5 tips for starting a project and surviving information overload
January 18, 2022
Congrats, you’ve been assigned to a new project! How do you start your work? Usually, the first thing a project manager does is to gather the right information to better define the project's goals and how to achieve them. Thanks to modern technology and communication methods, now the project manager has access to much more information than ever before. At first glance, this is just great: different sources of information help to learn more about the industry of the project and the product to be created, and there are a lot of different tips and resources on the Internet about any project management domain.
Articles, courses, webinars, messenger groups - all these can contain useful information and the potential to improve the work of the project leader and the team, and also give them the opportunity to keep track of current trends.
However, access to a large number of information sources has a downside. Information overload and the desire to constantly stay informed of current events negatively affects the work and motivation of any person, forcing overwork and stimulating multitasking. Due to the large inflow of information from stakeholders, team members and their own vision of the future of the project, which does not always coincide with the position of management, the project manager may suffer from the feeling that the situation is getting out of his or her control.
For a project manager some ability to multitask is a good quality however, for specialists in a project team it can do a disservice. The desire to multitask greatly reduces concentration and accuracy at work. This is the reason why the lean manufacturing philosophy treats multitasking as one of the types of waste that needs to be dealt with. As they say, balance is needed everywhere: in this case, a balance is needed between the inability to switch your focus and ADHD.
A strange thing happens to us when we are overwhelmed by the flow of excessive information: the transition from quality to quantity. We turn into a wolf from an old electronic toy that is catching falling eggs. And then our plan to think over the project parameters is replaced by such micro-goals as “read all letters and messages received during the day”, “attend all meetings”, “read all 152 documents on the topic ...”.
Tip #1: Set limiting rules and fight the FOMO syndrome. Limit the number of information sources (use resource ratings for this), set a rule for the number of communication channels used in the project, as well as tasks per day. This rule is aimed at dealing with complexity, and not at restricting the stakeholders’ freedom.
Tip #2: Plan your time for creating information, not just consuming. Set a rule for the number of meetings per day, and schedule time on your work calendar to think about and work on project documentation.
Another side effect of information overload, especially before starting a new project, is the so-called "analysis paralysis" - the inability of a particular person or group of people to make a decision due to overthinking the problem, because there is too much data. As a result, there is a large number of disputes about the pros and cons of each option, and the inability to choose one. All this is accompanied by anxiety and fear of making the wrong decision.
Analysis paralysis can be costly for both a novice project manager and a fairly experienced one - the time spent on doubts and disputes, as well as the fear of error will ultimately prevent you from gaining empirical experience and the ability to make decisions based on real data instead of high-level assumptions. It is not superfluous to mention that in some projects delay leads to the loss of expected profits.
Tip #3: Learn to operate in uncertainty and gain empirical experience as early as possible and receive feedback on real results. In modern projects everything is dynamic. It will never be too late to adjust the project approach, methodology and fix a mistake if you analyze the results often and regularly. Adhere to the principle of project management: tailoring a methodology and approach to a project is an iterative process that can take place throughout a project.
Tip #4: Apply a phased approach for your project, use iterations, progressive elaboration and the rolling wave planning method, when you do not aim to think through everything at once for the project, but focus on what lies ahead in the near future. The more distant the topic, the higher level of assumptions and less precise estimates are used, and you will start working on them in detail when the time comes. To do this, learn to postpone and prioritize.
According to psychologist Robert Taibbi, people are especially prone to analysis paralysis nowadays, when, thanks to the abundance of sources of information, any subject can be explored indefinitely. The salvation from analysis paralysis can be the division of tasks and solutions into small "steps", which will allow using small steps to get closer to the big (main) solution.
Yes, at the beginning of any project it is desirable to be careful to avoid as many mistakes as possible. But in this phrase, the key is “as possible”, and not “avoid mistakes”. Because it is impossible to avoid all mistakes.
Tip #5: Apply the methodology or checklists to get relevant information on all the necessary questions to organize the project. Form your own agenda and a list of questions that you need to find an answer to. Listen to what your stakeholders are telling you, but don't forget to ask your questions. In this regard, the project management methodology helps very well, if your company has one.
