Your growing department may suddenly find itself flush with new hires and recently promoted employees who are undertaking project management for the first time. Adequately equipping these fledgling project managers requires little more than some simple, strategic guidance and access to relevant and valuable training.
When it’s unfamiliar, project management can appear to be an overwhelming subject. But by providing your employees with a methodical, step-by-step approach, even the most inexperienced team members can master project management.
They will encounter many different methodologies and frameworks when they first start learning project management, but in the end, it almost always revolves around four elements. As their manager, mentor, or boss, present these pillars of good project management and watch your novices become seasoned, effective project managers.
1. Understand and define the project's scope
Before anyone can begin a project, they need to understand what the project is and prepare for it.
Obvious as this seems, it’s a step that many fail to address adequately. Project Management.com’s article Top 10 Main Causes of Project Failure lists the very first reason for failure as a “lack of preparation”.
When starting a project, the project manager should first scope (or define) it in general terms and create a project charter that everyone can sign off on.
The charter should answer important project questions, including:
- What are the objectives?
- What benefit will the project (ideally) produce for the stakeholders?
- What resources do we need? What resources do we have?
- What will “success” in this project look like?
- What kind of timetable is realistically attainable?
- Who are the major players (leaders, members, contractors, investors, etc.)?
In Project Management Basics: How to Manage Your Project with Checklists, author Melanie McBride, a certified project management professional (PMP), says of scoping, “Instead of trying to nail down the specific project requirements, focus your thinking on the big chunks of work.”
This is a smart way to approach the scoping phase; at this very early point in the process, rough estimates of factors like cost, time, etc., are fine. What’s important here is making sure the big picture is clear.
2. Devise a strategy
Once everyone has signed off on the charter, the project manager can move on to the second crucial phase, which is developing the plan to execute it. This is where the finer details of a project is hashed out, and where much of the work in project management happens.
Creating a thorough, in-depth project plan is vital.
A project plan should break down each aspect of the project into its individual parts and figure out how to leverage resources to complete each part’s individual tasks.
In Project Management Step by Step, author Richard Newton describes this process as “decomposition,” and calls it central to planning. As he puts it, “Planning builds on the normal human approach of breaking problems that are too large to resolve in one into smaller chunks.”
For example, if the project in question is a new website, and one of the key phases in the process is designing the site. Decomposing that would entail:
- Outlining all the design work needed.
- Distilling that work into lists of sub-tasks and sub-objectives.
- Assigning the tasks to project members.
- Calculating the time and money required to complete these tasks.
- Determining the optimal order and process for completing these tasks.
Beyond the decomposition, there should be a meeting schedule, a system of communication between project partners and a recordkeeping method for important data and documents during the planning phase. In addition, this is the time to brainstorm the potential catastrophes and perform a risk assessment.
Everyone needs to be on the same page. If members of the organization are new to a project management environment, it’s a good idea to direct them to introductory-level project management training that explains the process in terms they can understand.
With the plan in place and the team onboard and ready to go, the project manager can begin “officially” working on the project. During the execution phase, the project manager’s job is to maintain a watchful eye over the process, make sure that it keeps moving at a steady pace, and ensure that project members have the tools, resources, and space to do their jobs.
The manager’s responsibilities in the execution phase are broad and diverse. These include holding project meetings, maintaining communication with stakeholders, and keeping track of risks and variances in schedules and plans.
The most important aspect of project execution is identifying problems and taking action to resolve them.
This requires help not just from the project manager, but from all project members and stakeholders. Throughout the process, the project manager should be monitoring operations closely to look for inefficiencies and recurring issues, and the rest of the staff should be reporting problems to him or her regularly.
When unforeseen challenges emerge, discussions should be held regularly to explore solutions, and the project manager should initiate processes to facilitate and communicate solutions to everyone on the project. If the planning was strong, there should be practices in place to help the project team adapt quickly to change when needed.
The project manager’s ability to maintain an ongoing process of observation, assessment, and refinement may end up being what helps the project cross the finish line.
Eventually, the finish line does appear. Projects are temporary, with a defined beginning and a defined end, so once the objectives are achieved, the last lingering charges have been paid and all parties have agreed upon the completion, it’s time to put a bow on the project.
The “project close,” as many call it, is where the team should perform the post-project assessment. They are worth taking seriously and investing time in.
Thorough project reviews highlight potential areas of improvement for the project manager, revealing important insights that will help him or her better conceive, plan, and execute future projects.
To perform an assessment, the project manager should pore over the spreadsheets, data, meeting minutes, and everything else that’s been compiled during the project and look for trends. The project manager should also ask some basic questions, such as:
- Which decisions worked and which didn’t?
- What were some of the surprises that came up?
- Which processes held up during the project, and which ones broke down?
- What resources would have helped during the project?
- How could I, as project manager, have done more to facilitate success?
Project managers should seek the feedback of everyone, including the other project members, contractors, and stakeholders in this review process. Chances are they will all have worthwhile insights to share.
Having learned from successes and mistakes, your new project managers will take what they’ve learned to their next project and begin the cycle again. And again, and again. Soon enough, the project management process that once seemed overwhelming becomes second nature — and your entire business will benefit.
If you're training a new project manager on your team, give them an in-depth project management primer with GoSkills’ online courses. Offerings are available for project managers of all experience levels.
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