We know the feeling. You thought it would be a simple job just like all the rest, but now you read the brief, you feel yourself drowning in all those moving parts and anxiety-inducing deadlines.
Welcome to the world of complex project management.
It’s always best to prepare well in advance for these mammoth jobs. But even if you’re reading this as a last-minute savior, our eight brilliant tips will hopefully help you reach those deadlines without giving you too many gray hairs.
The first step in succeeding at complex project management is to build a talented team you can trust. As a manager, you need to consider the skill set to complete your project, and reflect that in those you hire. But don’t just look at the technical skills, the cultural fit is just as important. If your focus is on renewable energy, you’re unlikely to want an ex-oil exec, for example.
Accurately defining the role that each individual has helps to set expectations from the outset and maintain motivation throughout the project. Nobody wants to be told they’ll be managing a sales team only to find a bunch of HR data entry tasks in their to-do list.
When it comes to responsibilities, you’ll want to be just as clear. Leading complex projects can’t be done by an individual. Yes, you might be the project manager, but you’ll have to delegate some of the responsibility to your trusted team. For example, you simply won’t have the time to get down and dirty with every detail of a social media campaign. Instead, leave the technicalities to your social media manager and simply request a strategy and key figures as it progresses.
Make sure everybody’s responsibilities are clear from day one. It’s vital that some people have executive power and that others respect that.
It’s so easy to throw yourself into a job without taking time to really consider what you’re doing. When the chips are down and deadlines are tight, it’s totally understandable that you want to check those boxes and get the work off your mind.
But this rarely ends well for anybody. You, as the manager, can feel lost at sea and out of control, your team lacks clear direction, and your clients end up with something they didn’t really want.
Therefore, your first port of call is to speak to your clients in detail about their primary and secondary objectives. By identifying, defining, and focusing on your goals, you can simplify decision-making in complex project management.
Kanban boards are a firm favorite for many managers to keep an eye on the major goals. In the far-left column, keep your key objectives visible and clear. This keeps them present in everybody’s mind and you can always ask yourself: how does this contribute to our goals?
The process of defining goals can also help with motivation in large-scale project management. If your employees feel like their job is not meaningful in the wider context of the project, they can quickly become disillusioned. However, when you can connect the dots between their efforts and the bigger picture, you show how valuable their contribution really is.
So you’ve got your goals defined, you’re ready to go, right?
Well, not quite.
If you don’t divide your project down into manageable chunks, you and your team will get overwhelmed pretty quickly. From a strategic standpoint, we’d recommend making your goals SMART:
Then, you can fire up a killer project management tool and start creating the individual tasks that will combine to make the project. In line with your SMART goals, use software that allows you to assign a deadline to everything, making them time-bound, and include clear instructions and any extra resources to smooth the path for your team to start working.
Complex project management usually entails a huge amount of tasks, so as you’re planning, earmark certain dates as occasional milestones. Simple examples of milestones could be budget approvals, product launches, or client reviews. Make sure to take time to celebrate these milestones too. When you’re leading complex projects, it’s easy to get lost in the fine details. But we’re all human, and recognizing the small victories is crucial to your team’s engagement.
More and more teams are starting to use scrum methodology to divide up large-scale project management. Scrum teams cut their projects up into two-week “sprints” — collections of related tasks that you can reiterate, reflect on, and use as the basis for your next sprint.
Even the best project managers can forget the importance of risk management. Rather than being seen as a distinct planning process, you should make it an integral part of your wider project planning.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out why you should plan for the unexpected when it comes to complex project management. With so many moving parts, untested tasks, third parties to rely on, and then all those left-field risks that would never occur to you, preparation is key. Of course, you can’t prepare for everything. Even NASA has failed to spot a few asteroids that have narrowly missed earth.
But risk management is all about considering bad things that could happen and reducing the probability of them actually happening as much as is reasonably possible. You’ll be able to mitigate some of those risks by making a contingency plan, avoid others completely by changing your approach, and accept others that won’t rock the boat too much. If you’ve got the funds and the contacts, you can transfer risks to other parties, like hiring lawyers to handle your legal duties.
