© Performance Management Consultants
In your current position, there may be an important role you’ve yet to experience. You have worked on projects, but maybe you have yet to manage a project from initiation to completion. Perhaps the thought of doing this isn’t so much intimidating as it is confusing. After all, what does being a project manager entail, and how can you acquire the skills to jump start a career in project management?
A project manager is not necessarily an expert or a specialist within their field. Rather, they have a broad range of talents and abilities. These highly organized, communicative leaders must maintain a big-picture perspective as they direct a team to produce a specific product, while managing boundless details with laser-like focus. Their goal is to complete a project at a predetermined time, and they must do so according to a project plan, with available resources, and within a set budget.
Unlike most management positions, project management roles often require certification. The global not-for-profit organization, the Project Management Institute (PMI), has developed eight different project management certifications. Once you’ve earned a project management certificate, the PMI encourages you to join your local project management chapter and to maintain your certification through continuing education hours.
Which Personality Traits You Will Use in Project Management
Project management roles require a unique combination of self-confidence and humility. That is to say, you will need to be comfortable in leading your team and, at times, delivering negative feedback. Your ability to shift between big-picture thinking and detail-oriented tasks is key to staying organized and focused on the right things. You will also need to be open about what you don’t know and asking your team information-gathering questions. This kind of accountability is paramount for an effective project manager.
In addition to these soft skills, you will need to be a proactive communicator. The PMI estimates that 90% of your time as a project manager will be spent communicating through various channels (phone, in person, meetings, email, chat, and so on).
Perhaps most importantly, a project manager will need to cultivate optimism and motivate team members. There will be times when your team feels burnt out, discouraged, or frustrated. You, as the project manager, will need to inspire them to continue on and see the project to completion.
What You Can Expect from Managing a Project
Even the smallest projects (think about planning a dinner party), will go through the following five phases:
- Project conception and initiation
- Project definition and planning
- Project launch and execution
- Project performance and control
- Project closing
The larger the project, the more formal you should be with the process. Most of us could plan a dinner party without any formal documentation, but if you were moving 200 employees to a new building, you’d want to follow an established process to ensure you don’t miss anything.
Project Conception and Initiation
Here you’ll answer the question, “Why are we considering (or doing) this project?”
During project conception, you and the management team at your organization will discuss the ideas associated with the project, determine if it’s suitable for your organization, and decide if it’s feasible for your existing staff. Many project ideas stop at this stage due to lack of budget, time, personnel, or simply because it doesn’t fit within the organization’s mandate. Assuming your team greenlights the proposed project, you will enter the initiation phase.
Project initiation is a deciding and documenting process. You must clearly state the project’s objective in writing and the benefit it brings to your organization. You will also need to document who the end user of the project will be, who the relevant stakeholders are (basically, anyone with a stake or interest in the project), and what the exact start date for the project is. Sometimes you’ll need to work backwards to calculate the start date based on an externally-imposed deadline. Once you have moved through this phase, the project is officially underway.
Project Definition and Planning
In this phase, you’ll answer the question, “What will we do to complete this project?”
It involves defining the project and planning down to the last detail. During a Stakeholder Analysis, you’ll identify the wants and needs (requirements) of each Stakeholder, which will help you stay focused on the right tasks. You’ll also consider who else should be involved in the project, from team members to contractors.
You will need to explain the project scope – exactly what the project will and will not include. It can be just as important to identify what’s not included, as it will help set realistic expectations.
You’ll also do a Risk Analysis, identifying potential risks, the probability and impact of each, as well as an action plan for the medium- to high-impact risks, should they become a reality. Trying to find everything that can go wrong may seem like negative thinking but being prepared for the worst by having an action plan is crucial to ensure a successful project. Plus, you’ll sleep better.
You will need to create a project calendar and produce a budget that breaks down how resources will be allocated during each remaining phase of the project. You’ll factor in how much time each team member is able to spend on the project (after all, they likely have other things to work on) and you’ll determine the Critical Path.
The Critical Path can be confusing and seen as a poorly-named, misleading term for new project managers. It sounds like it’s simply a matter of identifying which tasks are critical, but that’s not at all the case. The Critical Path is used to identify the tasks that if delayed, could delay the entire timeline of your project. The Critical Path is all about timing, and it answers the question, “Which tasks have the potential to create a domino effect and delay the entire timeline?” The best project managers spend the bulk of their time focused on the tasks on the Critical Path.
Finally, with these materials completed, you will brief management and your team on the project plan. Poor planning at this stage could easily lead to the project getting out of control.
Project Launch and Execution
The first step in the project execution phase will involve on-boarding. As the project manager, you may need to hire or, more likely, select people to be on your team. Your goal is to create the best team for this project, based on experience, skills, availability, and how well individuals communicate and work together. Once you’ve selected appropriate personnel, you will delegate specific tasks and roles to each team member. At this point in time, your team launches the project. It’s time to start tackling all the tasks you’ve been talking about for weeks (or even months!).
As the plan becomes a reality, it’s very likely it will evolve. You’d be hard-pressed to find a project manager who’s ever completed a project exactly as it was originally planned. Changes are almost guaranteed – so don’t be surprised by them. A trained project manager will accept change and quickly adapt as necessary.
Project Performance and Control
During the performance and control phase, you’ll be wearing many hats. You will be monitoring the team’s performance and counseling adjustments to ensure the project will be completed on time. You’ll keep a watchful eye on the Critical Path. You’ll check for quality control. You’ll stop the team from doing anything that is outside of the project scope and make sure they complete all duties listed within it.
Communication is critical. As you do all of these tasks, you’ll update key stakeholders on the project’s progress (some will want details, others will only need a high-level overview of your progress). It is essential to maintain transparency with management as well as with your team. If you need more time, resources, or team members, it is necessary to communicate that as early as possible during the performance and control phase and explain the reasoning for the request.
You’ll also manage Change Requests. If management decides to change the scope, budget, or schedule, you’ll need to calculate the impact on the rest of the project and let them know if it’s feasible. If it’s not feasible, you’ll need to determine what else needs to change in order to accommodate the request (for example, if the project needs to be completed more quickly, you may require a larger budget to pay for overtime).
When your team completes the project, you will enter the closing phase. You’ll be responsible for closing out all contracts related to the project, delivering feedback to your team and to management, and writing a project report for your stakeholders. Any lessons you’ve gleaned that can assist in the navigation of future projects or improve your organization as a whole should be documented and shared.
Does Project Management Sound Confusing?
If it seems to you like project management is a big, complex job, you’re not completely wrong. But keep in mind that regardless of the size of the project, the phases and steps to good project management remain the same. Plus, there are lots of tools to make your job easier. Your project management software (like Microsoft Project or SmartSheet) will do all of the calculations for you. Understanding the principles of project management can make a massive difference in your ability to fully utilize the software and bring a project to successful completion.
Learn More About the Fundamentals of Project Management: Sign Up for Project Management 101
If you’re looking to improve your project management skills have a look at our Project Management 101 workshop, also available as an online course – live with instructor. It’s a great introduction to the formal project management process and can help you decide if you’d like to pursue certification.
In the workshop, a certified Project Manager will teach you how to plan, manage, and execute a project. You will also learn how to chart the course of the project, using documentation and software. At the completion of this training session, participants will know the most effective processes, tools, and techniques to plan, manage, and execute a project to completion.
It’s important to note that this course is not exclusively for professionals seeking a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification. It’s designed to accommodate professionals who are interested in project management or who will need to manage projects as part of their job. That being said, the 11 hours of training time do count towards the 35 total training hours you need to earn your PMP Certification, should you go that route.