The first thing we have to ask is: “What is a project?” A project is defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. Just about every major accomplishment in history, from the building of the pyramids to the outcome of wars to the invention of the polio vaccine, has started with a project manager making a project proposal.
Projects can be any scale and complexity. They can be virtually risk-free propositions with a common-sense plan of action, or they can be dubious undertakings proposed as last-ditch efforts out of desperation. No matter the outcome of a project, you can demonstrate yourself as a competent project manager.
Projects can also have any number of motivations or even a composite motive. They can be undertaken to benefit the profit bottom line for a corporation, the market for a product, or society at large.
Responsibilities of a Project Manager
A project manager is expected to serve the following capacities:
- Define the goal, scope, and success condition of a project
- Plan the sequence of events for meeting the goal
- Plan the management of resources and time
- Budget the costs
- Analyze and manage the risks
- Lead the team appointed to accomplish the project
“Project manager” might seem an intimidating role to step into if you are inexperienced. But it’s actually something we all do in our day-to-day lives, whether we realize it or not. Casual personal project management can take the form of a to-do list, a spreadsheet to plan a budget or a list of personnel and their responsibilities. Project management is simply the formalized version of the skills we all deploy in our daily lives, developed to the scope that justifies expenditures of large amounts of money, time, and resources.
The Life Cycle of a Project
All formal projects follow the following steps:
• Statement of scope
• Breakdown of structure
• Planning of timeline
• Project leadership
• Progress tracking
• Forecasting of goal resolution
• Tracking of activity
• Tracking of expenditures
• Result analysis
• Final report
One axiom of managers is to follow the “four Ps”: Plan, Process, People, and Power.
Styles of Project Management
This is the part where you get to demonstrate your unique skills and talents. There are several viable styles of management, depending on their focus. The trick is applying the right style (or manager) to the right project. Some common examples:
Benefits Realization Management – Focusing on the overall outcome and how it fits into the goals of the stakeholders. It’s a formalized process innovated by UK business managers in the 1990s. A project may have any number of benefits, even incidental side benefits, encapsulated within the goal.
Critical Chain Project Management – This uses the “Theory of Constraints” to guide the planning of a project. The focus here is on managing challenges as they come up, and having resources in place to minimize the possibility of failure.
Iterative and Incremental Project Management – This is an agile and dynamic style, meant to address very large projects with a cumbersome scale, timeline, budget, or scope. It is deployed in projects which may have to deal with rapid change. The style involves tight monitoring, frequent reporting, and planning for periods of re-evaluating and even restructuring the project.
Phased approach – The near-opposite of large-scale projects. This is the style used for small projects with low risk and high probability of success. It’s designed to be as efficient as possible, keeping all the phases of the project separate and rigidly-structured.
Becoming capable at several styles of managing is the mark of a versatile project manager.
Tips On Surviving Your First Project
• The most important word in project management is “planning.” Your work should be almost done before anybody else is on board.
• Document everything. Not only will this come in handy when you’re called on to give status reports and updates for the stakeholders, but a clear record helps you clarify what is going wrong and who needs to correct it.
• Be prepared for change. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in a project that you can feel personally attacked when it is in jeopardy. Experienced project managers know that the whim of fate and fortune can see a project terminated or restructured and that it’s out of your hands when this happens.
• Scratch a great project manager and find a great communicator. Be it team leadership, presenting status reports, or collaborating with other project managers, clear communication will score you more points than anything else by the end.