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How to Organize a Project: Our 12 Most Effective Steps

A disorganized project can get chaotic – and that’s no way to reach the finish line. Learn how to organize a project so you can always stay on track.

By Fellow.app  •   March 31, 2022  •   9 min read

Think back to your high school days. When a teacher gave you a project, didn’t it feel like a huge burden? What a great preview for real life – projects at work can take months or even years to complete. The more you organize a project, the less time it takes, which is ideal for your bottom line. Below, learn how to organize a project.

12 steps to organizing a project 

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to organize a project. Chances are you’re already doing plenty that’s great for keeping projects organized – maybe you just need more ideas to really get where you’re going. Below are 12 steps for how to organize a project that all kinds of managers have used to great success time and again.

1 Use project management software

It’s in the name: Project management software can help you manage – as in, organize – any project. Honestly, it’s your best friend for project organization – creating projects, dividing them into tasks, assigning them to people, asking for updates, you name it. Plus, you and your team can log into your project management software from anywhere, at any time, on any device. It’s certainly a big step up from disorganized, messy spreadsheets.

 2 Make a mind map

At the start of a project, you likely have all sorts of ideas bouncing around in your head. All that mental clutter can make it hard to find the right starting point. You can create a mind map with all these ideas to organize your project. Put your main topic in the center, branch it out into subtopics, then branch those subtopics out into more subtopics. No idea is bad here – even if you later decide it doesn’t fit the project, maybe there’s another way you can use it.

Write it down

Notes and ideas can get lost easily. Keep all your notes and action items in one place to stay organized! Try a tool like Fellow.

3 Create a project plan

With your project management tools in place and your ideas plotted out on a mind map, you’re ready to make an official plan. Your project plan should comprise five parts:

  • Deliverables. You should outline all items you expect your team members to provide. Maybe that includes a huge blog post that goes deep on your organization’s recent product launches. Or maybe it’s all about your quarterly financial report. Either way, your project plan should leave enough time for it all to get done.
  • Timeframe. A long blog post can take weeks to research, write, and edit. A quarterly financial report can take a month – maybe a few – to put together. You should work these timeframes into your project plan so you can set reasonable due dates. A project where everyone has enough time for their tasks – not too little, but not so much they keep procrastinating – is more likely to succeed.
  • Resources. Your team is a huge resource. You have them around so they can go all hands on deck when you need help with a project. Your software, hardware, equipment, and other items you use in your work – even something as everyday as a ruler – are also resources. So too is the money you have available to pay for it all.
  • Budget. Will the salaries your organization pays your team be your only costs? Or will you have to budget for additional freelancer help? What about any new technology you need to buy to complete your project? Ask yourself all these questions, then find out how much each will cost, then work these numbers into your project plan.
  • Stakeholders. Your project plan should list everyone who will work on the project. It should also list anyone who can influence how the project goes or make decisions about it. Perhaps most of all, it should include the people for whom your project is intended – the ultimate stakeholders. Is a project really a success if the client or your customer base doesn’t like it?

4 Set a project schedule

It’s one thing to say, “We need to do this within three months.” It’s another to plot out which step should happen when. For long-term projects, your schedule can be month by month or include batches that cover a few months at a time. 

For example, if you’re launching a restaurant, you could set near-future target months for finalizing your branding and finding a location. Later in your schedule, you could include dates when the restaurant should be fully stocked with equipment and when you’ll open.

5 Set deadlines – and stick to them

Deadlines are basically the smaller-scale version of project schedules. They put concrete dates to key steps within any project. If project schedules are maps of a whole city, deadlines are the little neighborhoods you see when you zoom in.

To again use the blog post example, maybe you’re aiming for a live date two months from now. You might want to have the outline ready in a week and the first draft ready in another two weeks. You can set aside another week after that for edits, and another few weeks after that for final approval. Leave another week for posting and promoting the blog.

6 Set KPIs and OKRs

Sure, you can look at something your team is working on and say it’s good or bad, but that doesn’t help much on its own. Instead, you need to explain why. The two best ways to do so are key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs).