Spider Ukraine has been developing project management methodologies for companies since 2002, and our 20 year track record has proven that a good methodology:
- defines a list of recommendations, questions / topics which need to be worked out for the project, thereby creating a solid foundation for the project;
- flexible enough not to limit the project, it can be adapted to the project’s context.
If there is no methodology in the company, we suggest using the following checklist to organize the project:
- Define your responsibilities and authority in the project. Discuss this with the project sponsor, project management office, or your boss. Look into the job description, but often there is generalized information, and each project has its own context. It's a myth that all project managers have the same responsibilities, let alone authority. If your organization has a rule for drafting a project charter, write down your authority and responsibilities there.
- Identify the key project stakeholders (this is the sponsor, customer, functional managers, key team members), make a list of them, get to know them, write down contacts, expectations and other important data. Later this information will be an important input for planning project scope, communications and risks (gathering requirements, planning schedule, reporting, etc.).
- Define and discuss the goals, objectives and constraints of the project, availability of the necessary resources, requirements, as well as success criteria (indicators that will be used to evaluate whether you are moving towards the project goal or not). Key stakeholders, the project manager and the team must have the same understanding of the project goals and objectives. If your organization has a rule for drafting a project charter, write them down there. In any case, it is desirable to fix these project parameters somewhere in writing.
- Decide on the lifecycle, project management methodology, and product development approach (predictive, adaptive, or hybrid. Our PM 3.0 / CAPM course is specifically designed for it. The more requirements and technology uncertainty in your project, the more useful an adaptive approach and progressive elaboration will be. If your project is complex, with both highly defined elements and changing components, this is a hint for a hybrid approach. Do not make a decision here on your own - consult with key stakeholders, with the project management office, if there is one, or with experienced colleagues.
- Use decomposition and create a WBS (work breakdown structure) or backlog - break large requirements and tasks into smaller ones for better manageability, planning and delegation, as well as change tracking.
- Decide who you will organize the project with. Determine the team and who will do the work in the project. To do this, look at the technology used, analyze the product with specialists, and also assess the resource needs for the project work packages. Determine what you will purchase and what resources will be acquired internally.
- Define your budget. It can be set as a limit from above, and then your task will be to distribute these funds between the planned activities of the project. You can use historical data from past projects, you can estimate the resources and cost of work from the WBS / backlog, and then summarize them. Add reserves for uncertainty as a % of the resulting amount or in another way.
- Use the RACI matrix to allocate authority and responsibility in the project. To do this, you need to answer the questions about who: R - Responsible (performs); A - Accountable (responsible); C - Consult before doing (advises before execution); I - Informed after doing (notified after execution). This will help organize a communication plan, and a system for setting goals and collecting data.
- Consider the frequency of communication on the project with the team and stakeholders: daily communication, reporting formats, teamwork and communication tools, escalation rules. Your best bet is to ask key stakeholders and the team, and use accepted company practices.
- Consider the risks. Start, for example, with the assumptions your project is being built on (about technology, the team, finances, competitors, etc.). Focus on the key risks (beware of analysis paralysis), consult with experienced colleagues in identifying, analyzing and developing risk mitigation strategies.
It is smart to write down the results of working out these 10 points, show them at least to the project sponsor and have them approved. In consolidated form this information becomes the project management plan. You can learn how to work out these points correctly on the PM 3.0 / CAPM course.
Project management has never been an easy task, due to the abundance of information from various sources and constant changes. Project managers must have a flexible mindset and be able to find a way out of unforeseen situations. But if the project manager has a flexible plan, difficulties can be turned to good and achieve the desired results despite unplanned changes and "unrest" at different stages of the project. Don't let the flow of information divert you from the main task - to organize the project in a way that increases the likelihood of success and minimizes risks where possible.
- https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/analysisparalysis.asp#:~:text=Analysis paralysis is an inability,can have too much data.&text=The process of choosing an,becomes impossible to choose one