I’ve been a project manager all my life. It was never called that but the duties were managing projects. When I ran my boutique ad agency I did not have a staff except for a sales person. All my critical personnel were contractors brought in on a per project basis. From the three graphic designers to the three printers and the customer service people they were all working from home but they made my operation seem immense. My 5000 square foot office in downtown Vancouver didn’t hurt that impression. Remember those days when you weren’t taken seriously without the big office located downtown?
What people did not realize was that most times the immense buzz of people in my mega office was coming from tenants I rented office space to, not my little organization.
It felt, and certainly was, a stronger position in which to pivot back and forth depending on trends or need. I had a huge amount of contractors because I never said ‘no’ to a job and realized, early on, that I could have different levels of graphic designers and printers depending on the budget. All avenues were covered!
The strategic planning process was always exciting for me and I loved making my Gantt charts and mind-mapping my way through a job.
The problem always was that I rarely took my own advice. Quite like the dentist with bad teeth or the divorce lawyer who gets fleeced in his own divorce I could rattle off all the reasons ‘other’ people should have a project management/office plan.
Fast-forward to the first few days of 2018 and my friend Earl Flormata (it actually says Evil Marketing Genius on his business card) suggested he help me do a ‘critical path’ for my revenues in 2018. Well, if a guy of Earl’s caliber is offering I’m taking, so off we went to my office, the local Starbucks, to put it together.
The critical path method (CPM) is a step-by-step project management technique for planning that defines critical and non-critical tasks to take you to your goal. Earl said, consider the task of baking a cake and put it into a critical path that will take you from shopping for the material to sitting down and eating the cake. Sounds easy and I guess the first time I did the exercise I ended up with about 35 steps. Not bad for my first time but apparently the realistic number to adequately cover every step is around 100 – believe it or not.
Of course, what we were planning on doing was going to be very simplistic compared to a serious professional approach to the problem, but hey, it was free and it would bring up many things for me to consider.
Some of the parts of a Critical Path were obviously ignored in my example of baking a cake so let’s thinks this out a little more. The five main considerations are:
- The Goal Itself
From baking a cake to making a million bucks there are things to take you there with the primary item being what do you want to attain.
- Time Estimates
When I am writing a book I figure on a year for the production including writing, editing, making it look good and publishing. It would not be in my best interests and would make a poor read if I made a timeline of 3 months for that project. A realistic timeline based on resources at hand and other projects that will get in your way go into the timeline.
- Task Dependencies
Like the cake some things need to come in a specific order. You can’t pour the batter without the pan. I now have a better way of creating paths by adding specific dependencies off of the main task so I can see everything clearly. The dependencies typically are contingent on someone else. For instance, I am having a book launch in February so it was a good idea to create a critical path to make sure it was a successful one. I had a dependency on a couple of things off the bat; the availability of the space I wanted, business cards and a popup banner stand. They all hinged on something out of my control.
- Milestones and/or Deliverables
The deliverables provide the evidence of a successful completion of a milestone. The deliverable must be clearly defined in the outset and be tangible. Again, often under someone else’s control but if you know that, you can set a realistic deadline to reach the milestone. In my case a big milestone was finding a sponsor for my book and the next milestone was finding a venue.
Don’t forget that if your timeline is exceeded in one area you will need to make up for that time somewhere else. Your timeline is in a constant state of change and diligence and not only needs to include when in the process but how long it takes to complete each task.
Keep in mind we’re talking about ‘causal’ dependencies and it’s assumed that as part of your critical path for making a cake, for instance, that you can afford the cake ingredients. What if your dependency was buying a piece of expensive equipment or having the cash flow to put a deposit on a new warehouse? Those dependencies would be ‘resource constraints’.
Parallel tasks might not even be on your path but may also hinder the completion of everything down the timeline.
Oh, and about your Critical Path don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer to setup, is a little over budget or takes longer than you thought to complete. The bottom line is if you are doing this for yourself there is a lot of flexibility in putting one together and completing it.
Getting back to my freebie Critical Path, here we are at Starbucks creating my company’s critical path for 2018. This was not going to be the professional chart I had figured on but it’s a start. I’d rather work in my local bar but this was serious business. Within an hour we had identified a revenue goal and three attainable revenue streams outside my usual ones that would take me to this goal. I could easily visualize the Bentley already!
Using post-it notes we made the headers in green (for money) and the tasks to completion, in sequence, in yellow. It’s funny how simple it all is when you identify the steps to take you to your goal. Our table was full of post-it notes by the time we were done and it was easy to put them into piles, stick them in my bag, take them home and stick them on my white board right in front of my face.
Imagine such a low-tech solution to a big problem. All I have to do now is follow-through with the tasks. Earl’s a slave driver for sure but in the end that hour and a half will make me about 30% more income this year. Wow!
Note to Earl: We need more Post-It Notes
Gary is a Partner at Equifaira Advisors Inc. Liquidity Event Planners.
His new book, “Social Media Rockstar – Social Media Marketing for Entrepreneurs and Business” is on Amazon!