KPIs and OKRs are similar, but their scale and specificity separate them. KPIs are for your whole organization or project, and they’re often more general. Examples include revenue, ROI, and customer retention. OKRs are better for team members (or the whole team) since they define success. An objective, for example, could be to sell X more units of a certain product. Key results could include finding Y new customers and Z prospects per week.

7 Decide which tasks are priorities

Projects and tasks have all kinds of tiny moving parts. A project to redesign your website could include tasks like picking Algolia alternatives for better search or deciding the right designer to hire and getting your entire leadership’s feedback on the design. Each task can itself have a bunch of little tasks within it: Looking through designer portfolios, sending the design to leadership, getting approval from everyone. 

It’s all a lot. It can feel like less when you prioritize tasks.

Let’s use getting approval from every leader as an example. Let’s also say your board of directors is just three people: Mike, Mark, and Mack. Mark and Mack worked their way up to the board, but Mike founded the company. Mark is also known to be tough to reach. You might want to prioritize Mike’s approval over anyone else’s. You’ll be waiting forever to hear back from Mark, and Mack didn’t come up with the vision for the company way back when.  

8 Communicate well, and don’t skimp on meetings

No matter how much you plan for and organize a project, things get in the way. Maybe one of your best product designers realizes halfway through their work that your instructions are unclear. Or maybe you realize your team has fallen a couple of days behind schedule. Communication and meetings are how you solve these problems and avoid some of them in the first place.

As communication goes, you should take the time to leave clear instructions and goals in your project management software. You should also use your team communication tool to ask your team members for updates every few days. In both cases, you make it less likely that gaps or delays will emerge. 

Meetings can help on both these fronts too. For example, daily stand-up meetings give everyone working on the project a chance to share updates and hear from others. They also give you the chance to spot any yellow or red flags and bring your team together to problem-solve. They’re how you get everyone on the same page at all times.

9 Use the kanban method

The kanban method goes hand in hand with team communication and meetings. You’ll gather everyone for task updates, and then based on their responses, you’ll sort tasks into three categories. The names speak for themselves: “to-do,” “in progress,” and “completed.” 

Each of these categories gets a column on your whiteboard (or your digital whiteboard if your team is virtual). This way, your whole team can see who’s doing what and how well the project is moving along. You’ll also have an easier time identifying potential future problems. Kanban can be the perfect starting point for planning what to do next and keeping your project from falling behind.

10 Keep measuring progress

You won’t know that you’re reaching your OKRs without actually doing the math. Not that you have to sit there with pen and paper or a calculator – your software programs collect plenty of data. Typically, you can use this data to create reports that detail how well your team is (or isn’t) reaching its OKRs. If everything looks good, keep at it! If not, go back to the drawing board and figure out whether your workflows or goals (or both) need to change. Distractions and procrastination can also become an issue that slows your project down. To address this, you can use employee tracking software to ensure your employees are using their time most effectively.

11 Delegate tasks effectively

Delegating tasks effectively means giving your team members tasks that play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. You should clearly state each task’s goals and instructions. Don’t be afraid to give feedback and keep yourself open to your team’s feedback and questions too. 

You also need to delegate tasks efficiently, not just effectively. Is one person doing too much and someone else doing too little? Give the person not working enough some tasks you first gave to the other person. The person working too much should continue on with tasks that are right up their alley, and the other person can start taking the rest.

12 Be ready for problems

Even the best managers and project plans can’t predict everything. Challenges ranging from team members out sick for a week to work that arrives in poor shape can derail the train. If you set up processes to buffer the impact, the train can stay on course.

Admittedly, you can’t think of every possible problem or solution. The best thing you can do is coach your team on how to bring problems to you and leave extra time in your schedule. This way, when issues inevitably arise, you find out sooner than later, and you don’t have to put the project further behind to deal with them. You’ll have enough time to plan a response and get back on track.

Those who plan, win

Knowing how to organize a project is key to project planning. It’s a delightful cocktail of scheduling, goal-setting, progress measurements, teamwork, collaboration, and communication. Fellow can help with so many of these things. You can use it to set OKRs, collaborate on meeting agendas, take meeting notes, assign meeting action items, and get peer feedback. It has everything you need to see how close your team is to checking all your boxes.

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