This is the first article in an extended series presenting project management concepts, along with detailed instructions on how to improve project outcomes. This series will be instructive for anyone working on projects, regardless of industry type, or whether your projects are internal (capital projects, new marketing efforts, product development, etc.) or being performed for external customers. In some cases, I’ll make a distinction between how a paying customer views the project differently from his/her provider (if you are the customer, it is usually beneficial to consider how the provider is viewing the project, and vice versa), but the intent of this series is to focus on the team doing the work.
An Introductory Recommendation
If your company does not estimate/assign/track hours that are spent on projects, please consider the following. It is exceedingly difficult to manage what you can’t measure. Successful project managers and companies are very effective at estimating how long it takes to accomplish specific activities, and at holding workers accountable. They know: how long it takes their best employees to complete tasks; which employees by comparison need training or re-assignment; which employees are ultimately not capable of producing desired results; how much to charge their customers; which tasks should be outsourced; where opportunities lie for continuous improvement; and whether or not the intended improvement has been achieved. If your company manages projects without tracking and evaluating the labor investment, your project management process will never achieve its full potential to benefit the company.
Selecting and Training Project Managers
Not all employees who have strong technical backgrounds and exhibit high levels of productivity will ever, even if trained, be successful project managers (or supervisors or department managers). Unfortunately, taking on these duties is often the only opportunity for career growth. So, as a side note, companies should consider providing high compensation for at least some senior technical experts.
Attributes of successful project managers include: an outgoing personality, willing to consider various stakeholder points of view, excellent communication skills, ability to multi-task, not conflict avoidant, process oriented, and able to view the big picture while also giving great attention to detail. Strong generalists often make better project managers than your technical experts.
Do not assume a competent technical employee will become a competent project manager simply by receiving his/her job description and a few company guidelines and templates. I personally learned more about managing projects from observing my superiors as they made significant mistakes than I learned from being trained (there was no real training). This was obviously a drain on profitability for those companies, and it could have been avoided had project managers been sufficiently trained in (and held accountable to) planning procedures, monitoring techniques, contracting issues, accounting systems, and human resource interactions.
Coming Attractions in This Series
Upcoming articles in this series will discuss:
- The five phases (process areas) of a project, and what happens during each phase;
- Why some projects (and some project managers) fail;
- Informed project selection;
- Fine tuning a statement of work;
- Proposal activities for the provider;
- How much time should be allocated for planning and management;
- What should be included in a project management plan;
- Creating a work breakdown structure;
- Designing and portraying realistic budgets and schedules;
- Project startup activities;
- Effective communication, meetings, and leadership;
- Controlling rate of progress, expenditures, and quality of work;
- Addressing changes of scope and contract modifications;
- Ideas for dealing with a project in trouble; and
- A checklist for project closeout.
About the Author
An engineer by training, Randy Klein has 30 years of consulting experience, 20 of which have included project management duties. His project management curriculum has been used by a variety of university continuing education departments and private resellers. He invites your questions and comments related to project management, quality assurance, and organizational improvement. Contact Randy at (801) 451-7872 or firstname.lastname@example.org.