Building A Project Management System (Part 1 - Theory)

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I'm halfway through my second summer workation and things haven't been going according to plan. Since it was so productive last time, I thought it was what I needed to get back on track. My work pace has been slowing down for the past month, and while the money is coming in, I'm worried that the results are starting to fall flat.

I realized that a formalized project management system is long overdue. I've built up so many techniques and learned so many tools to make organizing my personal and professional life 'easier'--that I have no idea where to find the most up-to-date project information at any given moment.

This worked before. In many ways, my brain enjoys the lack of structure--rather than returning to old projects, it was guided by the sense of enjoyment and satisfaction in exploring new horizons. That won't fly anymore, at least with my work at Foundations. It's no longer acceptable to lose track of the work that I've done and the work that I've committed to. Thankfully it hasn't bitten me yet, and I intend for it not to.


Part 1 - Theory

My favorite part of building anything is figuring out how to make it all fit together. So back to my beautiful whiteboard that I've missed for all these week.

Image of Concept Map. Project / Content, Schedule, Tasks

So I started with the 3 items that are most important for me to track in any project that I work on.


Content

Any files or other information that is being used or created. This doesn't really need to be managed, since I've been pretty meticulous in organizing my files and folders on my PC.

Schedule

The dates I need to remember. These can be either internal or external. External deadlines are strict, and they will be communicated with clients. Internal deadlines are important for better understanding the length of time certain tasks take and providing structure to make sure things get delivered on time. I'll have to decide how strict I want to be with this and how I want to hold myself accountable.

Tasks

Actions that I need to take to complete the project. For me, this always comes with the issue of scope. I have a hard time deciding whether to only track big umbrella tasks such as 'Design Landing Page' or include things such as 'Research Landing Page Layout' and 'Add New Landing Page Icon.' I'm quite efficient, given proper motivation, in completing large creative projects with nothing but my vision. Checking off boxes, more often than not, saps my energy and creativity. On the other hand, I'm the kind of person who forgets to cross their T's and dot their i's. In executing a vision, I can often 'save things for later' when I'm in the zone. This when I'm at my strongest mental state, but if I don't go back and pick up after myself, I end up damaging my final products.


Image of Concept Map. Project / Strategy (/ Tasks, Schedule), Content

I combined 'Schedule' and 'Tasks' into the 'Strategy' area. It seemed that all aspects of a project fit into the areas of 'Content' and 'Strategy,' so this should be an all-encompassing structure that could organize any aspect that one may need to track regarding a project.

Image of Concept Map. Project / Content, Schedule, Tasks

The idea of a 'Project' seems to have a pretty high level of concreteness (wow, I didnt' know that was actually a word). What I mean is when you have a 'Project,' it's assumed that there will be clear 'Deliverable.' Some piece of content or real-world product that is produced at the end of one's efforts. So the question became apparent, "What about the project that don't seem to have an end date or clear deliverables?" Some groups of activities and actions, while all directed towards a common purpose, don't necessarily have an defined end. For example, a traditional job. Let's say you work for a company for the sole purpose of earning a steady income (A great reason, I must say). Therefore, all the decisions you make at the job is focused on maintaining or increasing that income. You can have many individual projects at that company, but if the company starts to sink, suddenly those projects aren't nearly as important.

All this is to say that sometimes, the reason of one's actions provides more guidance than the tasks they set off to complete.

It was important to me to clarify in this system those undertakings that are bigger than any single project. This was first named 'Operations,' but I have since changed that to 'Campaigns.'

  • Campaign - A collection of projects, tasks, ideas, and information united by a common purpose
  • Project - A collection of tasks towards a measurable goal

And since I'm doing definitions:

  • Strategy - How and when the project will be accomplished
  • Content - What is being created and the tools being used

Image of Concept Map. Project, Operation / Strategy, Content, definitions

Currently, there are six areas in the lowest level of this tree. These will be the foundation of my project organization. It won't be necessary to track all of them. The 'Tasks' and 'Schedule' are the priority.

  • Strategy / Tasks, Workflow, Schedule
  • Content / Tools, Products, Research

Oh almost forgot, I'm pretty set on using Notion to track the projects. It's the most powerful method to integrate all 6 of these items under one system. The template feature will be really useful for ensuring all projects look similar and over time, that should help me quickly access the status of everything I'm working on. Their powerful databases will allow me to seamlessly link between all the levels of this system--most importantly, connecting tasks to projects to operations, while at the same time, giving me a broad overview at all levels of this system.

Cheers!