How to survive project management for the non-project manager

Two business people standing looking at project plans on a white board

Many small companies and even departments in larger enterprises simply don’t have the need for a dedicated project manager and, more often than not, will appoint someone from within the business to run projects on a case-by-case basis.

Ana BertacchiniSelection is usually made on the grounds of how close these individuals are to the product or the process being implemented, rather than the skillset required to manage a project. That could mean that people whose core expertise is actually HR, marketing or something else are given project management responsibility.

But around 60% of projects fail – and this is largely associated with a lack of understanding of effective governance.

That’s not to say this situation can’t work out favourably, though a successful outcome is much more likely – and easier for the person given this new responsibility – if they have a toolkit to work from. This will provide much-needed guidance on how to approach the task from a project management perspective.

Obviously project management is a hugely complex topic but for those with no formal training, it essentially comes down to four guiding principles.

  1. Develop an unblinking focus on time management
    If you have to deliver something which is time dependent, there is nothing worse than a moving target. So having the foresight and discipline to juggle “business-as-usual” tasks with the project in hand is crucial – otherwise, timelines will suffer.
    It may sound obvious but simple things like checking your calendar daily and keeping on top of meetings – in terms of scope and keeping within the time allocation – will help enormously.

  2. Create a project plan
    In this scenario, where day-to-day tasks run alongside the project, having a plan in place becomes even more important.
    However, this doesn’t mean imposing deadlines, sticking blindly to an end date and trying to make everything fit. Far easier is to put a plan together after undertaking an “estimation exercise” with the people who will actually execute the job. Approach the planning process as a collaboration with the people who will execute tasks. This will give you a far more realistic picture.

  3. Engage with your team
    No-one in a project can work in isolation. I would say 80% of my time is spent talking to people and setting up meetings. This may sound very laborious but it pays dividends in the long run.
    It allows you to build good relationships with your peers, colleagues as well as your sponsor – each has a vital role to play in facilitating different aspects of the project. Far better to bring the team along with you on the project journey – you will get much more out of them. Open communication is key.

  4. Make use of available tools and methodologies
    If everything fails, there are still many effective tools out there designed to help. Many templates, spreadsheets and packages are easy to access and can be tailored for use as project plans.
    Appreciating the thinking behind formal methods such as PRINCE2® and Agile can provide you with an important toolkit based on the collected knowledge and experience of project managers around the world. In addition, independent learning can add to the flavour of what’s involved and expected at each stage of a project’s lifecycle.
    So if you are put in the position of being a project manager by designation rather than design, even if you only follow these basic steps, the chances of project success should improve significantly.

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts by Ana Bertacchini

How to align project management to corporate strategy

How to use 'lessons learned' to reduce project failure

How project managers can always improve emotional intelligence

The multi-faceted project manager

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