the project sufficiently, you may start executing it. Remember, almost no project would proceed completely as per estimation and plans. To ensure things are kept on track through project management fundamentals:

  • Review your work plan regularly
  • Check on your progress in terms of budget and schedule frequently
  • Update your work plan with completed activities
  • Share agile project management updates and provide a fair estimation of whether the project would be completed within the original cost, duration and effort.

4. Resolve Issues

When managing a business project, problems are likely to surface. Make sure you confront the issues and do not let them hibernate and metamorphose into a larger one. Even the smallest of problems should be solved diligently if they warrant your attention.

Basic Project Management Software and Tools

Email and communication tools are great ways to interact with team members, but additional tools help to organize people and team tasks. Dedicated project management software can assist in the fundamentals of project management. These tools help to track ideas, plot deadlines, share documents, and overall deliver more. Some of the more popular tools are free and can greatly increase a team’s overall efficientcy

Wrike

Wrike ScreenshotWrike is one the easiest to use project management tools for large groups repeating the same task or project frequently. It is a web-based program that can automate and organize your tasks and projects, enhance your firm’s productivity and increase efficiency. It lets you share data with your team quickly and collaborate on both tasks and project levels. Wrike’s email collaboration feature helps centralize management. The tool can be used for free or pay to upgrade based on your requirements. If your team has no more than five members, Wrike’s free plan should effectively meet your requirements.

Wrike.com

Asana

Asana ScreenshotAsana is another management tool where teams are provided workspaces made of individual projects. These projects are broken down into tasks that could be presented with comments, tags and notes. Basically, Asana breaks down the work into granular components in an easy to use Kanban board. The program works easily on both web browsers and mobile devices. The tool’s flexibility, short learning curve and simplicity makes it ideal for small businesses and freelancers.

Asana.com

Zoho Projects

Zoho ProjectsZoho Projects is a great choice if you’re already into Google apps for business (such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Calendar) and require bug-tracking and timesheets built-in. It’s powerful and efficient and easily covers task lists, file sharing, project schedules, reporting and communication, etc. On-platform communication is quite potent with the option to chat with all team members at a time, individually or create subgroups.

Zoho.com/projects

Synergist

SynergistSynergist gets the job done by providing you tremendous visibility and control of tasks, resourcing, financials and schedules, in addition to all project communications and files. It’s a full-fledged project costing and management tool for big teams. Initially developed to serve digital and creative agencies, Synergist is now also used by several project-based companies.

Synergist.co.uk

Slack

Slack ScreenshotSlack is a group communication tool that is perfect for siloed businesses. With some organization, it can be used by larger teams to assist in meeting deliverables and moving tasks quickly. Slack integrates seamlessly with third-party applications that makes it easy to transport information from different platforms to Slack. The third-party apps include Twitter, MailChimp, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. With Trello or Asana integration, you can create to-do lists that can be shared among team members.

Slack.com


Successfully Managing Your Remote Teams

How can I use any of this to my benefit? As a manager handling and coordinating remote projects, it’s essential to consider work hour differences, time zone differences, and likely language barriers make using tools frequently with open lines of communication a highly important component. Regular check-ins, status updates, conference calls, etc. make up the drill. It’s important that remote workers are kept busy so that they don’t lose momentum and don’t look for work elsewhere.

Ensure Accessibility to Necessary Technology and Tools

There are several tools that help manage projects remotely such as Asana, JIRA Agile, OpenProject, Basecamp, etc. Basecamp is essentially a chat room space. The chat room daily connects people living in different time zones so that they could catch up on interactions that took place when they weren’t around. OpenProject features project-tracking, wikis, cost reporting and code management, and provides a robust, open-source option for project management.

Having the essential software tools and technology to all project team members makes sure the project stays on budget and schedule. It is easy for a project to derail if the team members are unable to access the information they require on time. Organizations and projects could also be impacted negatively by security violations that could put the company’s or a client’s sensitive data at risk.

Maintain Contact with Your Virtual Employees

Managing remote employees is not just about inundating them with work whenever possible. It’s also equally important to keep them in the loop about company affairs, recent performance, fresh hires, etc. You may accomplish this by sending remote workers recurring emails like a newsletter. Sending photos of a redone conference room, office setups, project teams, etc. can make things a bit more engaging. Video-calling can help reinstate remote employees’ faith in your company or project.

Have all necessary contact information about your remote workers handy. The contact details should comprise more than a phone number and work email address. You should have their emergency and backup phone numbers, personal or backup email addresses. It’s also important to stay updated on things happening in the remote employee’s region. For instance, if there’s a rough weather alert and power lines are expected go down in the area, you then know why the particular employee is being unresponsive.

Seek Remote Employees with an Entrepreneurial Outlook

Try to create virtual project teams whose members are not just technically proficient but also have an entrepreneurial approach and outlook to their work. Such people are naturally inclined to be passionate about things they do, are resourceful, results-oriented, independent, dedicated, highly adaptable and innovative.

