There's no doubt about it, effective project management is one of the most critical components of a successful business.
But when it comes to managing projects, it’s no secret that there’s a lot of plate-spinning involved – especially if your project is operating on an international scale. So, while there’s no one-size-fits all approach, there are a few things you can do to apply a little method to the madness.
Here’s a seven-step process to take you beyond chaos to calm productivity.
Step 1: Stay project SMART
To prevent wandering off down the wrong path or ending up at a commercial dead-end, you firstly need to decide on direction for the project, by defining your ‘SMART’ objectives– in other words, your goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
- Specific: Don’t lose your focus down a road of fuzzy goal setting. Give your project direction with clearly-defined, specific objectives.
- Measurable: An objective without an outcome is like a game without a scoreboard. Ensure your metrics are measurable and think about your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – how will you know if the goal is achieved?
- Achievable: Be ambitious, but stay realistic. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Before you plan world domination, check your resources and set goals you can achieve.
- Relevant: What are the conditions and realities of the current business climate? Undertake market, customer and competitor analyses, as well as a thorough risk assessment, to stay relevant and be prepared for any potential roadblocks that might get in your way.
- Time-bound: By their very nature, projects are temporary. Outline a time frame in which to achieve your goals. By creating time-bound objectives, you’re on track for better scheduling too.
Step 2: Allocate resources
Once you’ve nailed your SMART objectives, it’s time to allocate resources.
This means understanding what tools, time, money, manpower and technology you have to work with – including the skillsets of your employees. The internet is chock-full of useful resource management tools to help you allocate without the hassle.
And, arguably, the most important part of resource allocation is the definition of the budget.
It’s important to work out how much you can justify putting towards the project. Don’t forget that international projects may not always be your most expensive route. Thanks to the digitalisation of many business functions, and advances in travel and communication, costs are not always as hefty as they used to be. Nevertheless, always assess the feasibility of a project and check what’s in the bank before undergoing international activities.
Step 3: Select your target audience
Next, it’s time to identify your audience. Think: Who do you want to convert into customers? What demographics is your brand best positioned to appeal to?
The same rules apply – stay realistic and stay focused here. Don’t get lost trying to attract everyone.
Then, address the factors that may affect how you communicate with your audience, for example language barriers and cultural differences. You might want to consider localisation, internationalism or globalisation, and whether you need to adjust your activities for selected international audiences.
Step 4: Schedule formation
Once you’ve decided the above, step four is to outline and order your tasks.
Decide what actions need to be completed for your goals to be achieved and what your key milestones are. Then, create a schedule using the milestones as building blocks. The schedule should detail when and by whom your tasks will be actioned. For this, you could utilise a Gantt Chart to act as means of a timing plan, visualising the sequence.
It’s important to involve the whole team in planning. Draw on their knowledge; they will be able to give you an accurate gauge of timings for deliverables, who is best placed to complete each task and how they should be completed. You'll also need them to agree with the schedule dates and set realistic expectations for the process to run smoothly.
Don’t forget to leave some breathing room in the schedule for regular project performance monitoring. And, when operating on an international scale, it’s extremely important to bear in mind regional time differences.
Step 5: Project launch and execution
Once you have completed the planning stage, you’ll have a better idea of what’s ahead of you. Now, it’s time to set off on the road to successful project delivery.
We’d love to say that strategy division is the easy part – but the truth is, the real challenge of project management is in the execution of the project. This is the part where you’ll be juggling several things at once.
Software to the rescue again. There are many fantastic project management systems that can aid you with the process. Basecamp, Trello and Scoro are just a few examples of those that can provide you with reminders, to-do lists and visualisations of task workflows. They help you to stay on top of the day-to-day responsibilities of being a kick-ass international project manager.
Step 6: Stay on top of it
During the project, it’s important to get organised.
Keep track of everything. We mean, everything. Stay on top of your admin and gather as much data as possible. You never know what you can learn from, and, when it comes to business, knowledge really is power.
For example, when managing customer acquisition and lead generation projects, it’s important to build a customer database to fully understand consumer behaviour and allow you to adapt future project activities.
It’s also essential to keep the lines of communication open with regular meetings and updates for all stakeholders. This is not only crucial for maintaining good business relationships, but it also allows you to stay informed and on top of all task statuses. You’ll be well-prepared for any issues that may crop up, too.
Again, when operating on an international scale, keep those time zones in mind. You don’t want to be waking up your supplier at 3am for a conference call.
Step 7: Performance monitoring to the end
As previously mentioned, during project execution, it’s vital to undergo regular project performance monitoring.
The best strategies are fluid and responsive to change. So, this is the time to monitor those KPIs we mentioned earlier. Keep evaluating your project inputs and outputs, and remain agile throughout. This allows you to adapt your strategy accordingly to generate optimum results.
Once your project is completed, you hit the termination phase. Only then can you evaluate the true cost of a project. Measure your ROIs, revisit your SMART objectives, and conduct a thorough project post-mortem to identify successes and future improvements.
Well there you have it, seven steps to nailing international project management.
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