Dave Tyler

Aug 30, 2017, 10:41 AM

Project management? Never heard of it…

Dave Tyler, Consultant

I’ve been a professional project manager for over 20 years and freelance for about 10.  Because of that, I take it for granted that ‘project management matters’ and assume that everyone feels the same way.

A couple of things have recently reminded me that this isn’t the case: I was at a careers event at my old school and of the 30 students that I spoke to, less than half had heard of project management.  Those that had could only reference BBC’s “The Apprentice”.  Not a great advert, if I’m honest. 

Then, at a Chamber of Commerce event, I accepted a 30 second opportunity to introduce myself.  Later, a few folks sidled up: “Project management.  Interesting.  So, what do you actually do?”

So, what do you actually do?

Project managers?  Think of us as wedding planners.  We organise stuff.  We get the right people do the right things at the right time.  A wedding planner doesn’t have to bake a cake, but they need to make sure someone does.  A project manager doesn’t have to be an expert in writing funding cases, or council submissions, but they need to recognise that:

a.     It needs to be done, and
b.     This is who should do it, and
c.     This is when its needed

Sure, there’s more to it, but fundamentally that’s ‘all’ we project managers do.  Whether producing a new website, running a charity campaign, or providing a global training course it all comes down to planning, organising, and controlling.

“Too busy to plan, I don’t have time; Let’s just get on and do some real work…”

I hear that a lot: “stop planning and start doing”.  People who have never experienced ‘good’ project management (or ‘bad’ for that matter) sometimes struggle to appreciate it.  Here’s the deal – if you’re looking to do something new, or change something that already exists, you should treat it as a project.  That means ‘Little Projects’ too: the same disciplines apply, just to a lesser extent.  Simple as that.

If you don’t approach projects with a project management mindset, you’re likely to take longer, spend more and/or deliver less quality.  History says so.  But, be careful – an over-zealous application of project management processes can jeopardise projects.

“We’re ‘Agile’ we don’t do planning!”

There’s a relatively New Kid on the Block – ‘Agile’ project management.  You may have heard of it.  If not, don’t worry – this isn’t the place to get into it. 

However, if you hear people say “we don’t plan, because we’re Agile”, then start to worry.  Agile doesn’t mean no planning.  In fact, some techniques can mean more planning.  People don’t like to ‘plan’, they like to ‘do’ – they think playing the Agile card gives them an excuse.  Trust me on this one, Agile projects still plan.  They just plan differently…

“But I’m not a Project Manager…”

Yes, you are.  Ever planned a wedding?  Booked a holiday?  Moved house?  All these are projects – they are constrained by time, cost & quality and they involve people.  Congratulations, you’ve been a project manager!  Yes, really. 

If you can do it in your personal life, you can do it at work.  The same rules apply:

  • Don’t just jump in: think about what you need to achieve, and how to get there.
  • How will you know when you’ve finished?  What does ‘good’ look like?
  • Are you the right person for each of those steps – if not, who is?
  • Estimate how long those tasks need; go back and estimate again!  Typically, people plan optimistically – be realistic!
  • Consider what might go wrong: what will you do if it happens, and how can you ensure it doesn’t?  (Risk management)
  • Follow your plan and track your progress.  If you’re behind schedule, why?  If you’re a week behind on an 8 week project, are you really going to recover that time?

A confession: project management is largely down to common sense and a healthy dose of realism.  A little bit of basic discipline will make your projects much less risky.  Go on, have a go, start doing it properly…

And if you want to know how to really do it properly, contact Dave via office@actionplanning.co.uk.

David Saint

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