Updated July 2023

Project management is more than setting and managing deadlines. Traffic management -- keeping things moving -- is a big part of it. But process is also vital. And it gets less attention when things get busy. Which is, of course, the time streamlined processes are the most valuable required.

I've always been obsessed by operations in general and process in particular. I worked my way through college working on the operations team at the student union and setting up for concerts on campus. I learned the value not only of hitting deadlines, but finding the smartest way TO hit those deadlines. That was my whole job. And now, as an agency CEO, I'm still focused on finding the most effective path between start and finish.

2 process improvements that make you a better project manager

There are tons of process improvement strategies out there, and some of them are even good. But because process changes can be disruptive or uncomfortable, it's best to start small. I start with only two tactics:

1. Find the optimal path

We all know the adage about finding the shortest path between A and B, but that's not always the optimal path. Sometimes a few side trips for approvals and check-ins early in the process reduce detours later, when time is tighter and stake are higher. Think about all the steps that may be necessary and then think about how you can order them to reduce drag.

EXAMPLE: Here's the process we developed with a client who was getting crushed by reviews and approvals.

2. Include the right people at the right time.

It almost always takes more people to finish a project than we wish it did. We can reduce the friction -- emotional and operational -- by thinking about where each person has the most impact, needs to be involved or both. For instance, getting your proofreader involved early may not be the best use of their time if there are still reviews and potential revisions to be made. (This seems obvious, but you'd be surprised!). People who care about ideas more than execution should be involved up front and release from the process later on. Make a list of people who need to be on this project, give some thought to what they bring and slot them in when they have the most to give. Review your decisions with each person to verify their placement. This also helps you identify when people have a professional or emotional need to be included instead of an operational one -- and decide how you want to handle that. Trust me, the time you invest in getting the correct people in the correct positions on the path is more than paid back in a faster project timeline and happier colleagues.

To get started, choose a small but very frustrating process. Apply these tactics and see how it goes. Process improvement is usually incremental. Theoretical wins may turn out to be abject failures in execution, thanks to budget or ego or structural issues out of your control. And you'd be surprised how many steps you can overlook because they're so embedded in your muscle memory that you literally don't even think about them. Give yourself time to figure this out -- it's part of the process!

Want more help designing better processes for yourself, your team or your company? Hit me up to learn more about coaching, training and consulting.

Good luck!

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