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Eating the Elephant: 8 Steps to Successfully Completing a Large Project

Updated on April 7, 2015

I remember leading my first Lean Six Sigma project. On paper, the project seemed relatively simple. But as I assembled my team, which consisted of representatives from each department that contributed to the process, that project morphed into what seemed to be an impossible undertaking. I consulted with a Lean Six Sigma expert and told her of my concern.

The question she asked me made me changed the way I approach large projects. She asked me, “How do you eat an elephant?” I had no idea what she was asking, and honestly found the thought of eating an elephant disgusting. Needless to say, my answer was “I don’t know.” She looked at me and said, “one bite at a time.” I immediately understood what she meant and it changed my approach to accomplishing my project.

If you are leading a team project and want to get your desired results, you have to take a step-by-step approach. Approach your project with the following steps:

1) Assemble your team.

You don't want everyone on your team to be the same. You need a good mixture of talent and personalities. The key is to bring all those talents and personalities together to focus on a common goal.


2) Begin with the end in mind.

You can't build a house without knowing what the house will look like when it's finished. Likewise, you can't expect success in accomplishing your project without knowing what the desired end result will be. Identify what the finished product will look like and work backward.

3) Communicate your desired end result.

Your team members need to know what they are working towards as well. Tell them what the problem is and how you envision the project solving that problem.

4) Identify your resources.

As a team, you need to identify what resources you will need in order for your project to be a success. The most important thing here is to listen to your team members. They will tell you what they need. It's your job to get it for them.

5) Assign tasks based on skills.

If you took my advice in step 1, you should have a good mixture of talent and personalities. Now, assign responsibilities based on those skill sets. It's a formula for failure to put all like-minded members on the same team. Mix it up.

6) Break the project up into manageable “pieces”.

Trying to tackle the entire project all at once is like trying to eat the entire elephant in one bite. Don't try it.

7) Set milestones and deadlines.

No doubt, you will be given a deadline for having the project completed. Take that deadline and work backward to determine how much time to allocate to complete each piece of the project.

8) Continually check on progress.

Supervise and refine. Set meeting dates and times to determine the teams progress and to make any necessary adjustments.

By following these steps, you will be able to successfully complete large projects. The key is to not try to tackle the whole thing at once. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

Were you ever the team leader of a large project?

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