A recent study by Stanford University on the qualities that companies look for in promoting people into the position of Chief Executive Officer concluded that the ability to put together a team to accomplish a task was the most important single identifiable quality of an executive who was destined for the fast track in his or her career.

Take the example of the spectacular success of a man like Lee Iacocca, who turned Chrysler Corporation around when it was almost bankrupt. One of the reasons he was hired into the presidency of Chrysler was because of his ability to bring senior executives together from a variety of different areas to turn the company around. In his first 36 months at Chrysler, he replaced 35 out of 36 senior vice presidents. His ability to assemble this team made all the difference. In his autobiography, he gives full credit to the men and women on those teams who turned the company around.

Your ability to put together teams to do multi-task jobs or complete complex projects will determine the course of your career as much as any other factor. It will enable you to multiply yourself times the talents and efforts of others, and accomplish vastly more than you ever could on your own.

A Learnable Skill

Fortunately, project management is a learnable skill, like riding a bicycle. It can be divided into a series of steps, each of which you can master, one at a time.

1. Start with the End in Mind

In managing any project, you begin by defining the ideal desired result of the project. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What will the project look like if it is a complete success?

Start from the successful completion, the ideal desired result, written down and clarified on paper, and work back to the beginning. Do this in conjunction with the team members involved whenever possible.

How will you be able to tell if you have completed this project successfully? This step, of thinking through and defining your ideal end result, is one of the most valuable of all mental and physical planning tools for any project.

2. Start at the Beginning

Once you are clear about your desired result, you then start from the beginning and determine what you are going to have to do to get from where you are to the completion of this project, on schedule, and on budget. Determine a specific deadline or target to aim at. Make sure that it is realistic and achievable.

3. Assemble the Team

Bring together all the people whose contributions will be necessary for the success of the project. Sometimes you need to assemble the team before you can even decide upon the ideal result and the schedule. Remember that people are everything. Take ample time to think carefully about the people who are going to be the team members.

Fully 95% of success in management is selection. 95% of everything that you accomplish as a leader will be determined by your ability to select the people who are going to help you to do the work. If you make the mistake of selecting poor team members, you will almost invariably find it more difficult to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.

Jim Collins, in his best selling book Good to Great, says, “The key to success is to get the right people on the bus, and get the wrong people off the bus. Then, put the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

Focus on the people before the task. Remember that because all productivity comes from people; the people are the most important ingredient.

4. Share the Ownership

Instill ownership of the project in the team members by sharing the job with them. There is a direct relationship between how much a person feels a sense of ownership for the job and how committed he or she is to making the project a success. One of the key jobs of leadership is to instill this feeling of ownership in each member of the team, so that each person feels personally responsible for the accomplishment of the overall project. You accomplish this by discussing every detail of the project with the people who are expected to carry it out.

5. Develop a Shared Vision

Develop a “shared vision.” A shared vision is an ideal future picture of success that everyone buys into. How do you develop a shared vision? You sit down with the members of your team and work with them to answer the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?” You encourage everyone to contribute, to visualize and imagine the ideal outcome or desired result of the project. Once this vision is clear and shared by everybody, you move onto the development of “shared plans” to achieve the vision.

6. Shared Plans

Create “shared plans” with the members of the team. These plans are essential to successful project completion. This step requires that everyone work together to discuss and develop the plans. Plans include the step-by- step activities that will be necessary to complete the project. Everyone knows what has to be done, and even more important, everyone knows what each team member is supposed to do.

The more time you spend planning with the members of your team in the early stages, the more committed and creative they will be in accomplishing the task once you get started.

7. Set Schedules and Deadlines

Once you have a shared vision and shared plans, and everyone knows exactly what is to be done, and what the ideal result will look like, the next step is for you to set a deadline for completion based on the consensus of your team. You may require sub-deadlines as well.

Achieving consensus is extremely important in building a peak performing team. Ask people how long they think it will take to complete each part of the task, and to complete the task overall. As the result of discussion and exchange, everyone should agree that the project can and will be completed by a certain time.

One of the biggest mistakes in project management occurs when the project leader sets a date or deadline that is arbitrary and with which the team members do not agree. In each case where this happens, problems arise and the deadline is not met. If the deadline is met, it is usually so full of mistakes and problems that it would have been much better to have agreed on a reasonable deadline before you began.

Set your deadlines based on the consensus of your team, or even a majority decision, if that works for you. Get everyone to agree on the timing and scheduling for each job or task that they will be expected to contribute to the overall project.

8. List Everything That Must Be Done

List every task, function and activity that must be completed, right down to the smallest job. The more that you can break the project down into individual jobs and tasks, the easier it is for you to plan, organize, supervise, delegate, coordinate and get the project finished on time.

9. Identify the Information You Will Require

Identify any additional information that you will require to complete the project. List the acquisition of the information as a separate task and assign it or delegate it specifically to one of the team members. Set a deadline. Remember, a decision without a deadline is merely a meaningless discussion. Nothing gets done.

10. Identify the Limiting Factor

Determine the limiting step in the completion of the project. What part of the project, what task or activity, determines the speed at which the project can be completed? What part of the task is the bottleneck that sets the speed for everything else?

For example, when we decide to do a public seminar for 1000 people, the limiting step that determines everything else is finding and booking a hotel or convention facility in a particular city. Finding and finalizing the space for the seminar is almost always the most difficult bottleneck in the whole project. Once we have confirmed a location, we can then begin marketing, sales, advertising, promotion, ticket sales, the shipping of products and materials, staffing, and everything else.

In every project, there is a bottleneck. There is always one task, the achievement of which determines the schedule for everything else. Start off

by identifying your limiting step, and then place the alleviating of that constraint as your top priority.

Put your most talented and capable people, and even yourself, to work on that task. Nothing can be done until that job is done first.

11. Organize the Project

Organize the different parts of the project in two ways: sequential tasks and parallel tasks. You organize by sequence when you determine which jobs must be done before other jobs can be done, with each task in order. Sequential organization is necessary where a particular task requires that another task be completed before it can be started. In almost every case, before you do anything, you have to do something else first. Organize the task sequentially with a logical process of activities from beginning through to the end of the project.

The second way to organize the task is parallel. Parallel activities exist when more than one task can be done at the same time. Two or more people can be working on two or three different tasks independently of each other.