For the last 10 years I’ve been working in the technology sector; I qualified as a systems engineer, I dabbled with software development, I tried my hand at sales and I ended up running operations for a successful internet services company but the thing that has fascinated me the most throughout my time in the industry is something we all know as ‘Project Management’. Now before you judge me let me assure you that I do know how utterly dreary that comes across, the term itself makes you want to yawn and ‘Project Manager’ doesn’t exactly inspire the imagination when it comes to choosing a career, but this is where I think we all get it wrong…
I believe that Project Management is the most underestimated and undervalued role in business today, overruns are estimated to cost the UK billions each year, not just in the public sector and that’s not to mention the projects that don’t even make the first hurdle because they simply don’t know where to start. However I’m not here to prattle on about the importance of project management, you’ve heard it before, you know it’s important, critical in fact… but why would anyone want to do it? And surely I’m exaggerating when I say I’m absolutely fascinated by it…?
Actually no I’m not, and here’s why;
The Challenge – When over 70% of projects run over budget* what a challenge to scope, plan and see a project through to so its successful delivery on time and within budget! Even more so when you learn that it’s impossible to achieve without building in allowances for variation in scope, implementing cost contingency and adopting a communication strategy throughout its lifecycle.
The Diversity – No two projects are ever the same, by its very definition a project is a one-off endeavour to deliver an end product and its success will depend heavily on the business, people and technologies involved. Liken it to cooking a meal for guests, you can use the same ingredients but their freshness may vary, timings and measure slightly off, helping hands chop to different shapes and sizes, you may just be in the mood for a bit more spice that day and most importantly of all you can almost always guarantee someone will turn up a vegetarian!
The People – You can read every book, know every methodology, use every tool but I have yet to see a successful project run by someone who doesn’t work well with people. There are no tips or tricks that I know of to guarantee that you’re going to get the best out of your team when things get tough and no magic formulas to placate the sponsor when compromises have to be made. If anything, keep calm, keep in control, take full responsibility and treat every stakeholder with utmost respect for the role they are playing. Something to note is that even the most mundane project will have an element of excitement, if you can nurture it and share it around a bit, it can be a powerful influence on the success of the project – a bit of internal project marketing if you will.
The Systems – Never use a system just for the sake of it but always look for better tools to help you manage your projects. Einstein once said, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” There are thousands of tools available for project planning, tracking, reporting, information management and communication, explore them and you’ll come across some gems which will make the entire project easier to manage but be careful not to take your eye, or anyone else’s off the ball. A favourite tool of mine is Microsoft SharePoint for coordinating and sharing information and tracking progress, meetings and decisions that are made throughout the project lifecycle. It’s simple to use and it presents a professional image right at the early stages when you as a project manager are yet unproven.
I realise that I haven’t delved into the depths of project methodology such as PRINCE2 or Theory of Constraints (TOC) but I knew an article on Project Management was going to be rather dry and the last thing I wanted to do was bore myself to death too. I do hope that I have at least expressed my enthusiasm for this topic and maybe even talked some sense along the way. There is a lot more behind project management than this humble introduction which I’d like to share in the future, things I’ve experienced and read and advice I’ve been given but much, much more I have yet still to learn. Thanks for reading.
*Standish Group (2004) on IT projects in the US