What do successful corporate leaders like Mark Zuckerberg have in common with students? They’re good at multi-project management! Undeniably, the college environment and the corporate setting both require the ability to work effectively on several projects at the same time, so learning how to do so now will prepare you well for life after graduation. Here are five steps you can take towards managing your projects like a pro.
Clarify your project goals and objectives
Many of my students tell me they don’t have enough time to complete all the requirements of their college or university program and show me a long laundry list of very urgent things to do. They’re so overwhelmed, they often claim, that they have no time for strategic planning for the coming semester or even the next month. However, as time management guru Kenneth Blanchard suggests in his classic book The One Minute Manager, the few minutes you spend planning today will save many hours of your effort and work time in the future.
In my MDP Program at Al Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) I remind my students that before the beginning of every semester they should sit down and brainstorm plans for every single project, dream startup or creative idea which they would like to implement. At this stage, it’s vitally important to set up clear goals and objectives, and to identify a possible end-product to have on your plate at completion (e.g. a 20-page business plan for an innovative student-led startup project on video-blogging).
Use your peers to build a ‘virtual’ team
As a next step, it is essential to collect and summarize the most important information relevant to your study project and scrutinize it using the SWOT analysis approach (evaluating Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).
It’s even more important to come together to work on the SWOT with a team of your friends, classmates, instructors or experts who can help you to take a creative and novel look at your projects, or your challenges and problems. They might give you vital recommendations and suggestions.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed how difficult it can be for students to find the time to come together under one roof. So, I’ve begun suggesting that my students build ‘digital’ teams, using WhatsApp or Google Hangouts.
Plan your strategy for the semester in advance
Don’t be afraid of spending time on your strategy. As the ancient Romans said, festina lente – “make haste slowly”. For every 20 hours you spend on a project (this is about one month of actual part-time work on the project) you should devote at least one hour to strategic planning.
This planning stage is also a good time to summarize all your plans and projects for the coming semester, to develop your overall strategy and action plan. For example, you can work on approaching several of your projects in tandem, in order to develop sequences or synergies to merge some activities. You can even consider postponing or abandoning some non-essential projects altogether, if it is impossible to complete them this time round.
Stay on top of group work
I am fond of saying that if you want to have a perfect cake – you should bake it flawlessly. In real life, a good project should be impeccably and carefully implemented. For example, all biographers of Apple Corporation’s Steve Jobs have highlighted that his success resulted from great devotion to the careful execution of his projects and meticulous attention to detail.
If you want to manage like a pro, it is essential you learn how to execute like one. This includes developing your very own method for tracking everything you and your teammates do – researching, writing, editing, communicating and figuring out new apps and software. Moreover, a very essential part of professional execution is effective communication at every step, especially if part of your work depends on other members of your team.
Think how you can build on your work for next time
One final step students often miss is to reflect on their projects once they’re complete. By doing this, you can learn from it and even present it to the proper target audience.
In any project, finalizing the results with your team will help you learn from mistakes, so that next time you and your teammates can do better. Sometimes these discussions lead to the next, even bigger projects.
The final step should also include a presentation targeting not a random audience, but a group of people, selected in advance, who are most relevant and interested in your project or maybe could become your angel investors or employers. After all, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take what you’ve done for your degree and try to leverage it in the wider world – you never know who may be paying attention!