Project Management Success is not easy. There are several project manager skill sets or techniques that make a project manager successful. Successful project managers have both “hard” and “soft” skills in their project tool belt. They are able to select the appropriate tools and techniques to use on every project they manage. The ability to select the right tools prevents overloading small projects with too much paperwork and meetings. It also lets the project manager decide which sophisticated tools to use on the big projects. Project Management Skills Main Page
In addition to the “hard” project management skills, there are a number of “soft” skills that consistently successful project managers possess. Project Management Success requires effective communicators. That’s important with project team members who must clearly understand what’s expected of them on their tasks. Project managers’ communications with stakeholders must also be effective so the project manager can persuade and influence these people to support the project. Project managers also have to be good motivators to build project team enthusiasm and morale. These “soft” skills and abilities are extensive and show how far project managers have come from the days when they were viewed solely as technical experts.
There are eight critical skill sets you need for Project Management Success. You must be able to:
#1 – Work with the sponsor to identify the business result the project must produce
#2 – Create a schedule using project management software
#3 – Estimate work (duration and cost) with the team members
#4 – Make clear assignments so each team member knows what is expected
#5 – Track progress against the plan and solve problems early (before it’s too late)
#6 – Run meetings for planning and status reporting
#7 – Make presentations to sponsors and stakeholders
#8 – Archive data (planned and actual) for use on future projects.
You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Begin whenever you wish and work individually with your instructor at your pace and schedule.Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.
At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing, or construction, or healthcare, or consulting. That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.
Creating the project plan is the first step in every project. The best practice is a Top Down Project Plan. To be successful as a project manager, you always need a project plan but length is not important. An excellent project plan of one page works well. The important thing about the project plan is the thinking that goes into it. Project Planning Main Page
Top Down Project Plan: A Best Practice
The top down planning technique means we begin the planning process by knowing the result the customer or boss wants from the project. Part defining the result is spelling out the specific measurable criteria we (and the sponsor) will use to decide if the project succeeded. It can be something simple like, “Employees can get the supplies they need from the supply room in less than two minutes.” What’s important about that kind of definition is that it tells people what they’re going to get from the project. As importantly, it tells them what they are not going to get. If there are managers who think employees should get their supplies in one minute, we need to clarify their expectations before we start work.
The project result is at the top of the project planning pyramid. We start there and then break it down into smaller pieces until we get to the level of team member assignments that are deliverables. We now have a pyramid with the overall project result at the top and smaller deliverables below. That hierarchy is our work breakdown structure (WBS). It’s the spine of the project. We add flesh to it by assigning people to the deliverables. Then we work with them to estimate the time and effort to produce the deliverables. One important piece is that we define every deliverable with measured acceptance criteria. That way the boss knows what the project will deliver. And everybody working on the project knows precisely what he or she has to do. Everyone knows this before we start work.
The top down project plan needs to communicate several important things to the team and everyone who’s affected by the project. As we just discussed, we need to define what the project is going to deliver to the organization. Part of that definition is to spell out the specific measurable criteria we (and the sponsor) will use to decide if the project is a success. The measure of success can be something simple like, “Employees can get the supplies they need from the supply room in less than two minutes.” What’s important about that kind of definition is that it tells people what they’re going to get from the project. As importantly, it tells them what they are not going to get. If there are managers who think employees should get their supplies in one minute, we need to clarify their expectations before we start work.
Second, the top down project plan also needs to communicate what resources we need to produce the planned result. How much time and money do we need? We also need to explain what authority we need to manage the project. We might ask for the authority to assign work directly to the project team members, even if they work in another department. Other items we might address are the risks the project faces and the help we need from management to defend the project from those risks.
Remember, this top down project plan can be short; one page. We project managers get into trouble when we write so much detail that no one reads it. When that happens, we can’t manage our stakeholders’ expectations for what they’re going to get and what they must invest to get it. Small Project Plan Techniques
Project Plan: The Wrong Way
The wrong way to do a project plan is to start by identifying the first task we’re going to do, then the second, then the third and so on. This “to do” list approach is easy and doesn’t need much thinking. But it has some downfalls. When we use this approach, we tend to include a lot of good ideas. But we don’t limit our plan to what we absolutely must do to deliver the result the boss wants. Since we don’t know exactly what the boss wants, we can’t decide how to deliver it. That results in doing many things that aren’t necessary. We also waste a lot of time and resources adding things to the project later on. These are vital things that we discovered too late. The “to do” list approach to project planning is faster but we wind up with projects that take longer and cost more than they should.
Top Down Project Plan: How To Do It
You may have managed projects for years using “seat of your pants” techniques. And you may have had some success. Long-term success, however, requires you to use project planning best practices. Those are the skills needed to consistently deliver the scope on time and within budget. For small projects at an entry-level, a five-step method is enough. Here are the steps:
Planning – focused on a clear scope and a deliverable-oriented project plan and work breakdown structure (WBS). You also plan how you’re are going to do the next four steps.
