Everyone needs sales skills in order to succeed. The same is true with project management skills: whether you need to get things done on your own or -- more likely -- with and through other people, the ability to turn a dream into a reality makes all the difference.

And so does using the right project management system -- and tools.

The following is from Matthew Guay, a content marketer at Zapier, a tool that lets you easily connect apps and automate repetitive tasks. (And one of my eight powerful social media tools for savvy businesses.)

Here's Matthew:

That top app on the App Store, the latest rocket launch, or the new menu item at your favorite restaurant? They didn't happen automatically.

The best products and services started instead with an idea. Nurture that idea, figure out what steps are required to achieve it, and finish them one by one. And then, with luck and determination, you'll have that idea turned into reality.

That's projects in a nutshell. Project management is far from the most interesting topic--and yet it's a crucial part of launching your next big thing.

Here's how.

1. Find a project management system that fits your work style.

Kanban. Gantt. Lean. Scrum. Project management comes so many new terms, it's easier to just grab a familiar to-do list and not worry about it all.

And yet, project management systems are what make it possible to manage projects. You need a way to list what needs done--something that to-do list could do--but also a way to figure out when tasks need completed, what needs done first, and what steps need taken to get the entire project finished.

"Management was perhaps the greatest challenge," said NASA historian Roger D. Launius of the challenges of putting a man on the moon. If that's true of a moon landing, it's absolutely true with your projects.

So where do you start? First, you need to decide what's most important: a workflow or a timeline for your tasks. That--not the specific project management strategy you choose--is the crucial decision.

Traditional project management systems tend to be focused on due dates and the project's overall schedule. Tools like Gantt charts and calendars help you figure out which task to do when, and how much the project's end date will change if one task doesn't get finished.

Newer project management systems tend to be focused more on workflows, the steps needed to get each part of the project finished successfully. Kanban boards, with tasks arranged in lists on a board, are one of the more popular tools for that.

Each project management system includes the focus on either time, workflow, or a combination of the two. Traditional and Scrum focus more on time, the former on each task's time and the latter on the time needed to complete a set of tasks. Lean and PRINCE2 systems focus more on the workflow, to make sure everything is done consistently. And Six Sigma--and a variety of other workflows--mix the two ideas for a balance between time and workflow.

There are always tradeoffs to be made, but your first step is to figure out what your team needs the most help focusing on in projects.

2. Choose apps to juggle all your tasks.

App stores promise there's always an app for that. With project management, there's dozens and hundreds of apps for that. You'll find project management tools in every shape and size: simple task managers, advanced tools with hybrid kanban and gantt chart, and all-in-one software that combines projects, contacts, chat, and more.

You want the best project management tool, but that, unfortunately, doesn't exist. You'll find good things in almost every project management app. In fact, after testing over sixty project management tools this year, we've found that most actually have a unique way of managing tasks.

That's your opportunity. You may not want a pure Lean workflow, and Gantt charts alone might not be enough for your project. There's still an app for you. Check out app reviews and roundups--like Zapier's roundup of 50 great project management tools--and try out the ones that seem most similar to the way your team works.

You won't find the best app, but you will find the best for you. As Podio product head Martin Mntzing says, "Any tool that aligns with how you best execute projects your own way is best."

3. Divide and conquer.

With a project management system in place, and your tasks all organized by due date and workflow stages, you're almost ready to get to work. One thing is still left: figuring out who will do which tasks.

Being a project manager is hard--harder than choosing a project management system. It's part politics--learning how to please everyone--and part leading by just digging in and doing the worst tasks yourself. You'll have to over communicate, talk through the details, and try to balance everyone's concerns.

And it's not just the people you'll have to balance. You'll likely also need to fit multiple tools into your workflow. Even your great new project management tool's calendar might not be as good as the calendar your team already uses, and odds are half of your discussions will still happen through email. You'll need to pull together a project management stack, with different apps juggling various parts of your project.

With the best people and apps handling each part of your project, your work will go far more smoothly than it would if you try to push everything to fit a mold.

4. Use checklists to ensure consistent quality.

Perhaps a kanban board gives your projects the order they need. Or maybe you're better off relying on due dates and schedules. Either way, your projects still need a process.

Pilots, surgeons, and other professionals in critical, life-or-death industries may plan their broad agendas in project management tools. When they're on the job, though, there's something a bit lower key that ensures each job is done right every time: checklists.

Otherwise known as standard operating procedures, checklists and standardized workflows let you document your best practices and ensure critical steps are completed every time. No matter how smart your team is, it's still easy to forget stuff. Even pilots do. That's why anything that needs to be done more than twice needs to be documented.

So list your best practices, routines, and even the tips and tricks that help you get your work done. Share it with your team, and get their feedback. You'll likely learn from each other and be more effective at your own jobs. And at the very least, you'll prevent your project from ending in a fiery crash.

Your project isn't going to be easy. It'll still require blood, sweat, toil, and tears. But with a project management system, it's at least possible.

The latest apps and strategies are not what's important. They won't make or break your project--they're more likely to break it, if anything. Instead, figure out what workflows will make projects fit the way your team works, and connect your favorite tools so your team doesn't have to learn anything new.

Then get back to work. It's not the project management itself that's important, after all. Focus on your project itself the most. That's what will help you make the next best thing.

To learn more about project management--including the best project management systems, software, strategies, and more--check out Zapier's new free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Project Management. It'll give you the tools you need to make your next project a success.

Published on: Jun 17, 2016
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