The tools and resources are only meant to assist you in your project endeavors. Remember, they are not supposed to replace effort and time that you have to invest to start and lead a successful project. If you are clear about your role as a project manager, you are almost certain to derive tremendous value from these software programs.

 

Man-Thumbs-Up-River-Male-Speed-Boat-Cartoon-Boy-1298924Bill Timpe, PMP is a digital project management and resource management specialist. With over 10 years of project management experience, a background in development, and history, Bill brings a unique understanding of project lifecycles. Working for both large corporations and small companies, he has developed top of the class resource process strategies.

Three of the Best Books to Transform Your Digital Marketing Company

Over the last few years, our team has been looking for ways to transform our company, push our creative abilities, and ensure that we are constantly evolving to provide better results for our higher education clients. So, our leadership team asked a tough question: How do we ensure that we’re not getting stagnant? Well, the solution was pretty simple. We needed to learn from other professionals, inside and outside of digital marketing. We’re not in the higher education space simply because we believe there is an opportunity in the industry to provide better marketing efforts; we’re in higher education because we believe in the power of higher education. Therefore, we personally challenge ourselves and all of our employees to never stop learning, and I have read a few books that I think are important to help transform any digital marketing company.

1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

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Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, asks a simple question in his new book, Deep Work: How can an invidual focus on the tasks that matter most? This is a question I have been pondering for a while. In the digital world, there are so many distractions, and our clients’ goals are big (rank #1 for computer science online), and they take sustained effort and creativity.

But when you break down the types of work that digital marketers have, it comes down to deep and shallow tasks. Shallow work consists of all the emails, the admin, the busy work that is necessary but doesn’t require a lot of brain power, and Deep Work consists of the big tasks that can move a company forward. For example, filing a report for your client on how many links you built in Q3 is a necessary task, but it’s somewhat superficial work. However, creating a strategy overview that will help that same client rank number one for a relevant student-generating keyword can directly impact a company’s bottom line.

Cal Naughton examines how to build a working life where there is more focus on the deep work. Some of the biggest takeaways from his book are as follows:

  • Social media is a distraction: Yes, I know this sounds like blasphemy. Even though digital marketers need to have a social presence and maintain the knowledge of trends, the constant chirps of tweets and notifications from Facebook and other platforms will distract you from deep, focused work. Turn off your notifications—or completely remove yourself from social media when you’re under a deadline or working on a big project.
  • Slack and other workplace communication platforms can be great, but they can also kill your productivity. If you’re on Slack, then you are probably aware of how many times you’re interrupted by a notification or a message. This constant form of communication helps teams stay connected, but it also distracts individuals. Turn off the Slack function or hit the snooze button and allow your mind to stay immersed in the bigger projects.
  • It’s important to think about focus as a muscle. It’s something you can train. The more you focus on deep work, the more your mind develops. You’re literally developing your neural circuitry. If you can focus on a task, you’re not just being more productive, you’re working on the very structure of your mind to perform at a higher level. Time productivity sessions and follow the Pomodoro technique.
  • While there is a lot of focus on being productive and efficient in the workplace, it’s important to take the same lessons for deep work in the office and apply them to your personal life. For example, Cal Naughton mentions that your mind isn’t like your bicep, which tires after exercise. Your mind never stops, but what it needs is different forms of activity. So, while you might have an important deadline to meet with your client, it’s important to take the time away from your work and focus deeply on relaxing or another activity. Give your mind a break and schedule “free” time for your mind to wander.

2. The Undoing Project: A FRIENDSHIP THAT CHANGED OUR MINDS.

9780393254594_198Michael Lewis is, of course, famous for many books, including Money Ball, but what Lewis didn’t know when he wrote Money Ball was that he was going to miss something critical to the history and logic of his most famous book. In the beginning of the book, readers learn that Lewis owed many of the lessons in Money Ball to two Nobel Prize winners and Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Basically, the book is about how Kahneman and Tversky created a Nobel Prize-winning theory and how that theory altered our perception of reality. It sounds complicated but there is a key lesson that digital marketers can take from the book: Humans are inherently emotional, not logical. What Kahneman and Tversky were able to show through their studies was that people were making poor judgments in uncertain situations, and they relied on their gut rather than data and logic.

So, what does this have to do with digital marketing? It comes down to a key lesson in communication that can help digital marketers talk to their clients and co-workers. Since individuals make decisions based on emotion, it’s important to recognize how issues are framed. Kahneman and Tversky’s studies showed that people changed the way they responded to situations depending on how it was framed. This is an important lesson for digital marketers. If we can think about how to frame strategies, ads, content, etc., to our clients or to the marketplace, then we may be able to push initiatives that are risky yet rewarding and help educate our clients on the benefits of a digitally focused strategy in the world of higher education.

3. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

creativity_incOut of all the books, Creativity, Inc. might have been the most enjoyable. It’s not just because it’s an unbelievable treasure trove of advice on how to build a creative organization, but it also goes into great detail about how Pixar was created as well as behind-the-scenes insight into their movies.