Scheduling and assigning work – create a schedule with project software so you can stay on top of your project’s progress. Assign work to your team members and give them a crystal-clear understanding of what you expect before they even start work.
Estimating how much work it will take to produce each deliverable. It’s always best if the team member who’s going to do the work takes part in this estimating process. It’s more accurate and you get their commitment.
Tracking progress against the plan and spotting variances – use project management software and status data from your team to spot problems early. This avoids unpleasant surprises late in the project.
Designing corrective action and reporting status – design corrective action when you find problems. Then you clearly report the problems and propose solution options to the project sponsor.
You can learn this top down planning process in our online project management courses. You will be able to use these techniques so your projects finish on time and within budget. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager who is your coach and instructor. You may have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. You begin when you wish and work on it at your pace and as your schedule allows. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
Watch this video of a common way to screw up a project plan. Is it familiar?
Pretend Project Due Dates
The sponsor plucks a project due date out of the sky. Then the tells the stakeholders they’re accountable for meeting that date. No one believes this pretend due date is realistic. They back into the due dates for their deliverables but they aren’t committed to them. Watch the managers faces in this video and see how much commitment they have to the dates. These people know they are going to fail before they even start work. They’re all trying to figure out how they will throw something together by the due date. They know they’ll then spend months fixing it.
Project Planning Blunders: Due Dates
Realistic Project Due Dates
The way a project manager and sponsor should set the project due date is by calculating the amount of work that each task requires. An effective technique is to let the team members take part in estimating the number of hours worth of work their task will take. Then you convert the number of work hours into the task’s duration. The duration is also based on each team member’s availability to work on their project task. Main Project Planning Page
When you use that technique to develop your task duration estimates, you gain a significant number benefits. First, the team members have a reasonable amount of commitment to the due date because they participated in setting it. Second, you and sponsor can accurately track progress. You can measure the number of hours worked versus the estimated hours. That gives you an exact idea of the percentage of work completed and the percentage of work remaining. With that information, you can calculate when the work will be done. The third benefit is that the team members are not held accountable for finishing their task by a certain date. They are accountable for finishing within a certain number of hours worth of work.
You can learn the best practices for planning projects with realistic due dates in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.
There are many career paths you can use to Become a Project Manager and start a professional career. Project management offers career potential to men and women. The average salary for certified project managers topped $110,000 in the past year. Project management is also a skill demanded worldwide. The demand for project managers has remained strong despite economic ups and downs. In fact, in bad economic times organizations in the private and public sectors need to have projects to improve performance, cut costs or cope with diminished availability of resources. That gives project managers a lot of opportunities to change employers, geographic locations, as well as industries and the type of projects they manage. Project management is now seen as a separate skill from the technical knowledge of information systems or construction or manufacturing. For many projects, particularly large ones, the project manager does not have to be a technical expert in the actual work of the project. Many organizations are coming to realize that what the project manager needs to be expert in is managing projects, teams, stakeholders, schedules and budgets. Project Management Careers Main Page
Become a Project Manager – Three Paths
Here are career three paths or situations we’ll explore:
a recent college graduate
a craftsperson who has worked their way up in the trades
a professional, like a systems analyst, accountant or operations manager, wanting to move into project management.
Become a Project Manager – Recent College Graduate
These days it’s difficult to find a job after you graduate from college, particularly if you don’t have a degree that is in demand. If you’re a person who pays attention to detail and is good on follow-through, a good option is getting a job as a project coordinator or assistant project manager. Usually no experience is required for these entry-level project management positions. Regardless of the title, the work will involve assisting a project manager on a large effort. Your work could include assisting with scheduling the project work, updating the schedule to show the team’s actual performance, documenting information to support change requests and expediting work on tasks by team members, outside contractors and vendors. Good performance in the entry-level position can earn you an opportunity to manage a small project on your own. That’s the first step up in your project manager career.
Become a Project Manager – Working Your Way Up in the Trades
Many project managers gain their first experience out of high school working in the trades or as a line employee. Good performance lets them move up to the supervisor or foreman level and many make the jump to project management at that point. They have a great deal of practical experience to offer. However, they must learn the basics of planning, scheduling, tracking and reporting so they can apply the best practices in project management to their years of practical experience. Usually their first project management assignment is assisting an experienced project manager and learning the ropes from them. Obviously training in the basics of project management is a big help in making this transition from the trades into the professional project manager ranks.
Become a Project Manager – Moving From Another Profession
Still other people begin their career in one profession, such as information systems, civil/electrical/mechanical engineering, medicine/nursing or general management. After several years, they decide that project management is a better fit for their skills and long-term career opportunities. They equip themselves to make the move to project management by getting some basic training in the best practices. Then they market themselves using the combination of their current professional skills and their knowledge of managing projects.
Become a Project Manager- Summary
Each of these paths for getting into project management is possible because the demand for project managers is high. Few organizations have enough people who are able to consistently manage projects to produce results on time and within budget. All of the paths require one thing; that you know the best practices and can use the basic skills of project management. You can learn them in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the course in your industry specialty.