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When you’re in the business of complex project management, you need to get good at simplifying as much as you can. In this spirit, we’d thoroughly recommend you writing up a communication policy so all of your stakeholders are on the same page. We’re talking about keeping all task-related updates and queries on the task card in your project management software, avoiding instant messenger for issuing instructions, looping in all your stakeholders via video for meetings…you get the gist.
Make sure to learn from your mistakes too. Your communication policy should be respected, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change. So if you delivered an out-of-date document because the newest one was hiding in a long-forgotten email, set a rule to prevent it happening again.
On the subject of documents, if you’re not already using collaborative files, it’s time to wake up and smell the efficiency. You might not see shared files as a communication tool, but when you make suggested edits and leave notes on a document, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without them. The main benefit is that you never have multiple versions of the same document, which saves you and your team a huge amount of stress and frustration. But before you ask, you can flick through old versions using a file revision history function.
All of these communication hacks work to reduce miscommunication, which so often leads to important information falling through the cracks, missed deadlines, and resentful relationships.
Creating a great team spirit is a major advantage for any situation, but especially when managing complex projects. You want every individual to be open with each other and to have each other’s back — and there are a number of ways you can achieve that.
Start off at the hiring process. Like we said earlier, you want people to share your company culture, so keep an eye out for potential selfish, aggressive, or disengaged behavior during the interview. Next, make an effort to integrate new hires with the group during the onboarding stage. Ideally, you’ll create a chain reaction whereby every member of staff warmly welcomes new recruits because they appreciate their early experience.
If you’ve got toxic tendencies in your group, the shyer members will lack the confidence to offer up innovative new ideas, and the collaboration that is so important to complex project management will stall.
On the flipside, a friendly atmosphere at a team level lets you get the best out of everybody on an individual level too. Make sure to keep that praise public and constructive criticism quiet to keep the good vibes going, and intervene early when you see behavior dropping below your standards.
Let’s be honest, clients can be the most difficult part of complex project management. Often unaware of what it actually takes to get a project over the line (and always wanting to keep their purse strings tight), they make outrageous estimations on cost and deadlines, and it can be uncomfortable suggesting you change the scope.
Anyone experienced in leading complex projects will tell you that keeping your mouth shut to avoid conflict is absolutely counter-productive. Instead of solving issues immediately, you give your clients a false sense of security, allowing a problem to bubble under the surface until it erupts and derails your entire project.
Inexperienced project managers are the most likely to fall into this trap. Lacking the confidence to put their foot down and say it like it is, they accept the client’s desired deadline, all the while knowing it’s going to take an overwhelming effort from your team.
As we highlighted in the section on communication, you need to remove as many barriers as possible in complex projects. Fear of upsetting people as your problems snowball out of control is a barrier you can easily remove. So bite the bullet, pick up the phone, and deal with the situation.
Difficulties cause indecision. If you’re stuck debating which pathway is best, it’s likely that both have their pros and cons. Obviously, you don’t want to throw caution to the wind and act recklessly, but there is a limit to how many times you can go over the same arguments without actually doing anything.
As you gain experience in managing complex projects, you’ll begin to identify common blockers for you and your team. Instead of allowing them to take control, look into strategies for how to simply get going and accept the consequences.
A common method for reducing indecision is to set strict time limits for meetings. With everybody aware of the rule, there are no excuses. The pressure is on to make a decision and get back to work, so people know they’ve got to come to a conclusion.
Encourage compromise between your team. For example, if one decision puts a lot of pressure on your sales team, give them more of a benefit for the next move. This will help to foster a healthy, fair environment in your team.
We hope these tips have given you the confidence to stare down those tough projects and take them on like a pro. But while you may be on a mission to prove yourself as the savviest manager out there, you don’t need to go it alone.
Having the right tools at your disposal — and knowing how to use them — can be your secret weapon when it comes to complex projects. Lucky for you, Bitrix24 was created with these situations in mind, and offers you all the software you need all on one platform.
So if you want to boost your hiring, organization, communication, planning, and much more, sign up for Bitrix24 today.
A project becomes a complex project when there is some uncertainty thrown into the mix. It could simply be a large job with many moving parts, or perhaps the goal is unprecedented with no established plan to achieve it.
The best way to create a complex project plan is to:
The essential tools you need for complex project management are: