Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once observed: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu would have been a successful at project management. As Lao-tzu so wisely understood, one can achieve success with any project – no matter how large or complex – by first dividing it into a series of smaller tasks that, once completed, result in progress. This project management strategy harnesses the power of identifiable tasks producing identifiable progress.
The successful project manager knows that project management begins with dividing a job into smaller tasks, which accomplishes a number of project management objectives. First, by seeing the project as a series of easy steps rather than an overwhelmingly complex undertaking, the project becomes more manageable and provides constant feedback for both the project manager and participants. In project management, success is achieved step-by-step rather than mile-by-mile, which can actually boost morale and provide enhanced motivation and performance for the latter portion of a project. Project managers do not have to look at the total amount of work that will have to be done, but can stay focused on the individual task at hand and multiple successes along the way. Second, dividing a project into smaller tasks mitigates procrastination and project avoidance – the proverbial thorn-in-the-flesh of project managers. Complicated, challenging tasks are overwhelming in their nature and can defeat project managers before they begin. On the other hand, by completing one identifiable task at a time, the negative effects of an overwhelming project – such as procrastination – can be mitigated.
In project management, knowing where to begin is fundamental to the successful planning of a project. When a project requires significant time and resources, the best place to begin is gathering the tools and materials needed for the project. Not only is this efficient project management, but it lays the groundwork for efficient execution of the tasks as they come. If any given task takes more than a day to complete, project managers should schedule subtasks to be accomplished by the end of each projected day for the overall task.
Another advantage in dividing a project into a series of steps is that, in doing so, project managers effectively design a project roadmap that is easy to follow. This project management strategy can be particularly beneficial for estimating labor resources needed. If one has a good idea about the time and costs involved in completing one step, then one can more accurately estimate the labor and time requirements for the related steps that add up to the total project. This highlights the fact that the decomposition of a project into simple steps provides measures for how much progress one has made and how much farther one has to go. By continuing on a project’s roadmap, project managers can quantify their progress as they mark off tasks from the list.
The beauty of project management strategy is that it applies universally, from business life to home life, from volunteer work to recreational endeavors. Even complex tasks such winning a political campaign can benefit from careful planning and diligent execution of those plans. For example, a politician can defeat an opponent by defining the issues that are a major concern of voters in the electoral district or state. These issues touch the heart and soul of voters and mobilize them to vote on Election Day. How well a candidate can identify issues, align them with the preferences of a majority of voters, and communicate his or her stand on those issues will determine who wins or loses the election. To secure victory, politicians must skillfully identify the specific constituencies that are undecided or wavering on key issues. Subsequent steps will target these groups of voters and lay out a systematic plan to mobilize each voting block on Election Day. And so in this sense, a successful campaign manager is one and the same with a successful project manager – they know their goal, plan their work, and they work their plan.
History also teaches us the value of a guided project management strategy. Some of the major challenges in the history of America were solved by a divide-and-conquer approach. Depression-era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attacked the issue of a stalled American economic engine by first identifying pressure points in the economy where the federal government could exert the most effect. Next, he designed a program of economic stimuli, setting goals for each stimulus and an aggressive timetable for completing each. Finally, he executed his program and effectively stimulated the American economy, leading the way out of the Great Depression.
The successful project manager knows that his task is an art form. And in the art of project management, diligent planning is perhaps the most vital element for beginning, and ultimately completing, any size project. Successful planning must always involve the creation of identifiable tasks within a broader project that lead to identifiable progress. Equally important, however, is the tenacity to stick with a project and see it through to completion.