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29 January 2013

Project Management Principles Applied to Life

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One of the valuable skills I learned as an IT Project Manager (PM) was how to do a work breakdown structure (WBS). A WBS is a method of breaking down a large project into smaller manageable pieces or tasks. This is just one transferable skill I learned as a PM that I continue to apply to my life—and you should, too.

Project management can be summed up by the old adage…

Q: “How do you eat an elephant?”
A: “One bite at a time.”

Singer/Songwriter Application
Let’s say you want to publish a CD of Christmas Carols at the end of the year. Instead of waiting until November to start the project, and causing yourself unnecessary stress around the holidays, you should begin the project now. This keeps the project fresh, prevents you from cramming a lot of Carol recording into the last few weeks of the year, and ensures your CD is ready for sale at the peak season for Christmas Carols.

Create High Level WBS
First, outline the overall project at a high level. For example:

Publish Greatest CD of Christmas Carols EVER
1) Write 12 original songs
2) Record songs
3) Create CD art
4) Create master
5) Replicate CDs
6) Sell CDs

Assess Size and Breakdown Where Necessary
For each of the tasks identified, estimate how long each will take you to complete (duration). For a project like this, I recommend that you create tasks that are not bigger than 20 hours in duration. Think about when you will complete each task. One planning approach is to decide when you want to finish this project and step backwards into planning the tasks that need to come before the deadline.

In the scenario I’ve outlined, let’s assume you want to be ready to sell your CDs on November 1st. That means you need to write your new songs in the first 6 months, so you can finish your CD by your deadline. An example of taking this to the next level would be:

Publish Greatest CD of Christmas Carols EVER

1) Write 12 original songs

a. Write music / lyrics for Song 1 in January
b. Write music / lyrics for Song 2 in January
c. Write music / lyrics for Song 3 in February
d. Write music / lyrics for Song 4 in February
e. Write music / lyrics for Song 5 in March
f. Write music / lyrics for Song 6 in March
g. Etc….

Continue to break the tasks down into manageable work packets. Assign suggested completion timeframes and durations to each task, to create an overall roadmap or project plan. When complete, your project plan will show you all of the tasks that need to be done and when each task needs to be completed to meet your deadline of having CDs ready to sell on November 1st.

Proper planning can really make a big project like this more enjoyable—unless you get a rush from pulling an all-nighter to finish a big project. However, I do not feel that approach would be a reflection of your best work.

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