How to Manage a Big Project

When I decided that I wanted to write a cookbook, I knew that it would be hard (obviously) but when I sat down to actually start writing said cookbook, I panicked and had no idea where to start. Enter Kelly, my dear and hilarious friend, who could organize even the most complicated of projects.

I hired her to help me project manage the book and thought it would be fun for her to share her tips for starting a big project, infused with her humor along the way. Take it away, Kelly!


Prior to my current job in corporate strategy operations, I worked for a consulting firm for 12 years focusing on IT project management. While there, I received my CSM certification (certified scrum master) which focuses on the planning calculations used to drive large projects forward through quick iterations of work output. Top this skillset off with healthy doses of Type A personality and rip-roaring anxiety, and I have become the designated planner in our mom friend group.

One day when I was helping Julia (pro-bono, the outrage!) organize her tricky summer camp schedule (PhD suggested but not required) she made a comment along lines of “not everyone is as hyper-organized as you…”. Who knew! Aren’t everyone’s two main food groups lattes and high-functioning anxiety?

Flash forward a few weeks and she asked me if I could project manage (PM) her cookbook. PM’ing a big project takes some upfront math and a dash of the elder millennial need-to-succeed mindset (dad are you proud of me yet!?) but I’m thrilled to report Julia is on track and crushing our schedule.

Editor’s note: She is no longer pro bono in case you think I’m a monster.

Here are a few tips I would suggest to kickstart any daunting project so crack those knuckles, fire up that lower back heating pad, and let’s goooo.

1. Create a measurable statement. Write down your initial problem statement and transform it into a measurable statement i.e. What is your goal and how far away is your deadline?

  • Initial problem statement: OMG I get to write a cookbook. Where do I start?
  • Measurable statement: FML I need to write 108 recipes in 19 weeks.

2. List and size your tasks. Not every action item is created equal. For Julia, we listed out her recipes and categorized every recipe as easy, medium, or hard. I then converted those difficulty levels into Fibonacci Sequence numbers to plug into my planning calculations (blah blah math blah…don’t worry about it). For example, writing 6 easy recipes does not take the same amount of time/effort as writing 6 hard recipes.

Long story short: make a list of every task you need to accomplish and the relative sizing/difficulty of each one.

3. Analyze your schedule. Not all weeks are created equal in terms of expected work output. You might have a vacation planned or a nose job scheduled (not naming any names, this is a safe space). Go week by week and make a list of how much true working time you expect to have.

For Julia, her family vacation week had only 1 working day. Rhinoplasty week had 2 working days to support recovery time. I also plugged in her elementary school closures and our daycare closures.

4. Organize your tasks. Once you have sized the tasks and determined the schedule (steps 2 and 3), start organizing your tasks into your weekly schedule. Be mindful – on a tight week, take on less tasks. On a wide-open week, load up!

For Julia, this was transforming “108 recipes in 19 weeks” to “in week 1 you need to write 8 easy recipes and 2 medium-difficulty recipes. In week 2 you need to write 1 hard recipe and 6 medium-difficulty recipes” etc. Every Sunday I send Julia her task list for the week (we use, a true Type-Aer’s delight).

5. Be tough but give yourself grace. I track Julia to within an inch of her life and gently verbally assault encourage her if she is nearing our weekly Friday deadline and I don’t like what I see in our tracking tool.

But I also know her personally and sometimes you can’t predict those menty b’s, my gals…they come in hot. If your schedule falls apart one week, ride the loss out, exfoliate it off (has to be an #ad partnership here somewhere amirite), and come back swinging the next week. Adjust the future schedule accordingly.

There are plenty of tools and calculations available that I use to help PM my projects. Nothing brings me more joy than executable tasks and progressing towards a goal (except my children…most days).

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