Project management for dummies
January 17, 2022 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm part of a nonprofit healthcare org's communications & marketing department. We all (3-6 of us) work well together, but lack actual processes or systems for doing our work. I'd like to learn how to create some. Explain like I'm a high school dropout, because I am.

I'm interested in learning about the principles behind effective work management for teams, I guess. And how to use those principles to develop processes that work for what we actually do.

Googling terms like "process improvement" or "project management" brings results about Lean and Sigma. I'm sure that there are manufacturing concepts that would be of value, but is there a more relevant discipline?

I'd love to take some online courses or something, but I'm not looking for anything too intense right now. A "For Dummies"-level explanation would probably work.

To be clear: not interested in app recommendations (Asana or Basecamp or Clickup or whatever) right now. Thanks in advance!
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Work & Money (5 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Your group already has some mental pictures of what you do and how it gets done. You might start by documenting those mental pictures for yourself--not rigidly and not to say what should be the case, but simply to find out if you actually have the same mental picture as everyone else. I would try not to make a big deal out of this, but I'd just list what you think you do (i.e. identify a service catalog). Then, for each service / process, you might be able to list some major steps and roles involved (i.e. create a RACI matrix). The pictures you create may be super obvious, but try not to make assumptions--ask around and see how other people see it. You may identify gaps in mutual understanding, in which case try not to leap into a debate about what one person or the other thinks should be the case--just understand what's going on. Think of this as a discovery process where you find out about real ambiguities in what y'all are doing so that they can be clarified a little. Usually it turns up something, but even these few steps could be overkill for some stuff.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:07 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]

Not an expert, but I had to do a unit on project management as part of my comp sci degree. That was a long time ago but I have used a few concepts. The basic underpinning is that you have to figure out how long tasks take, and what tasks rely on each other, and then you can visually organise tasks so you can figure out how long a project might go for and any "fat" you can trim.
posted by freethefeet at 4:17 PM on January 17

I'm not sure if you're aware based on how you worded your question, but the actual Project Management for Dummies book is actually a really, really good guide to project management for, well, dummies (and professionals, one of my former workplaces actually used it to train professional PMs).
posted by General Malaise at 4:20 PM on January 17

I'd agree with Wobbuffet. Just start writing down how stuff works right now; a flow chart on pen and paper is fine, keep it simple. Run it by your coworkers to make sure the picture you're drawing is accurate to the team as a whole, not just what you're doing. (This is a stage where y'all will be tempted to make immediate changes, because you will notice weaknesses or flaws in the way you're working once you sit down and think about it, but hang on.)

So, because your team has outputs, you'll want to consider those, and especially if the output is subpar, you'll want to consider those events closely. You work in marketing, so pretend you publish a flyer or image that has a typo in it. You want to compare the event (typo gets printed/published) to your workflow and try to see where it might have fallen through the cracks. Maybe your step is "Coworker Y reads through the flyer and gives approval to print," but Y was busy that day and skimmed. Maybe you can revise the step to "Two coworkers who have not previously worked on the flyer read copy for typos, grammatical errors, things that aren't clear," etc. So once you have a basic step 1, step 2, etc., lined up, you can start fleshing in details of what those steps really mean. (It's generally good practice to not rely on one person for any step - that's called a bottleneck - since they could be run over a bus at any time. If your workflow is vulnerable to anyone getting run over by a bus, you'll want to fix that by adding a co-owner. Not out of callousness, just, you want to make sure things get done.)

It's also a good idea to look at when you really freaking nail it and see where in the process that occurred, so you can take advantage of revealed strengths.

That's a lot to consider off the bat. Several weeks worth of thinking and talking it out. But something else you may want to start considering now is version control of your documents / images / files. Do y'all have a standard naming convention for files, making it quick and easy to find what you need? Do your files live in emails with unhelpful subject lines? Is there a central repository for everything, or is it more of the aforementioned email situation? Making sure everybody has access to the materials and information they need to work is another key to process improvement.

FWIW, if you're looking for google terms, I'd try "operations" or "ops" or "process improvement management," with the caveat that the lingo tends to be stuffy and unhelpful. You might consider reading W. Edwards Deming's 14 points as a starting point for your thinking.
posted by snerson at 6:07 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

The nonprofit I volunteer with uses "first principles" which is awesome, I totally recommend it.
posted by yueliang at 12:06 AM on January 18

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