The Project Management Institute defines project management as: “… the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”
That’s kind of a fancy way of saying that project management is “how” you complete your projects.
Large companies who employ project managers to see a project from inception to completion typically have a formal project management system that helps shape the goals, resources and schedule of each project. This may include the use of project management software used by the whole team. A popular modern method is agile project management in which everyone who touches a project collaborates and takes an iterative approach.
Solopreneurs or businesses with small teams may not have a formal system in place for tracking time, managing expenses, collaborating with team members or evaluating performance and looking for efficiencies for the future.
But everyone has a system to manage projects. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to get started on work, meet deadlines or get paid. Maybe you scribble down a client’s request on a scrap of paper, mark the deadline in your calendar, perform the service, add up your hours in your head and send an invoice you cobbled together in Word. That, my friend, is a project management system.
If you want to improve your existing project management system, it’s important to identify the nature of your projects and acknowledge what is working and what you could do better. Make a quick cheat sheet outlining the way you approach each project from start to finish. Break it down into tasks and include time spent for each section.
Note: Remember that the definition of a project isn’t limited to paid services. Prospecting for new business, investing in new equipment, locating office space and creating a business plan could all be considered “projects”—and can be subject to your project management process.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the most popular and effective project management solutions available today.
This freebie is all about collaboration. Built for small teams, it allows you to take project-focused conversations out of email and into a task management tool that also helps you plan and manage tasks and milestones. Zoho Projects‘ interface is similar to Facebook’s, complete with feeds to help you keep track of ongoing discussions and upload tasks and documents. It’s also mobile-friendly so team members can use it on the go. For more storage space, you can upgrade for $25/month.
If you’re a fan of the visually-stunning and illuminating Gantt chart, you might want to check out this free open-source project scheduling and management tool. Great for solopreneurs who crunch data with team members and clients, the app allows you to produce Gantt and PERT charts and produce informative (and pretty) reports in PDF and HTML. Create tasks and milestones, organize tasks and draw dependency constraints simply and easily.
You’d be surprised at how much this cloud-based accounting software can help you manage your projects. As a solopreneur, I’m infinitely more organized about tracking my time using FreshBooks simple tracking feature and, with the info organized and at my fingertips, I’ve had a number of aha moments about the way I spend my time.
As a result, I’ve tweaked some of my processes to realize efficiencies I’d never had before. And at the end of the month, it’s dead easy to create an invoice in just a few clicks.
If there’s a powerhouse project management app, it’s Asana. Used by companies like Uber, The New Yorker and TED, it allows you to easily track projects from start to finish. Its simple social media-like design is no accident—it’s created by the co-founder of Facebook, which means you have at-a-glance information about every project.
Visualize your goals, track your time, assign tasks, get project updates and have conversations using streamlined and easy-to-use dashboards.
Designed for small businesses, Active Collab project management software offers a smooth workflow, easy time tracking and simple invoicing solutions. Each project has task lists where you can store files, conversations, records and expenses.
The task filtering feature allows you to organize tasks into lists and filter them by people, labels or due dates. And view your workflow progress in a Gantt-like timeline, using Kanban cards across columns or in a simple list. The choice is yours!
If you’re a freelancer just starting out, Trello might be the solution for you. Designed for everybody from solos to Fortune 500 companies, it has a distinct Instagram or Pinterest feel. Drag and drop your to do lists between boards, easily upload documents and chat with clients or other team members in the appealing dashboard. It’s free to use, but you can upgrade to just over $8/month for access to more features.
Another solution for the freelancer, Solo is prepared to be your wingman as you navigate all the projects that come your way. Keep up-to-date with your workload, review your performance, analyze your success rate at meeting deadlines and manage your time and tasks with a well-laid out dashboard. It also allows you to set up time sheets and generate invoices directly from them. You can get a membership for $15/month.
No matter which solution you choose—even one of your own design—spending time examining your processes is a wise investment. You’ll come out the other side understanding how you tick and how to be more efficient.