As Stephen P. MacMillan, former CEO of Stryker Corporation and current Board member of MDSave notes: "companies can unlock value by changing how they interact."

This quote is as applicable to your small project team as it is to the large companies MacMillan runs. Changing how you interact can have dramatic effects on your ability to complete projects. Applying a new project management system, like Scrum, Kanban, or GTD, often frees up your team to focus on tasks and helps you better manage your workflow.

The trouble is that these official certifications are expensive. A "Certified Scrum Master" course, for example, costs between $1,000-2,000, and a single Getting Things Done seminar will run upwards of $500. Instead of signing up for courses, do a quick survey of each PM technique and steal the best of the best practices.

Borrow "one thing at a time" from Kanban

Borrow "one thing at a time" from Kanban

You don't need to be a Kanban expert to understand the value of a Kanban chart. Simply put: a Kanban chart takes a project from idea to development to execution, following the theory that a person can only truly do one thing at one time. Post-it notes are used to move pieces of the project through the stages of the development, and it's a visual way of seeing exactly what your teams are working on at any given time.

Look at the charts and descriptions at "Kanban Development Oversimplified," and put up a quick Kanban chart of your own. Chances are, you'll be able to instantly see where your project is, which tasks can legitimately be worked on right away, and which tasks have to wait in the queue until other tasks are finished.

Steal short meetings from Scrum

Steal short meetings from Scrum

You don't have to borrow the language of chickens and pigs to talk Scrum. In fact, all you really need to do is steal Scrum's best practice: the short, standing meetings held every morning.

Remember the rules: the meetings are short. Everybody must stand. It is not a time for discussion; it is a time for simple project and task status updates. Everyone at the meeting presents three items:

  • Project status
  • What the person hopes to complete today
  • What might prevent completion today

Then your teams go to work. That's all. No Scrum Master course necessary.

Get Things Done with capture-and-review

David Allen's Getting Things Done is an excellent system for tracking and managing tasks, but its numerous rules can be daunting to people who aren't on the TJ side of the Myers-Briggs spectrum. Solve the problem by cherry-picking the best way to get things done: capture every commitment in a single place, and review those commitments weekly.

Yes, this is a bit harder than it seems, but it's easy enough to carry around a paper notebook or your ubiquitous smartphone. Every time you're in a meeting and someone asks you to research something, or you're at your desk and you get an email asking you to contribute to a presentation, add it to your Master List. Then, once a week, review the list. As long as you capture and review everything, you won't forget a single task. Teach this method to your teams, and they won't either.

Meet The Goal by finding bottlenecks

Remember Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt's The Goal? Like David Allen, Goldratt's Theory of Constraints system has a lot of rules, so let's just focus on the biggest rule of all: throw resources at bottlenecks.

That's right. If you have a large task that's slowing your team down, or a weak area that's preventing tasks from moving through the project, throw everything you've got at that bottleneck until things start running smoothly again. There's math, in that book, that proves focusing on bottlenecks is the fastest way to complete a project - if you want to look it up, you can always check The Goal out of the library.

Kaizen? Do a little better next time

Every time you complete a project, run a quick review. What worked well? What worked less well? What roadblocks and other hazards do your team members need to avoid  in future projects?

While you're at it, run a review on your project management itself. Did you actually capture and review every task, or did you forget some? Did you use your Kanban chart every day, or did you neglect it during crunch periods, and lose time as a result? Did you effectively isolate the right bottlenecks?