Reflecting on a recent puppy-sitting venture his daughter undertook, Brad Egeland writes this post for all of us who have ever been handed, volunteered for, or take over a large project. Egeland lays out the story: his daughter agreed to puppysit a 2 month old St. Bernard. While she had several days to prepare to take over the pup as a responsibility, she failed to do chores in advance, keep certain promises made, or completely set in motion the required items for a positive puppy-sitting experience. Egeland saw exactly how this related to project management: what mistakes do people make whenever they get a big, out-of-the-ordinary project? What can they do to take away some of the stress and possible risks with such a task? Egeland has four tips for people who find themselves in this situation, starting with a very simple one: take stock of where you are right now. What other projects do you have in the queue, how happy is your customers and stakeholders, and what is falling behind. Getting a good idea of where you are before the big project falls on your lap can help you understand what kind of impact it's going to have on everything else. His last tip out of the four is, potentially, the most difficult to remember to do but the most important: let your current project customers know about your workload:
Finally, let your current project customers know what's going on with your workload. I'm not saying this should be last on this list; in fact it may need to be first depending on the project, the customer, your workload, etc. You're the expert on your own projects and customers so you should be able to gauge how to handle the situation. But, no matter what, if the new project is going to affect your availability for current projects in any way — even just for the short-term (and that is the assumption for this article) — then you must let your current project customers know. Otherwise, they'll notice on their own and think something is wrong or that you have just arbitrarily moved their very important project (at least in their mind) to the bottom of the pile. Either way, it's a fast track route to an unhappy customer. That's something you definitely want to avoid. So, keep them informed — let them know if you're delegating some tasks for a period of time. Set their expectations on how the project will be run over the next few weeks and make sure things are happening as you said they would. Informed customers — even if you have to disengage with them for a while — are still usually satisfied customers.
Other tips include getting project schedules and reports up to date before the big project, and delegating key tasks to team members for an entire month — this lets you focus on the big project while still making sure that the key tasks of your organization are still being taken care of.