Figuring out how to structure a new project can be difficult enough. Throw in the majority of folks working remotely, some for the first time, and now you’ve got another layer of complexity.
While I tend to lean towards wanting firm structure by nature, I’ve had to learn and adapt to become more flexible to be successful with the projects I lead. From these lessons, I’d like to share the key takeaways to help you lead projects with flexible structure to success.
1. Ask what’s next.
Remember the high the last time you left a successful kickoff meeting, the client was happy, you didn’t run over time, and you got a list of action items to tackle? You get back to your desk, review your notes and quickly realize that while you have all the logistics worked out, you don’t know how the client will use the deliverables and findings once you’re done.
Asking the client what’s next gives you a better perspective on what they hope to achieve and how what you deliver will be used moving forward. This key question can also unearth a different purpose than what you originally thought, and gives you the opportunity to ask deeper questions to get the team aligned.
“What’s next?” is key to ask throughout the duration of the project to ensure that the scope and deliverables are still on track and in keeping with what the client intends to do once the project is complete. If “what’s next” changes (and let’s be honest, it probably will), you can then make adjustments to meet those needs.
2. Create a project plan.
A project plan can take many forms, from a detailed spreadsheet to using a project planning tool, to one slide in a PowerPoint deck. Whatever it looks like, you must have a plan for the project.
For a recent project, I developed a 3-week long sprint structure and broke out key activities by day, color-coding who would be involved for each of those activities. While this may sound extreme, it gave our project the foundation we needed to quickly move from sprint to sprint with everyone understanding the key milestones and players.
The beauty of having this plan is that when we had to switch things up—which happened numerous times—we were able to look at the plan, move things around and still make sure we didn’t miss milestones. We were confident we had the right people updated on the new plan moving forward.
3. Document your communication strategy.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to agree upon a communication strategy at the beginning of a project. By understanding how and when you will communicate with your client, you set the expectation that not only will there be accountability on both sides but that communication touch points are expected and are a crucial part of the project.
Some key communication items to touch on are:
- How will we communicate? Work with your client to determine what method works best for them (if they have a preference).
- Whether there are any technology limitations on their side. For a majority of my projects, Slack and Zoom have been great tools to use but there may be instances where a client cannot access a tool and another solution will need to be used.
- How often will we communicate? Setting the cadence of communication is important. Work with your client to determine how often you will be communicating and what kind of information will be necessary to share during those meetings. Whether it is a weekly touch base or daily standups, having these set touch points ensures that everyone is aligned and any issues that arise can be resolved sooner rather than later.
I’ve found that having strong lines of communication established before we switched to being fully remote has helped keep our project on track. As our work style has shifted, we have been able to take the existing strategy and adapt as needed.
By asking what’s next, creating a project plan and establishing a communication strategy, you can create a flexible structure that enables you to successfully lead your project. Rarely do things go exactly as planned, but having these three things in place sets your team up for success.
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