I’m kind of an organization/planning freak. I love lists, schedules, containers, and calendars. As a matter of fact, I have 3 separate calendars on my desk right now: one for the family, one for work, and one for my upcoming move. Ok. I may have a problem.
But this is why I was so intrigued when Pascal Inard contacted us about his guest post: applying project management techniques to writing a book. Well, that was right up my alley because, after all, a book is just a project, right? A job that needs completing. And what better way to ensure success than to get organized for that project? Here, Pascal highlights six elements that need to be addressed for your book project, along with your flexibility for each—i.e., how much you’re willing to compromise on each one. If you’re looking for a way to get organized for your next story, I think you might find this interesting.
You may not see yourself as a project manager, but you are: you invest time and money to deliver a product to the world of book readers, and you want your product to be successful.
A book project, like a construction project or an I.T. project, has a specific purpose and a defined beginning and end time. Project management, like writing, is an art and a science; the same project management techniques that are used to deliver large-scale projects can be applied to your writing to help you complete your book.
Before you put pen to paper or start hitting that keyboard, think about why you’re embarking on this project. Write down the outcome that you want to achieve. It could be as specific as I want my book to be number one in the Kindle best-seller list in the urban fantasy category for five days in a row or as general as I want to feel good about having finished writing my book. There could be more than one outcome, but decide which one is the primary. That is your definition of success.
The next step is to set your six success sliders: Budget, Stakeholders, Scope, Schedule, Quality, and Team. These elements define the aspects of your project that are critical to its success. They are called sliders because you can set them at varying levels, anywhere from 0-100%, depending on your flexibility. Where you set your sliders will determine what compromises you will be able to make in order for your project to be successful.
Let’s take Budget, for example: if you’re going to self-publish and you’ve decided that money is no object, then you don’t need a budget and you can turn the budget slider off (set it to 0%). If you’re going to get professional help for your editing and book cover but you can’t afford to spend one cent more than you’ve budgeted, then set the budget to 100%. But if you can afford to spend 25% more, then set the budget to 75%. You have no flexibility with sliders that are set at 100%, so keep that in mind and set those sparingly.
When it comes to Stakeholders, there are three types: critical, essential, and interested.
- Critical stakeholders are the people or organizations that can stop your project from succeeding—your publisher or agent, for example, if your book is going to be traditionally published. If you have critical stakeholders, set the slider at 100%, because your project cannot succeed without them, and you need to make sure their requirements (like word count and deadlines) are satisfied.
- Essential stakeholders have less impact on your success; they can delay your project from meeting its outcome but not stop it. A good example of essential stakeholders are readers eagerly waiting for your next installment. In an effort to keep them engaged, you may spend time connecting with them through social media, which takes time away from your writing. With a slider set below 100%, you give yourself some flexibility, so if you fall behind schedule, you can choose to spend less time on social media.
- Interested stakeholders — like friends and family — have little or no influence on your outcome; they could be your friends and family. You can set this slider wherever you want. If they’re free to share their opinions but will have no real impact on your end product, then set this slider to 0%. If their thoughts and ideas will be taken into consideration and may affect your story, you may want to set this slider higher to accommodate them.
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, the Scope is your table of contents. For a fiction book, it’s the outline of your plot. For example, if you’re writing a comprehensive book about the capital cities of Europe, you cannot leave one of them out, and the scope is set to 100%. For other books, the scope might be more flexible.
You’ll also need to decide how important the Schedule is. Do you want to publish your book by a specific date? If it’s a book set during World War One and you want to release it on November 11, you need to plan accordingly. If your goal is to write the book in six months, give yourself flexibility so that you don’t compromise on scope or quality.
Quality is the most subjective slider. You might want your book to be perfectly written, and you have a very precise idea of what that means. If quality is set to 100%, then be prepared to spend more time or money, in which case you cannot set both budget and schedule to 100%.
Your Team consists of the people helping you to deliver your project: your beta readers, your editor, your cover designer. If you want to attract beta readers by offering them advance copies of your book, you’ll need to include this expense in your budget.
Sliders are powerful tools for making decisions. For example, if you’ve set your Schedule at 75%, but by the end of your allotted writing time you haven’t finished your story, you can spend another month to write. Otherwise, you’re in for some late nights with your laptop.
As we all know, things rarely go exactly according to plan; part of the science of project management is knowing how to deal with unexpected events—or risks as we project managers call them. Think about the sliders that you have set to 100% or 75%, since they’re the most vulnerable to the vagaries of life, and imagine some What If scenarios. What would you do if your car broke down and you had to use your project funds to get it repaired? If you have flexibility in your schedule, you could delay the end date of your project to give you time to save money to recover your losses. Alternatively, you could ask a friend who’s studying to be a graphic designer to do your book cover instead of paying a professional. Keep in mind that not all risks are external: what if halfway through writing you lose your inspiration? Attending a writer’s retreat could be the answer if you have flexibility in your budget.
As you execute your project, you will be able to track how you’re doing according to your sliders. Are on you on time and on budget? Are you managing your stakeholders’ expectations? Remember, you can adjust your definition of success or your slider settings at any time. Nothing is set in stone.
I hope you’ve found this short introduction to the success sliders used in Agile project management useful. I wish you all the best with the success of your project.
Pascal Inard writes nonfiction and novels. His latest project ‘The Memory Snatcher’ (the story of a police inspector and a quantum physicist who join forces to stop a memory thief from paralysing the whole planet) will be published next month.
Pascal lives a creative life in Melbourne, Australia with his illustrator and crafter wife Isabella and three children. When he’s not writing or photographing, he manages IT projects for a major Australian bank using the Agile methodology.