Self-Directed Project Management in Ten Minutes a Day

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 11, 2010 in: Project Management, Tips in 10

In the past, I’ve shown you a project management system I use based on an Excel spreadsheet. It is a really valuable system to help me stay on top of what is going on in all of the different projects I have running. I’m glad to hear that some of you have been using it with some success in your own businesses.

As I help develop productivity systems and procedures for entrepreneurs and small business owners, I’ve found myself developing another type of project management system – one I call the “self-direct project management system” – for business owners who need to share their projects with staff.While most small business owners run their own businesses, they often bring in others to work for them. For example, they might have a virtual assistant a few hours a week, or they might have a web development freelancer take care of their website, or they might outsource some of the preliminary work performed for a client deliverable, or they might have a couple of staff members. Even if you are a solopreneur running a sole proprietorship, you’ll still probably have some kind of “employee” or outsourced vendor at some point in the future. In all of these cases, it’s handy to have a system that is visible for each person so both they and you can see what is going on. That’s why I call it a “self-directed project management system”, because your staff can manage their own project management and you can keep an eye on everything.

(By the way, I’m going to use the term “employee” throughout this issue but be aware that I could mean employee, virtual assistant, freelancer, outsourced vendor, or whomever you might hire to do the work).

There are several project management programs out there and many of them are pretty good. If you wanted to just use one that already exists, and if you were willing to invest the money for it, you might consider some of the following, which I’ve used:

I’ve tried these and there are good points and bad points about each one; it really depends on your business and your work style. Also, in a lot of cases, these only give limited access for free and you need to pay to create more projects or use more features.

One complaint I have with a couple of these systems is that there are too many bells and whistles for some entrepreneurs. Some of my clients want a really simple, straightforward system that is easy to use, easy to share, and easy to customize if necessary, and they don’t want to pay money for many of the extra features that they may not use. And that’s the system I’m going to show you in this issue of Tips In Ten.

The system I’m going to show you can be set up in moments, it only takes ten minutes a day to manage all of your projects, and it is free and really simple to use. Not only that, it is far more customizable to your business than the project management systems I’ve listed above. It’s very light, and although there are no bells and whistles, it works. (And I’ve discovered that something nice and simple that works is far better than something you pay for with lots of nice features that you never use.)

System Set-up (Duration: 10 minutes)
Setting up is really easy and only takes two minutes.

Sign into GoogleDocs and open a new spreadsheet. Save it as your Master Project Management Template.

Edit it like this: In the “A” column, write “Project” then “Goal” then “Measurable” (x 2) then “Task” (x 20 or so), as I’ve done below:

Save it and you’re done.

You’ve set it up in less time than it would take you to search for and buy a piece of project management software and try to figure it out!

Apply to roles (Duration: Varies. Only a few seconds per role)
When you bring someone on board in your business to get them working for you, just open the spreadsheet, click “File” and select “Make a Copy” (which is like “Save As”). When you’re prompted to name it, give it a name related to the project team or employee it is for.

If I was going to use this for a web developer/internet marketer I’ve hired, I would save it with that role as the name: “Web Dev and Internet Marketing”.

Then, just share it with that person by sending an invitation via email.

Creating projects (Duration: Typically less than 10 minutes)
When you’ve assigned and shared a project management document with a particular employee, you can quickly and easily add projects.

Step 1: List projects: Open the file for that role (“Web Dev and Internet Marketing” in the example I’ve given) and list the projects you want them to work on across the top (“Projects”) row. In the example I’m giving, let’s say that I want them to do 2 projects – design a new website and do some internet marketing.

Step 2: Write down your goal: I like giving people the big picture of whatever project they are working so I try to put down a goal for each project.

Step 3: List measurables: Measurables are important ways for people to know if they are being successful or not. Certainly not every project has a measurable – some are as simple as “just get it done” but I’ve suggested 3 spaces in case you want to put something in.

Step 4: List tasks: This is really easy to do. Just write the due date and the task in one cell and put them in order.

Other tips
Easy color coding: When your employees use this system, all they need to do is highlight the particular project they are working in one color (I’ve used yellow) and then highlight it in another color when they are done (I’ve used red). You might also want other colors for “on hold/waiting” but try to avoid introducing too many other colors into the system. Just keep it clean and simple.

Comments: If you need to give more instructions, just use the comments features (Insert > Comment) and type your comment for that field.

When finished: When a project is completely done, just delete the whole column to keep your space uncluttered.

Using the system (for employees)
All your employees have to do is open up the file when they do your work, highlight the project they are working on, and do the work.

Using the system (for you) (Duration: Typically just a few seconds per document)
Using this system is really easy and will rarely take a full ten minutes each day, even if you have several staff. Just sign in and check for the yellow-highlighted cells.

  • Are they on track?
  • Is the project they are working on going to land on your desk for review?

If there is a project with nothing highlighted in yellow, follow up – they’ve either forgotten to highlight it or haven’t started yet and a quick phone call or email will resolve that.

That’s it! It’s a nice, clean, simple system that allows your employees (even if it’s a distributed workforce of temporary freelancers) to manage their projects and for you to give some oversight to it.

Heather Recommends:

I love working with coaches, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to help them become more successful. If you'd like to improve your business, find out how I can help.