A couple weeks ago I had someone send me an email as she was experiencing quite a bit of angst around being the one to develop a work plan/project plan.

​She said “Mak, I have no idea what to do here. I’m used to being the person that is part of the plan. I’ve never been in the seat of having to come up with a plan! What do I do and where do I even start?”

Do those words sound familiar to you?

It rang a bell for me! I can remember very clearly one of my first big initiatives. It was the creation of a CRM for my department.

​I was eager and anxious all at once. I sat in my office, opened my notebook aaaaand nada.

​I mean this was not like the other small projects we ran at the department level. It was soooo much more and affected more than just our department.

And the same question went through my head, where in the world do I even begin with this?

Luckily, I had a couple of people in my corner that guided me through it.

My mentor was a help and the project manager that was assigned to our department for this particular initiative really took me under his wing and broke things down for me step-by-step. I remember once he had to pull out the flip-chart for me!

I was very fortunate and so I want to pass on that guidance to you in a simplified manner in hopes that it helps you get unstuck!

​I’ll break things down step-by-step and share some of my biggest learnings in heading up various projects no matter the size.

Okay so your boss comes into your office, perhaps your virtual office and says ‘hey Sally I need you to head up the change of a new system for your department’.  What do you do and where do you start? Click the video below and I’ll walk you through it. 


But first, to really help you stand out in your new role I highly recommend downloading The Ultimate Guide to Being an Effective Team Leader.  A free downloadable interactive guide to help you show up and stand out and take the right action steps.

STEP #1 - Clarify Outcomes

Get clarification of the desired end state.

You need to know when the project should be complete and what it should look like at completion. 

Step 2 - Identify the Resources

In this context, resources are not just budgets, equipment, software etc but also people. 

So who’s the sponsor or person who is championing this project? Who are the stakeholders? Or who are the people that are involved or even affected by the project?

If your boss can tell you from the get go who should be involved that is absolute gold. 

Sometimes as managers we think a project for our team only affects our team. But nothing in an organization really exists in a vacuum and acting as if it does gets people in trouble. 

Have you ever been in a management meeting where a decision was made way over there that caused second and third order consequences that affected you that you weren’t aware of? 

Yah!  It’s because that manager assumed that the project would only affect them. So don’t be like that manager. Get your bosses input on who they think might be affected.

Step 3 - Get Some Context

When I was leading projects  my biggest mistake and I say biggest cus let’s be real there were many. But my biggest mistake was not getting context. 

Again nothing happens in a vacuum which means most likely there is some sort of background to what’s being asked of you that will help you be that much more effective at doing what you’re doing. 

Context provides clarity and alignment. 

During this step of context you want to know: 

>>Why are you being tasked with this project? 

>>Why are you doing it in the first place? 

If there are any learnings from past projects you should know about. 

A great exercise to help you with this is the 5-Why’s that was developed by Sakichi Toyoda

You can use the same technique to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the context of your project.

Step 4 - What Needs to be Done?

Reverse engineer the specifics of how you intend to achieve the outcome you were tasked with. 

Map out every deliverable attached to the outcome. 

I love using Trello for this!

Step 5 - Check Your Assumptions

This just means identifying any beliefs that you or members of your team are carrying around that might affect the direction or outcome of your project. 

The reason it’s important to check your assumptions is because the assumptions you guys might be carrying around could break your entire project apart by causing people to work in ways that aren’t relevant or that might cause people to not work in alignment. 

Slow down and ask yourself:

>> What do we believe to be true? 

>> What must be true in order for us to succeed? 

Asking those two questions is a great way to open up discussion around assumptions.

Slowing down to do this step will help you surface underlying beliefs that need to be checked in order to have a successful project.

Step 6 - Assign Timelines and Milestones

Identify important progress markers or milestones to let you know you are making progress. 

Each milestone should have a specific due date.

Side note: I’ve found specificity in due dates is really important especially if there’s an update that needs to be given or a meeting that needs to be had. 

Specify the date, time and where. Also ensure there is a champion either for every deliverable or milestone so that those involved know the piece of pie they are responsible for.

Step 7 - Measures

Identify any specific metrics that would let you know what you’re doing is a success. 

You can use qualitative or quantitative metrics. As long as these metrics actually indicate success or failure, because metrics for metrics sake mean nothing. 

Step 8 - Review and Update

I think one of the reasons I closely align with the agile methodology is because it allows you to evaluate more frequently.

Rather than doing something all the way through and realizing at the end that it makes no sense or you had a light switch installed in the wrong place – following the framework allows you evaluate what you’re doing more frequently to make changes or pivots. 

Build in checkpoints to just review what’s been done, what’s working and what’s not working. 

A great framework for that is START, STOP, CONTINUE

If the project is supposed to last 3 months, maybe every month build in time aside from those milestones to come together and have everyone collaborate and provide input on what you should start, stop and continue doing.