There’s a famous statement in the Bible that says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” I believe typical projects require three resources: time, money, and personnel. With these three, a project manager can make anything happen. I’ve been telling my wife for 3 years that I can build us a porch swing. We have the money and the personnel (me), but I just don’t have the time. But in reality, I do have the time. It’s just that building a porch swing is not high enough on my priority list.
That’s the thing about resources. If the resources you need to finish your project are high enough on your priority list, then you will get them. Imagine you’re running a marathon and your life depended on you finishing it (kind of like on The Walking Dead where Rick had to run back to Alexandria to save everybody from the zombies). At some point, you’re going to need water, unless you want to let dehydration kill you. Maybe at the beginning of this marathon the top of your priority list consisted of making sure your new Asics were scuff free and that your favorite podcast was uploaded onto your phone. As you start to sweat and tire, water will quickly make its way to the top of the priority list. Eventually, you will be directing all the resources you have to acquiring water.
Your project should be the same way. So let me give you some advice on how to acquire the resources you need to finish your project.
Well, physically you can’t acquire time, but it is possible to lessen the amount of wasted time. I’ve mentioned Gantt charts before, and their use applies to acquiring the resource of time. It is never too late in a project to organize the tasks needed to complete the project. By investing in the preparation of a schedule, precious time can be more efficiently directed toward finishing the project.
One of the most widely utilized processes for saving precious time on a project is called the critical path method (CPM). It was developed by Morgan R. Walker and James E. Kelley, Jr. The CPM is way to calculate the shortest time possible to complete a project. In general, you chart out all of the tasks that need to be completed before a project is finished. Each task is drawn to represent its estimated time, and is connected to other tasks that either precede or follow. By connecting all of the tasks this way, it is easy to visualize certain tasks that may be able to be postponed without lengthening to overall time until completion.
For example, let’s say that to finish our project we have three tasks that need to be completed, Task A, B, and C. It will take us 1 hour to finish Task A, 2 hours to finish Task B, and 1 hour to complete Task C. But Task C cannot be completed until Task A if finished. The CPM chart would look something like this:
If A and B are started at the same time, and C is completed immediately after A, then the entire project can be completed in a matter of 2 hours. This drawing easily lets us determine the shortest path to completion, the most critical path. The usefulness of CPM drawings increases with more complex projects. In projects with many different tasks, CPM drawings can indicate which tasks have more flexibility in terms of completion dates.
It is impossible to complete unfunded projects. But there are ways to more efficiently use funds. Regardless of the type of project you’re trying to complete, there are usually paths to save money by working with more raw materials. Take for instance my kids’ beds. A solid wood frame twin size bed could cost upwards of $600 if purchased from a certain, popular store. I was able to find a free building plan for a similar type of bed, and when all was said and done I had built a comparable bed for a tenth of the cost. The compromise was the hours it took me to build the bed rather than just assembling a manufactured bed.
Many industries have used equipment auction sites similar to Ebay. I have used LabX and BioSurplus to acquire lab equipment for a fraction of what it would cost to purchase new. In fact, while I was working in a chemistry lab I believe we completed about $50,000 worth of gas analyses using a gas chromatograph that was purchased for $250. Of course there were minor repairs that needed to be made, but at the time our budget didn’t allow for the convenience of using new equipment.
For DYI projects, you’d be surprised how cheaply you can find hand tools and even heavy duty power tools at neighborhood yard sales. These tools are typically built for a lifetime of use, meaning you can cheaply build up a nice arsenal of tools making future projects that much easier to complete.
In general, if the budget for your project is tight, spending time building from raw materials can help ease the burden and increase flexibility for directing your funds towards tasks that require higher costs.
If your project requires some serious funding, here is an excellent guide on raising $10,000 in 10 days using Kickstarter.
To date, most of my recreational and research projects have not required additional personnel. For projects with tight deadlines or extensive labor requirements, I have found the delegation of labor to be exponentially effective. Did you know that there are websites like Upwork and Fiverr where freelancers are lined up to finish tasks for you at a minimal cost? For finishing your project, outsourcing repetitive or unskilled tasks has the potential to save you valuable time.
For recreational projects, an example could be building the aforementioned porch swing for my wife. If the reason I have yet to complete this project is because I don’t have enough time, I could simply hire a neighborhood kid to mow my lawn and use a grocery delivery service like Truckin’ Tomato to free up my time on the weekend.
For research projects, efficiently using personnel might involve using a contracting service like Adecco to provide contract workers for short-term projects. I actually started my career in research as a temporary contractor. Using contractors reduces the hassle of hiring or firing employees since the contractors are technically employees of the agency and not you. If you lack time, you can add personnel for a specified duration to get tasks completed. Another consideration to make when trying to complete research projects is the inclusion of collaborators. By agreeing to collaborate on a project, you might have to share budget and authorship, but you will gain access to a larger toolbox of experimental techniques and resources.
Remember, resources are usually easier to acquire than expected. It may just take a little extra effort on your part to get everything lined up. Good luck finishing your project, and feel free to leave comments or questions below.