The world is changing faster than ever and so organizations are experiencing more changes more often, with every change having an impact on something.
To effectively implement all but the simplest of changes, managers need to be able to understand and manage projects, no matter what their principle role is. However, before we all start to panic unnecessarily, bear in mind that project management is only the ability to deliver something “off the beaten track”, and just another set of skills that goes with being a manager – or should be.
One of the barriers to learning basic project management skills lies in its perceived complexity: unless you choose to become a professional project manager, it may all seem very complex with a daunting set of skills to learn. Open a manual for one of the recognized methodologies, like PRINCE2®, and it may seem impenetrable with numerous steps and a lot of bureaucracy. Managers sometimes just need an “in” to project management that doesn’t involve the complexity of a core methodology. The main thing to remember is that project management is rarely the “all or nothing” implementation of a methodology. It has always been said that PRINCE2 needs to be appropriately implemented but some see this as sticking rigidly to everything in the manual when in fact we don’t always need to cross each “t” and dot each “i”.
Instead of diving in headlong, the skills required to manage most small projects can be found in a dose of common sense and some robust principles. If you have a PRINCE2 manual, seven good principles are right there in section 2, other methods have slightly different principles, but they often boil down to the same things.
Communication is key
The number one skill for any manager in any discipline is communication. We have to talk to get things done and we need to communicate if something is to happen. Sadly, although communication is so important in projects, it is sometimes forgotten and instead we have these “discussions” in our heads and then plan/work alone. Communication is a skill so vital to project managers, that just forgetting to communicate can leave you and your project dead in the water. To be absolutely frank if all you do is keep your head and communicate well with those involved, you will probably end up delivering your project better than most – and that’s without learning any other skills at all.
Know who is involved
Communicating builds an understanding of who is involved in a project; those who will help, those who will hinder, those who will use the end product – in any case you should take time to learn who your stakeholders are, what each wants, when and why they want it. This will help you clarify the roles that are going to be played by stakeholders and who may influence parts of the project. Once a project is underway you need to agree what people will do to move the project along, trust they’ll do it and agree that they’ll come to you if they encounter a problem they can’t manage. If you are ever in doubt, communicate.
Remember whose money you’re spending
Remember, it’s someone’s money you’re spending. Sometimes it’s easy to forget your budget belongs to someone – be it taxpayers or shareholders - so thinking about the time and money that’s being spent will help you review what you’re doing in the right light. Try thinking of the budget as though it’s your own money before making a decision and you’ll be more careful about choosing the right things to spend it on. As the project progresses, continue to review.
Plan what you are going to do by thinking about what you are delivering – the end goal and anything tangible that you will deliver in between – rather than the activities needed. Here the PRINCE2 product based planning and agile’s minimum viable products can help focus attention on the ‘what you are delivering’ rather than the ‘how you are delivering it’.Think what will make each tangible product good, what will make it work and when it’s needed. Always be clear about the end product and what needs to be achieved before planning your first step and then again as you plan the next steps. Planning can be vast and complex or as simple as a list of things agreed with a colleague. Remember - if you have no plan you have no project, but trust your common sense when you decide how to do it, and never, ever, plan alone.
Managers need project management skills and not only because it’s another string to add to your bow. However, before going in with both feet, start simple and take a common sense approach to the principles behind the major methodologies, this should enable you to gain the skills and understanding appropriate to what you need to achieve. Thereafter, you may find it is appropriate to tackle PRINCE2 or whichever methodology is right for the task in hand, but if you do, at least you can do it with confidence and open eyes.
More AXELOS Blog posts from John Earwood
Project Management Then and Now