Your 3 Step Process for Tackling Complex Projects

Ever been tasked with a new project that you find challenging? Maybe your supervisor recently stopped by and asked you to craft a new communications plan, research information governance policy, or write a memo on some pending legislation. When these situations occur, no matter your job title, you become a researcher. And to get smart on topics fast, you must be efficient with your time and be strategic in your approach to acquire new knowledge.

So I thought that today I’d share a bit of my process and strategy to quickly ramp up knowledge on topics, when inevitably I have to learn something new and complex.

A good analogy is exploring the process I used to learn how to cook. Cooking is one of my favorite things to do. Being Italian, I naturally gravitate towards attempting to master Italian cuisine. For me, food brings back great memories of time shared with family, and reminds me of home. But learning how to cook certainly has come with, and still often has, its failures. Nonetheless, it’s a fun process, and something I really enjoy.

As I started to learn how to cook, I quickly realized there were some basics that I needed to master in the kitchen, especially for the Italian classics. I focused on learning how to bread and fry a chicken cutlet, make tomato sauce, and then meatballs. That was my starting foundation. I wanted to learn how to do each perfectly. Once I learned these basic skills, I was able to mash up different recipes, and make different meals, all leveraging my foundational knowledge.

So what lessons learned does this present for the workplace?

For starters, as part of your career development, you should constantly be exploring how to obtain knowledge that will help elevate your career. And this becomes really important when a new project is assigned, because you shouldn’t be wasting time learning information that is critical to your job already.

Periodically, you should be asking yourself the question: What are the foundational knowledge requirements of my job? What are the core pieces of information I must become an expert in? It’ll be different for everybody, and will change as you advance in your career. But you should identify certain elements of your job that you must hold mastery in. Maybe it’s cloud computing, project management, web development or design. But learning as much as you can, and focusing on your core job function – makes taking on new projects, diversifying your skill set and tackling new and exciting projects much easier. It should be a constant process you are doing, and being ready for the next opportunity within your agency.

So when the inevitable happens when you’re tasked with a new project? How should you react? Below is a simple 3-step process to test out.

Step 1: Identify the unique project requirements and set a timeframe

First, start off by knowing the basics of the project, like when things are due, understanding your bandwidth, client demands, and any unique project requirements. The goal is to get all the logistics and expectations out of the way, so you know what you are accountable for and what you must achieve.

This way, your focus is predominantly on accomplishing the project at hand, and not trying to set deliverable dates and understand outcomes. The basic project management elements should be very clear, and allow you to focus on completing tasks.

Step 2: Look for knowledge gaps and focus your research

After gaining a thorough understanding of your project, now it’s time to seek gaps in knowledge, and focus your research on those areas. This will help you quickly move along in the project, and efficiently use your time. For instance, if you’re researching cloud computing strategies and you understand and have mastered expertise in the public cloud, but project requires a private cloud, don’t waste time re-learning knowledge you already know.

Step 3: Break down the project into increments

Maybe there is one element that is going to be really hard for you. Keep on breaking it down into small, manageable pieces, and then reassemble for the whole. So for instances, you’re working to re-design a website. Break out elements that will be hard for you to do, maybe some advanced coding, and focus your attention on making it manageable. There could be tasks that within advanced coding you find manageable and easy.

These three steps are just the start. Everyone’s process is going to be a bit different. But by setting a plan and being strategic on how you approach a difficult project, before it is assigned, you will witness benefits and be able to quickly reach your project goals.


Photo from FlickR Creative Commons: Nguyen Hung Vu 

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Adelia Hitt

This goes with the eating the elephant one bite at a time. I generally envision an end goal and how long it should take me to get there and then mastering the steps to that goal one step at a time which is what I believe the author is doing. Very well done article.