Saturday, 24 October 2015

What is project management? | The Small Desk

I am considering writing a project management blog... basically, this is what I do for a living. I project manage, as well as managing and commissioning content. I haven't done the content side of things for very long, but I've done the project management thing for two years now.

Before I commit to writing a blog purely on project management I wanted to challenge myself to write one blog post about it on The Small Desk. The simplest way for me to start is to explain to you what project management is. Hopefully it will clear things up for you if you are considering this as a career, and if not, then you'll learn what I do every day.

A Project Manager is someone who leads a project from beginning to end. Sometimes even from before the project starts; this means they'll help with the initiation of the project. Just because the title has the word 'Manager' in, it doesn't mean they are part of the management team of an organisation. They will normally have to report to a Project Director and to a Project Board. Basically, Project Managers need to know what is happening at all times of the project, and make sure it is completed on time, in budget, in scope and to specification. Now, I'll run through a bit more of this in detail.

1. Learning from the past
As a Project Manager you have to learn from the past, even if you haven't been at an organisation long enough to have experienced the past there. You can ask other members of staff what was successful and what went wrong in past projects, and hopefully you will have evaluation documents at your disposal. I did PRINCE2 training and through this methodology they advise you to keep a Lessons Log – so you should have access to old ones of these. It is good to remind everyone at the beginning of a project what went wrong last time and how you can avoid it this time!

2. Predicting the future
I always think an alternative job title for a Project Manager could be a Fortune Teller! The amount of times you have to try and predict the future is crazy! Project managing is all about monitoring risks. You need to assess whether or not you think something is about to become a risk, or if it's really just an issue that can be solved in a few days time. If you do decide something is a risk you also have to present it as a risk with consequences to the Project Board. If you just say something is a risk and don't say what impact the risk will have if it isn't resolved, then no-one will help you to avoid this risk. It is often down to the Project Manager to continually raise risks, but not to take them!

3. Know it all
Your best friend as a Project Manager is a jolly good Excel sheet! Depending on how long your project is you need to remember a hell of a lot of stuff! I had a review at work recently and my boss commented on how I seemed to remember everything, even all the little things. Now, that is because I have a Project Checklist and an Excel sheet with a timeline down the side of it until April 2016! I put reminders in my timeline/timesheet all the way to April! It also details the deadlines and work packages. I also have a column for things I am chasing from other people, which brings me on to my next point!

4. Communication
You need to make sure everyone knows what they are doing and what is expected of them, and what their responsibilities are. This might just be to the Team manager or it might be to a team. I mostly remind external suppliers what is expected of them, in terms of pieces of work. You might also have to arrange and hold weekly catch up meetings with a Project Board. As a Project Manager you are a type of middle management.

5. Adaptability
No one project ever goes to plan. You have to be flexible and always be thinking on your feet. No problem can't be fixed, as this could lead to a project failure. You have to come up with solutions, and put it to your Project Board. Basically, my general rule of thumb to avoid too many problems is that if you think something will take two weeks, put it in the timeline for three weeks, or even four! If you can get ANYTHING done on the project early, then do! You'll thank your lucky/organised stars later on, I promise you!

6. Seek quality
It's all very well getting a project completed on time and in budget, but if the quality of the product at the end is so bad that you need to start another project to fix it, then really the project failed. You must make sure that every step of the way you keep checking that the product is still on track to be of excellent, or even award-winning quality.

7. Manage in stages
Sometimes it can all be very overwhelming, so the trick is to manage everything in stages. Stages can overlap and bleed into one another, but you will find it easier this way. For example, if you were project managing an office move, you would think about stage one as finding the new office, stage two as moving the technology, and stage three as moving the people! This approach is especially helpful if you have to manage more than one project, or one project with more than one product.

Another more complicated procedure is if you have two or more timelines for different parts of the project and you have to read them next to each other to see that certain deadlines or pieces of work don't clash. It may be the same team working on both parts of the project.

8. Evaluate
This whole thing is a circle because the evaluation you do at the end of a project will help to inform your next project, which brings us back to point one, learning from the past. This evaluation enables you to do this when you get to your next project!

Would you be interested in reading more on a Project Management blog? I need blog name ideas too! Please, please, please comment name suggestions below!

P.S. Even though I did a PRINCE2 course this blog post isn't 100% based on PRINCE2.

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