Successfully delivering on a project is something which can make or break a career.  All too often, there’s just not enough time to deliver on what you set out to do.  So, how do you make sure you consistently deliver in a changing environment with limited time?

The Most Important Detail: Setting Proper Expectations

Always, and I mean always, bake in more time than you think you’ll need for a project.  This isn’t to say that you’ll deliberately mislead your clients on scheduling, but it’s very important to under-promise and over-deliver, and not the other way around.  So, exactly how do you do that?

Start by looking at the overall objective – what do you really want to achieve?  By this, I don’t mean defining the end of the project.  Think a bit harder about why the client is asking you to do something.  Chances are, they have something bigger than just the project you’re working on in their minds.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – you want to be a part of a successful, larger effort in the majority of cases.  And, you generally want to have more work given to you in the future.  So, one of the first things you need to do is understand the business need for why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Set the expectation from the start that your project is going to move the needle on that larger vision – this shows competence and broader understanding of the why – specifically, why you’re delivering on a project.

Execution: Breaking Out the Larger Vision to Achievable Goals

Unless your task is super simple, you’re just not going to hit the goal on your first try.  So, try breaking out your larger task into smaller sub goals.  At this time, don’t assign delivery deadlines!  Just take the time to carefully think through the high level steps you’ll need.  Once you have these, and you’re confident those are comprehensive, then start assigning delivery dates to the sub-goals.

Recalibration: Regularly Communicate and Adjust in Realtime

Often times, you’ll encounter potential delays in your project due to third parties which aren’t delivering their component on time.  In situations like this, you’re not necessarily at fault, but you’re still responsible.  Sure, you can shake a stick at the third party and tell them to move quicker, but they might have a dependency on their end that they can’t move either.  In situations like this, communication with the person you’re reporting up to is critical.  Or better yet, if you’re on time, communicate that. The overall point – communicate!

The Backlog, and a Warning

Let’s say you have a massive list of projects you need to accomplish – congratulations!  This is generally a good thing as it represents future work for you.  It does not, however, mean that you’ll actually be able to complete them.  If you just focus on the day to day work, and you aren’t thinking about overall delivery, there will be a strong temptation to keep all of the projects open for an indefinite amount of time and not actually complete any of them, or you many end up completing fewer than you hoped.  The best way to tackle this backlog is to figure out exactly how much time you can devote to each project, and then only take on as many projects as you can actively manage.  You can always schedule additional projects for future quarters, but use caution – taking on too many at once can cause all of them to fail!  Be mindful to only take on projects that you can actually accomplish, lest you achieve none.

Making Progress When You’re Swamped

Let’s face it – chances are whatever you’re planning will be interrupted, or worse, suspended, by day to day life, or other distractions.  So, how do you avoid getting caught in the day to day and not making any progress at all?  Easy – accomplish at least one meaningful objective towards your overall project each day.  It doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to count.  If you lay a brick every day, eventually, you’ll build your castle.

In Conclusion

Just do it – really.  Keep focused, make meaningful progress each day, don’t take on more  than you can handle, and communicate your results.  In the end though, just execute.  It’s the easiest way to guarantee success.

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