Storytelling is the root of great digital marketing campaigns, and Pixar and Disney are the best storytellers in our world. What is key about the book is that in order to build an organization that is focused on quality storytelling in their messaging, it’s essential to build candor and positive feedback into their organization. If a company does not share the ability to be candid with each other because of hierarchies that stranglehold opinions, then the organization will never grow.

Everyone in the Pixar building, according to Ed Catmull, from the janitor to the director, has the ability to create an idea that will move a project forward. (Think about Ratatouille and the expression: “Anyone can cook.”)

In our organization, we’re trying to find ways to strengthen the structure that breeds candid and constructive feedback. One suggestion in the book is to hold “Notes Meetings.” It’s a simple concept. Individuals in the company submit questions to a leadership team on things they are struggling with. It doesn’t have to relate to a specific department, and the leadership picks the questions and sends them to the team. Then they have a meeting where everyone freely tries to problem solve the issue. This is an opportunity to improve the way feedback is delivered and develop candor. Great ideas can not become great unless they are challenged by people who care about mutual success.

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Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

How to Reduce and Manage Workplace Stress

We’ve all had the feeling of being tired, stressed and burned out from work. The physical and emotional repercussions of work-related stress can be detrimental to productivity and overall well-being, and it doesn’t seem to be improving for most workers. In fact, 70% of calls made to phone counseling lines at Workplace Options, a provider of employee-assistance programs, were related to stress and anxiety. Even more troubling, the same provider found that there was an 18% increase in calls made from 2016. With this trend clearly not slowing down, here are some tangible tips that can help you regain control over workplace stress and anxiety while becoming more productive and efficient.

Create time for mindfulness and deep breathing

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley, employees and employers alike are becoming more aware of the benefits of applying mindfulness in the workplace. With studies showing that mindfulness is associated with reduced stress and positive brain changes, it’s no wonder that these exercises have become so popular in business settings. There are a number of apps to choose from that will guide you through meditative practices, and you can even integrate some of them into your office communication platforms so that the reminder is more top of mind. Here at Circa, we’ve integrated the Stop, Breathe, and Think app into our messaging platform, Slack.

Allow for focused work, free of distractions and multitasking

Multitasking has been shown to inhibit productivity and efficiency. For those who feel like they have a million things being thrown their way, it can be easy to fall into the deep pit of multitasking. Not only does this add to stress and anxiety, but it undermines the ability to get tasks completed as thoroughly and efficiently when compared to more focused, singular work methods. Some effective ways to combat the temptation to multitask include:

  • Removing yourself from an environment of distractions, if applicable. We have an open office floor plan, as many millennial-dominated offices do today, and having a separate and secluded room that we can retreat to in order focus on more demanding or challenging tasks has proven to be a great addition.
  • Using time management tools like the Pomodoro timer. While these are fairly simple, straightforward tools (essentially fancy timers), they can be incredibly helpful in allocating dedicated time to each task while also preventing you from spending an excessive amount of time on any single one. This can help with workflow and make a heavy workload feel much more manageable.
  • Using noise-canceling headphones when you require heavy focus. Research has even found that music can have a calming effect when in high-stress situations.
  • Turning off notifications for messages that impede your ability to concentrate and focus. For example, we use the communication tool Slack almost constantly throughout our workday. In order to lessen the temptation to check Slack, email, etc., I have found that it is helpful to turn off any notifications and/or alter the settings to “do not disturb” mode (which is available for most messaging apps).

Take a walk

Studies have found that taking a brief walk (15-30 minutes) can result in calming effects. To capitalize on the benefits even more, apply meditative practices during your walk. Need to chat or brainstorm with coworkers and want to kill two birds with one stone? Merge walks and meetings into one. This can even help to jumpstart creative thinking for a more productive (not to mention healthy) meeting.

Be strategic about your notification settings 

It’s important to set boundaries between home and the office in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you constantly have notifications alerting you of new work messages or emails, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure (unless you have spectacular self-control). Most people feel tempted or obligated to respond to an email if they see it, so dedicate a period of time outside of work where you don’t receive messages or make a point to only respond to urgent inquiries if you’re in a situation where you still need to monitor them. With our communication tool, Slack, there are options to set notifications to “do not disturb” mode, which is a simple and effective solution to this problem.

Find a project management tool that works for you

There is nothing more overwhelming and stressful than having more tasks than you feel like you can keep track of or keep up with. This is why pinpointing a project management tool that helps you to stay organized can be a huge stress reliever. I personally use Trello to manage my tasks and have created a system where I can prioritize them accordingly, as well as add notes, due dates, etc. Some of my colleagues rely on other tools and apps like Evernote, Wrike and even Google Calendar. Whatever your system is, find something that makes you feel organized and brings you greater peace of mind.

 

Caroline-Black-and-White-tan-3-4Caroline brings a wealth of knowledge in communications, marketing, and account management to the Circa Interactive team, and she has worked with partners such as HP, Cisco, and Adobe. Graduating with honors in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Oregon in 2011, Caroline now plays a key role in Circa Interactive’s digital PR strategy by building long term relationships with internationally recognized media outlets on behalf of our clients.