#088: Project Management for the Rest of Us

Sometimes I think I’m a pretty good project manager. Until the project I’m working on comes unraveled.

That’s when I realize that I have much to learn.

And while I think some people are more natural project managers than others, I’ve learned that there are simple things we can all do to get better at managing projects.

In this episode I interview Cesar Abeid, author of the newly published Project Management for You: How to Turn Your Ideas Into Reality, Deliver on Your Promises, and Get Things Done.

Cesar and I focus our discussion not on client projects, but rather on all those internal projects we all keep meaning to do … but never get around to doing.

He shares plenty of simple and practical tips for breaking down these projects into doable tasks. All in plain English!

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Cesar Abeid is the author of Project Management for You. After working as a project manager for a small family company in Canada, Cesar decided to get his project management certification. He found the coursework useful but also dry and inaccessible to most non-project managers. Which was unfortunate because he found the concepts valuable useful not only in his work but also his personal life.

For the first time, he was able to get things done in an organized way and really move things forward.

He started blogging and podcasting about project management from a layperson’s perspective. He recently wrote a book on the topic.

You’re a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. How does it differ from project management?

Getting Things Done is a system for deciding what to do. Project management is the pursuit of one single outcome. In other words, Getting Things Done is about doing the right things. Project management is about doing things right.

Most freelancers struggle with “internal” projects the most, such as launching a website or initiating a marketing campaign. Why is that?

People are afraid of uncertainty. If they don’t know HOW to do a project, it’s hard to get started.

At the same time, most people are busy with client work, which they DO know how to do. So it’s easier to focus on that instead.

But if you want to take your business to the next level, you have to be able to tackle and complete internal projects.

Project management takes your ideas and breaks them into manageable packages. The process gives you clarity so you can focus on the idea itself and not fear of the unknown.

You can apply project management to anything with a beginning and an end that creates something new.

Let’s use the example of overhauling a website. What are the steps?

The first two steps are composing and decomposing.

1. Composing

  • Figure out what you want to do in as much detail as possible. For example, why do you need to overhaul your website? E.g. more user friendly, better design, etc.
  • Create your list of requirements, e.g. responsive design, new logo, number and types of pages.

2. Decomposing

  • Break the project down into smaller parts sub-projects. E.g. design, copy, color scheme, hosting. (These are categories, not action steps!)
  • When you think you have everything, ask yourself: “If I deliver on all these items, will the project be done?” If not, add whatever is missing.
  • Continue to break down the sub-projects into smaller projects. Continue until each deliverable will take about one day to complete.

Mindmapping tools and/or sticky notes are helpful for this process.

Once you’re done, you’ll have a tree-like structure. At the end of each branch is a deliverable. Once you complete the lowest bubbles on each branch, you project will be done.

Once you’ve broken the project down, you don’t have to worry about structure. You can delegate tasks and estimate time and costs.

Project management simplifies your project. Once you’ve broken it down, you can proceed piece by piece.

What other aspects of project management are helpful to freelancers?

Managing risk is the most underrated aspect of project management. Even the best plans will never go exactly as you think.

List all the things that could impact scope, timeline and price. Prioritize them by likelihood and degree of impact. Then create a simple plan for handling each one.

Are there tools that can help freelancers manage their internal projects more efficiently?

Most project management tools are geared towards teams. They allow you to assign tasks and coordinate schedules. They’re not as useful to solopreneurs.

Instead, most freelancers would benefit more from a mind mapping tool. They help you get down all your ideas and requirements.

MindMeister allows users to create three mind maps for free. MindManager is a more sophisticated tool that allows you to put tasks into a Gantt chart.

Tell us about your new book

Most project management books are written for the corporate world. Cesar’s book takes all his project management knowledge and experience gears it toward non-project managers.

From October 21st to the 31st, the Kindle version of the book will be on sale for only $0.99! (Regular price is $9.99.) In addition, if you email Cesar your purchase receipt, he’ll send you the audio book for free.

Find links and more information at Cesar’s website: Project Management for You.