The most challenging part of conquering a complex project is simply starting. At Atlassian, we deal with complex projects every day, from cross-product integrations to projects with aggressive deadlines or dispersed teammates. The bigger and more dynamic a project is, the more likely it is to cause stress and indecision.

Although every project is different, and comes with a unique set of challenges, having a basic roadmap for getting things started can be incredibly useful. Here are some of our favorite project management tips for tackling those big, hairy projects.  

Start with the big picture

Most people dive head first into new endeavors without putting any serious thought into the big picture. So take a step back. What is the main goal you wish to accomplish with this project? What outcome will this project deliver? Which problems or opportunities are you addressing? And how will you measure success?

Form a team

Every big project requires a great team. Ask yourself: who else is responsible for completing this project? And who is going to need to take on a new role? It will be beneficial to include members of your organization who have been a part of large projects previously, as their experience will help them to discover and solve familiar challenges.

Define a shared goal

Before you start assigning roles and delegating tasks, it’s important to communicate with your team and create a shared goal that is meaningful to everyone involved. Listen to everyone on your team to ensure that the goal you create is crystal clear, aligns with your big picture and organizational mission, and is challenging but achievable. You may choose to break down your shared team goal into smaller individual or department goals, but make sure your team members never lose sight of their contribution to the larger goal.

Consider roles and responsibilities

Teams perform best when we understand our roles, play our positions, and help our teammates shine. Now that you’ve assembled your team and assigned roles and responsibilities, it’s important to recognize every individual who is affected by or is familiar with the work. Who are your stakeholders? Whose voice carries weight with the project?

Learn how to iron out roles and responsibilities using the Atlassian Team Playbook

Break it down and define the scope

Begin to break down your major goal into smaller more visible goals, and decide who is going to be accountable for which segments of the project, based on your predetermined roles and responsibilities. By breaking down your larger objective, your project will become more manageable, your team will feel less stress and will have a more direct focus on the tasks at hand. Spend time here. Determine your major objectives, tasks, and deadlines. Rushing through this process will only lead to more challenges down the road.

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. – General George S. Patton

To ensure the project stays on schedule it will be helpful to create a project timeline with milestones for completion. Project milestones can be beneficial to keeping your team, as well as yourself, focused on completing each task by the date of choice and allows your team to assess progress on the way towards your goal.

✅ Tip: Our project plan template is free and available for anyone to use. We won’t even ask for your email. Grab the PDF here.

Make your life easier by using collaboration tools

We can all agree that one of the most challenging aspects of complex projects is staying organized while collaborating with various team members. Breakdowns in communication can be costly.

Thankfully, there is an array of web-based project management software programs available that can be incredibly beneficial for all things business. These systems allow your entire team to access, create, change and update projects and roles from anywhere, instantly. In today’s ever-evolving business world visibility, collaboration and transparency have never been more important. Any team that is serious about minimizing overhead, creating great work and enjoying seamless collaboration should consider joining the world of web-based project management.

Create a positive team environment

It’s no secret that the best work is completed when members of a team support and trust each other fully, are totally transparent and open and use positive collaboration to finish tasks. A person’s environment will always influence their behavior. Create a positive and uplifting business environment and your teammates will thrive. When team members know that people they respect and care about are relying on them they almost inevitably force themselves to produce great results. So, challenge everyone in your group to reach for lofty but entirely achievable goals.

Check out our Team Health Monitors to assess the health and performance of your team.

Establishing goals for complex projects

Adapt (then adapt again)

The greater your project is the more likely it is that you will encounter new and complex challenges. As a leader, it is important that you show resilience and confidence in the face of adversity as your project unfolds itself. You must adapt quickly and with poise. Be definite in your goals and flexible in your approach.  Rather than viewing your plan as the major goal of your project, you must remember the big picture and understand that a better path may appear.

Bonus tip: reward motivation and progress

One of the longest-standing ways to motivate a team is to create reward-based motivation. Incentivizing completion of great work has the power to inspire your team to get ahead. But contrary to popular belief human beings in the office crave much more than just material reward. They crave progress. They crave being part of meaningful and lasting work. It’s up to you to help your teammates understand how their work is making a difference. If you can do that correctly your employees will feel an internal reward far greater than a day out of the office, or a pizza party. They will feel that the work they do makes a difference, and it does.

Now, we’re not saying it’s going to be easy, but it will be easier if you keep these project management tips in mind. For more tips on managing projects through all it’s phases, check out our page on project management for non-project managers.

Dive deeper into project management

Project management tips for big, hairy, complex projects