Planning and delivering projects is an important skill in many careers but it can also be a good way to think about your university assignments.

Often, the easiest way to plan a project is to start with the output or end goal, and work backwards to identify what needs to be done to complete that goal.

Imagine you have an assessment where you need to conduct a survey, and then present your findings in class while referring to the broader literature on your topic. For this “project”, the goal is to deliver the presentation successfully, and to achieve this you will need to:

  • conduct the survey
  • analyse the results
  • research the literature
  • prepare and practice the presentation.

Some of these steps can then be broken down further. For example, to conduct the survey, you will need to:

  • write the survey questions
  • recruit participants; and
  • administer the survey.

Once you know what needs to be done, you can start working out when it needs to be done. First, note any fixed deadlines or other limitations. For our example, the due date for the assignment is an obvious one, but there may be others – e.g. maybe you can’t analyse the results until you learn how in the lecture in two weeks.

After you’ve set up these fixed dates, you can fit the other tasks around them. Some tasks might need to be completed in a certain order – you can’t conduct the survey before you’ve written the questions – while others can be worked on concurrently, especially if you’re part of a team. Creating a timeline or Gantt chart  may help you visualise how much time you have for tasks, and how the tasks are connected.

Once you have a draft schedule, you can identify what resources are needed for each task (including work time). If you’re working in a team, you can also allocate responsibility for tasks. You may need to revise your plan at this point – e.g. to add tasks to acquire resources you need (e.g. equipment, spaces, library books), or to work around times when a team member isn’t available.

You should also think about what you’ll do if a task is delayed or doesn’t work out the way you hoped. For example, what if you’re having trouble finding survey participants, or one of your team gets sick? If you can, it’s good to allow some leeway in the schedule just in case.

Once you’ve finished your plan and started work on the project, regularly check your progress and see if you’re on schedule. You don’t always have to stick rigidly to the plan – sometimes things change or something unexpected comes up – but if you’re significantly behind, you should think about how to get back on track.

If you’re working as part of a team, it’s also important to communicate and be mindful of your teammates throughout this process. Setting up the schedule together at the start of the project can make sure everyone is on the same page, and understands what they need to be doing at each stage of the project. You should also check in regularly throughout the project to make sure things are on track and discuss any challenges. Adding regular team meetings to the schedule is a good way to do this, but you can also communicate online or by phone between meetings.

Finally, once the project is completed, you should look back and evaluate how it went. Were you satisfied with the outcome? What worked well? What would you do differently? Reflecting on what worked and what didn’t will help you do better in future projects, and also provides a sense of closure. If you can, it’s great to have a “debrief” meeting with your team after the project is done (and maybe celebrate with lunch or drinks afterwards).

So, to recap:

  • Identify what you need to do
  • Identify when it needs to be done
  • Make a plan to do it
  • Communicate with your team
  • Check your progress regularly
  • Reflect on the outcome.

Using this kind of systematic plan for assessments can help you manage your time and meet deadlines throughout semester, and it’s a great way to deal with some of the challenges of group work. More than that, it gives you the opportunity to practice the kind of organisation skills which many employers look for. So when you’re doing your assessments this year, remember: plan ahead!

Writer Clinton Bell is a librarian at Caulfield library.