Second in a series.
The first step to successful project management is to develop what I call a “project toolbox.” This is the foundation that enables us to take consistent approaches to the wildly different situations we come across in the projects we embark upon as photographers.
Your project toolbox is a standard set of tools and techniques you can use and apply again and again. They can be as narrow or wide-ranging as you wish, and can also evolve over time as you come across new methods or software, for instance.
Getting on the Same Page
The first item in your toolbox should be a terminology and definition breakdown that ensures that everyone involved in your project is on the same page. You can develop this as a simple spreadsheet, listing tasks, techniques and tools relevant to how you like to work.
Your document might include entries such as:
- Mindmap: a diagram of related thoughts used to identify and develop ideas and concepts.
- Stage: a collected series of tasks and duties that must be performed before subsequent sets of tasks can be completed.
- Stakeholders: anyone who provides input or is affected by the outcome of the project. This can include the client, those funding the project, the team working on it, etc.
These are just three examples of terms to include in your definitions document.
Change Control Procedures
Another important tool for keeping everyone on the same page is a change control procedure. This is a standard format for how items and pieces of information you produce will be labeled, so the most recent version can be found.
For example, a document in your photography project might be labeled “Shot list d1a.”
In this case, “Shot list” is the title of the document, “d” shows it is a draft, “1” is the issue number, and “a” shows there have been no amendments made as yet.
Subsequent items might be d1b, d2a, and so forth — all the way up to i1a, representing an issued document with “i” indicating “issued.” We will revisit change control in more detail in a subsequent post in this series.
Templates and Task Management
Next up are templates and tasks. As a time-saving measure, adding a range of standard templates to your toolbox is invaluable.
You can set up templates for reports, project timelines, initiation documents, work package descriptions, and equipment lists. This saves having to create such documents for each project you take on.
Everyone has their favorite method of task management, whether it be a series of notes in a calendar, a GTD style email inbox or a full blown software package with mobile sync. Your key considerations should be ease of use, how well you can involve others in the tasks, and the level of detail you require.
While some people use their task managers as planning tools, they are not the ideal way to develop an overview plan for the completion of a large amount of work.
Gantt charts and dedicated project management tools are excellent solutions here and worthy additions to your toolbox. As with most software these days, there are both commercial and open source tools available to fill these roles.
You could also create your own planning tool using databases, spreadsheets and calendars. This might take a little time, but it can provide you with flexibility not inherent in a structured software package.
Your planning tool should be able to track resources (e.g., people, equipment, locations, props), deadlines for individual project components (e.g., set building, location scouting), review dates for progress, and any unbalance or slippage in the workload over the course of the project.
Spending the time upfront to develop your toolbox can bring consistency and structure to the wide range of projects we take on as photographers.