Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Is Project Management the Career For You?

Have you heard of the 'Halo Effect'? The Halo Effect is the assumption that because a person is good at a technical skill e.g. designing, he will be good as a project manager. Many of you may already be 'accidental project managers' who perform tasks such as planning, scheduling, budgeting but view it as simply 'getting things done' whilst recognizing that you also rely heavily on luck, perseverance and strength of will.

While there is no magic formula for ensuring that a project is successful, most of project management is common sense. One should not feel daunted at taking on their first project - project management is not a 'black art', nor does it need to be a minefield of jargon and bureaucracy but there is a set of skills that every project manager should aim to master.

So what is the project management skill set?

1. Be a Leader and a Manager
When leaders share and communicate a common vision, they gain consensus for strategic goals, establish direction and inspire and motivate the team. Managers are results driven and focus on getting work done against agreed requirements. A good project manager will constantly switch from a leader to a manager as the situation requires.

2. Be a Team Builder and a Team Leader
In many projects, team members may not have worked together before. Therefore, it is up to the project manager to set the "tone" of the team, and to lead them through the various team development phases to the point where they perform as a team. Often the team members have their own line manager, and so the project manager has no implied authority - yet still needs to motivate the individual.

3. Be a Problem Solver
This is a skill that can be learned, it just needs a little "detective" work up-front! You will want to first identify the possible "causes" that lead to the problem "symptoms." Now, causes can come from a variety of sources, some are:
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Internal sources
  • External sources
  • Technical sources
  • Management sources
  • Communication
  • Opinions or perceptions
...and so on. The next step after having found the root causes is to analyze possible options and alternatives, and determine the best course of action to take. Make sure all your stakeholders agree on what "best" really means here!

4. Be a Negotiator and Influencer
Negotiation skills are essential as the project manager needs to negotiate various aspects like scope of the project, the schedule, cost, team structure that is needed to complete the project successfully. Influencing skills go hand in hand with negotiation skills. Influencing is convincing the other party on the choice that project manager thinks is better than the other. For example, getting the team to work late on Friday to meet a deadline when they would prefer to meet their friends at the nearest ‘mamak’ stall. Influencing requires an understanding of the formal and informal structure of all organization involved in the project.

5. Be an Excellent Communicator
Project managers spend up to 90% of their time communicating. You will have to deal with both written and oral communications in the form of documents, meetings, reviews, reports, and assessments. A good mental guideline is "who needs this information, who gathers and delivers it, when or how often do they need it, and in what form will I give it to them." To summarize, all communications on your project should be timely, relevant, clear and complete.

6. Be a Good Organizer
Project managers have project documentation, minutes of meetings, project reports etc. They need to organize information well, organize meetings, put together teams and at times also organize media release schedules depending on the project. It's almost impossible to stay organized without having time management skills, so add this to your list!

7. Be a Competent and Consistent Planner
If you fail to plan, then plan to fail! The skill of planning can't be underestimated, and neither can estimating! As a project manager you will certainly own the project plan, but there may be others depending upon the project. Two aspects need to be mentioned here: a. Plans are always documents, don't fall into the trap of thinking that, for example, a Gantt chart is a plan - it’s only a schedule diagram. b. Successful projects are delivered by successful teams. Always use the team to help create the plan unless, rarely, there is a good reason why not, such as commercial confidentiality, or contractual conditions.

8. Set-up and Manage Budgets
At the heart of this is the skill of estimating, particularly cost estimates. The project manager will need knowledge of financial techniques and systems along with accounting principles. Normally accounting and project management tools will help, but remember the garbage in = garbage out rule! Well, that just about summarizes the main areas. If you are new to project management, don't be too confused by all this. There are well understood methodologies, tools, guidelines, and procedures to help you on your way to developing the important life-skill of project management.