Project Management

Big things are usually just a collection of little things.

What prompted this thought is completing a big project at work yesterday. That’s actually quite uncommon—working for a magazine, you tend to do a lot of small things and then move on.

But this big project has enough parallels to the big projects in my personal life (I’m part of a comedy troupe, with whom I’ve produced or co-produced a number of shows; we coincidentally finished work on our most recent project, a web series, quite recently) that I think the lessons apply.

Since I have more examples, I’ll start by talking about show production. There’s nothing really hard about it, even though it’s quite a hard job.

The individual parts—picking a cast and director, promoting, dealing with props and set and lights, scheduling—none of them are difficult. The hard part is that there are a lot of them, and they have to be kept organized and be done at certain points, and you frequently have to make choices based on incomplete information, and you often have to do things assuming but not knowing that other things will fall into place, and the problems that will arise are usually hard to predict. (The diva/crazy/unreliable stereotypes of actors and other theater people are far from true in all cases, but they’re also far from unheard of.)

So what’s the key? Planning is big; you have to know what needs to happen, and when. You have to know who you can rely upon, or perhaps to what extent you can rely upon everyone you’re working with. You have to be flexible and commit to making sure that what has to get done does get done, even if the one to whom a task is delegated doesn’t do it. And you have to be able to keep an even keel, even in the face of what seem like disasters (they obviously aren’t, in the face of actual disasters, but in the midst they feel much bigger than they are) and believe that things will work out, even if you don’t yet realize how.

Back to the work project, which is less, ahem, dramatic, but closer to relevant to the typical professional setting. The task—an annual showcase of new and renovated facilities—breaks down into simple steps. Lots and lots of them (the finished product has about 150 different pieces, each with text that had to be written, and photos that had to be selected, as well as selecting which facilities would be featured, and in which category, all of this after soliciting submissions and keeping them organized) but no individual piece hard.

Sure, there are qualitative issues—is the concept right, is the writing good, is it organized in a way that people can get the information, and so on—and those are vital ones as well. But in order to have something good, you have to have something at all. And that starts with getting things done.

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