Project Management: How to Learn It

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

Mentoring is the best way to learn project management. That’s where your company or organization lets you work with an experienced project manager on projects for a client or for one of your company managers. That’s how most of us at 4PM learned project management. We studied by working for an expert project manager on his/her projects.  Then the mentor let us manage small projects until we knew how to do it right. Unfortunately, the opportunity to learn from a mentor is very rare today. Most people who want to join the project management profession have to attend classes of 25 or more people taught by an academic.

Project Management Mentoring

At 4PM.com, however, we have created an online project management learning process that is based on the classic mentoring process.

  • Your instructor is an expert project manager with 10+ years of industry experience.
  • You work one-to-one with your instructor via video conferences
  • You work on realistic video project case studies
  • You practice dealing with the executives in live role playing sessions with your instructor
  • You practice answering executive’s questions in live role-playing sessions with your instructor
  • If you make a mistake, you try it again
  • You discuss every assignment with your instructor. You learn how to develop a project plan, create a project schedule using software and give status reports.

Project Management: Step #1

Our project management training prepares you for all of the challenges a project manager faces. They start when the boss calls you into his office and says something like, “We’ve got a big problem with the supply room. Our people are wasting dozens of hours every day because they can’t find the supplies they need to do their jobs. I want you to manage a project to fix the supply room problem.”

That’s when you may do a Google search on “project management “to find out what the heck to do. Well, here’s the answer. The first thing you do is pin the boss down about exactly what he means by “fix the supply room problem.” To do project management the right way, you need to have a definition of the project’s scope, the goal that defines the project’s success. The boss’ statement of “fix the supply room problem” is too vague. It will be a moving target and the goal will change each week. That’s because everybody can interpret it differently. So you must ask the boss questions about how he will measure if the project is a success. When he says something like, “People will be able to find the supplies they need in less than 2 minutes,” you have a clear scope. Project managers know how to ask the right questions to pin down the project scope.

Project Management: Step #2

The second thing you do is subdivide that scope into the major deliverables that will take you from where things are now to the end result the boss wants. You will usually have 4 to 7 major deliverables and each one must be measurable. In our example, a major deliverable could be “fewer than two stock-outs a week in the supply room.” That’s a measurable deliverable. It clearly defines success before you and your team start work.

Project Management: Step #3

Next you write your project charter. That can be a one page document that lists the following:

  • your understanding of the project’s goal
  • the resources you need to do the work on the major deliverables
  • the risks you see in the project.

When the boss signs off on the charter, you can start work creating the project plan.

Project Management: Step #4

Developing your project plan and schedule is the fourth step.  To do project managementthat, you work with your team members to estimate how much work each of the deliverables and tasks will require.  Then you lay out the sequence in which you will do them. Next you create the work breakdown structure (WBS). It is a hierarchy of the deliverables in your project. It’s easiest to use project software to develop your schedule and WBS. One of the best programs is Microsoft Project®, but it’s expensive. There are less expensive options like Gantter. That is a free project management scheduling software that you use with your browser. (I don’t think it’s going to be free forever.)

Project Management: Step #5

Then you get the sponsor to approve the project schedule. Then you and the team can start work on the tasks in your project plan.

Project Management: Step #6

Tracking actual progress on those tasks and comparing them to your approved schedule is the sixth step. You will give the sponsor status reports on how things are going and what problems you’re encountering. The sponsor usuallty tells you how often he/she wants these reports. You should also recommend solutions to the problems. However, your team members should give you weekly reports on the status of their tasks.

Project Management: Step #7

When the project is complete, the seventh step is to archive all the information about the project. That data will make doing the next project a lot easier.

That’s what project management is in a nutshell. You can learn all these skills in our project management basics courses. You practice using them as you work one-to-one with your mentoring instructor.