One of my toughest interviews in my corporate days was with a director who was former Army. In a word, intimidating. I was interviewing for a new position where I would be in charge of a few projects including one $5M project. At that point my resume only boasted a couple of projects that hovered around the $1M mark.
He asked me what I would do differently to manage this new $5M project. I paused (for dramatic effect) and then replied, “nothing.” He was tough to read so I expanded only saying that I would follow whatever reporting rules were in place for the higher cost project, but I wouldn’t manage it any differently because good project management is good project management. It has nothing to do with the cost of the solution. Must have been a good answer, because I got the job.
That same good project management is how I get projects done around our house. At the core of any project—a $500 room makeover or a $5M software project—there are six key things you need to manage.
Get the six things in this article right and you’ll be on the way to getting your project done on time, on or under budget, and including everything you want.
I am not over-inflating how well these things work, most people just don’t apply them to small projects like decorating and DIY projects you want to get done around the house. Most people also don’t get most of their projects done. Remember, most projects fail because they never start, fizzle out in the middle, or get done but don’t meet your expectations. With these 6 steps you can get different results.
This is part 3 of a 3-part series of how to avoid project fails in your home. In part 1, I shared how to prevent the most common cause of project failure. In part 2, I shared the 11 things a motivated decorator does differently. This mini-series also happens to be a preview of what I share in my best-selling book Project Home: How To Prioritize Your To-Do List, Pick the Most Important Projects, and Get Them Done.
Picking the Right Project
Before we get to the six things you need to manage to get your project done, we need to talk about picking the right project.
You don’t think for a second that my former company was doing a $5M project on a whim do you? No, it was carefully vetted against all the other projects they could have possibly done with the same time, money, and people. What made it the winner was it promised a bigger return on investment, also known as value.
In Project Home, I walk you throw my 4-step process to clean up your to-do list and pick those projects that will give you the biggest return in your home.
6 Steps To Plan the Project That Gets Done
Once you have your projects sorted and you are ready to work on your top priority, then it’s planning time. Project planning bleeds pretty seamlessly into project management. In the planning you set up the tools that you use during the project to keep it on track and get it done.
These are the steps:
1. Write a Scope Definition
One of the biggest reasons any project gets off track is from scope creep. Scope creep is when the project grows little by little and the time and money required to complete it sneaks up on you.
Did I just describe every home project you’ve ever done? Or maybe every trip you’ve taken to the home improvement store where the tally was three times what you planned on when you went in?
To avoid scope creep, you must clearly identify the scope of the project upfront with a scope definition—what’s included in the project and what’s not. In Project Home, I teach you how to write a good scope definition and give you a worksheet to document it.
During the project, you have to stick to your scope definition. If you deviate and start adding things to the project, it will almost always cost more money or take more time to complete the project. It’s the reason most “weekend projects” last for weeks.
2. Identify Your Resources
Every project needs resources, that is the people, time, money, and things available to complete the project. Along with your scope definition, you should identify your resources up front. What resources do you have available for the project in these four areas:
Who will be working on the project? How much time do they have to help?
How long do you have to complete the project? How much time does each person have each day to work on the project?
How much money do you have for the project? What ways could you save money on this project? Are you willing to put in the extra effort or time to save the money?
What do you already have that you can use for project? For DIY projects, which tools and supplies do you already have on hand? For all decorating projects, you should shop your home first. Decor from other rooms may work for your makeover.
When considering your resources, it is important to identify both what you have and what you don’t have. You need a plan to get the resources you are missing.
3. Make A Realistic Schedule
Planning how long a project will take requires a bit of forethought. Even simple projects can be grossly underestimated and lead to frustration when you have reached the time when you thought it would be done and your are not even halfway through.
This is one of the key areas I focus on in Project Home that lead to a realistic schedule:
- How to create a work break down of all the tasks
- How to estimate how long each task will really take
- How to schedule the tasks and figure out when your project will be done
4. Create A More Accurate Budget
Money must be managed.
Knowing the total amount of money you have to spend on your project is great, but it’s not a budget until you breakdown exactly how you plan to spend the money. To create a budget, you need to do a little pre-work.
Budgeting can get scary and complicated, but it doesn’t have to. In Project Home I teach an easy 3-step process for working your way into a realistic budget.
- How to create the most accurate cost estimate possible
- How to clarify your cost assumptions
- How to create a simple budget to plan and track your spending
Without a budget, you’re constantly guessing and keeping a running (and largely inaccurate) tally in your head.
A detailed budget is a key tool to track project spending. With a budget, you’ll know where you overspent, where you under-spent, and where you can make up the difference. The budget planning worksheet in The Easy Way includes a spot to keep track of your actual costs during the project, as well as important assumptions you made, like buying your furniture during a free shipping promotion.
5. Draft Your Contingency Plan
Every project has risk. Project risks that come true can cause the project to cost more or take more time to complete. No project runs perfectly, but you can improve the outcome if you’re prepared for the unexpected. Contingency is a planned buffer of resources to help absorb some of the impact if a project risk is realized.
The most common place to build in contingency is in the budget. This is what they mean when they recommend adding 15% to your remodeling budget just in case something goes wrong or costs more than you expected.
The larger the project and the greater the risk, the bigger you want to make your contingency budget…just in case.
Contingency is not money you plan to use, but it’s there if you need it. Think of it like your emergency savings account. You don’t dip into it unless something catastrophic goes wrong. The best run projects finish on time, on or under budget, and don’t use any of the planned contingency.
6. Head Off Changes
Change over the course of a project is inevitable. How you handle changes is important. First of all, having a well-defined scope (see #1 above) that you stick to will lessen the number of changes.
Changes can come about voluntarily, like when you want to add something to the project that was previously out of scope. Change can occur when something you thought during planning was wrong, like your estimate was wrong or a resource is unavailable. Change can also be completely out of your control, like unexpected delays or issues.
Voluntary changes and poor planning are largely avoidable. The first one, where you start adding things to the project that you didn’t plan for, is really avoidable. The second is avoidable with good planning and knowing what to tweak when things don’t go as planned.
When changes do arise, don’t ignore them. Learn about them. What caused the change? What impact does the change have (money, time, people, quality)? What can you do to eliminate or minimize the change?
In the best case scenarios, your project can absorb the change (it doesn’t have a big impact on time or money) or you enough contingency (see #5 above) to cover the change. In a worst case scenario, you have to remove something from the project to make up for the loss caused by the change.
Recap: Three Keys to Avoid Project Failure
The three things that are going to help you avoid project failure are thinking about success before you start, building momentum and maintaining motivation during the project, and good project management.
In my book Project Home, I show you exactly how to plan a project with plenty of examples and give you ready-to-use worksheets to plan your home projects. My hope for you is that at the end of this year you’ll look back at a long-list of projects that are done-done, not a wasteland of projects that are half-done or were never started.