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Project Management: Doing it better

Course overview


For project management instruction, click here.

Why you need excellent project management

Project Management is, of course, vital to the successful completion of large projects. Big-ticket technology rollouts and big-dollar projects may have teams of project managers. Yet, project management is also for small projects--even personal projects that have nothing to do with your job.

Everyone needs the skills to complete a project on time and under budget, without compromising quality targets. If you deal with customers and approach project management with less than a full arsenal of skills, you are operating minus a competitive edge. Today's customer wants it fast, cheap, and good. And today's customer brooks no excuses, shows no mercy, and simply goes to whomever will provide what the customer wants when the customer wants it at a price the customer is willing to pay. This is not the way it was for project managers before the Information Age, but it is a reality today.


Shortage of good project managers

You may think you can outsource your project management. Good luck. All kinds of people claim to know how to manage projects. They may even excel in one area of project management, but still not have the skills to deliver a project under today's requirements. They have experience and training in project management, but not be updated to deal with today's project management requirements. Generally, you must do your own project management or hire and train your own internal project managers. If you do find a good third-party source of project managers, treat them very, very well.

If you build your own project management team, you can vertically integrate. No matter what industry you are in, providing a turnkey answer to a customer need is a definite marketing and sales advantage. But, to be able to take on vertically integrated projects, you need people who can do more than make some charts and do some cheerleading.


Some key elements of project management

Every project manager today must be concerned with a whole new set of conditions, but many of the traditional ones are still vital to success. Here are some key areas in which to develop understanding:


  • The basics of successful project management: even most pros don't have these mastered. More often, they are order takers/paper pushers who have the same 6 months of experience 40 times over, when they claim to have 20 years of experience. They may know some of the basics, but not all of them. And they get by.
  • Defining the scope of a project: How to promise what you can do and deliver on what you promise. Most project managers are just order-takers. They do not know how to use both left-brained and right-brained techniques to keep the project doable. They raise the quantity bar so high, they have nothing left for the quality bar.
  • Organizing and prioritizing: How to run the job instead of letting the job run over you. This is the one area where everyone wants to take shortcuts. This does not involve laborious planning, but it does involve understanding the quick techniques required to filter and arrange project activities in the proper sequences. Most people do not know how to do this.
  • Secrets of time management: How to get 72 hours of work done in 8 hours. Yes, you can get 72 hours worth of work done in 8 hours. You'd be amazed at what an impact proper time management can have. How to handle interruptions, phone calls, conversations, etc. How to identify time-wasters. How to automate things others are doing the hard way. You must know these things to be outstanding--perhaps to survive, as others gain this knowledge.


Using the tools

  • Critical Path Method: What it is and what mistakes to avoid. It's not just coming up with a chart and hoping other people can work to it. There are ways to use this method for more than just scheduling work. A CPM analysis presented at contract T&Cs can make a difference between record profit and record loss on a job.
  • PERT: What it is and how to use it effectively. Same situation as CPM. Yet, few project managers fully take advantage of PERT, except as a way of further refining their CPM analysis. Big mistake.
  • Gant charts: Tips, tricks, and success secrets to using these charts effectively. Ah, you are seeing a pattern, here. Gant charts should do far more than hang on walls. You'd be amazed at the things truly seasoned project managers use them for. Can you think of three things? Four? If not, you are not at your maximum level of project management competency.
  • The magical spreadsheet: How you can use spreadsheets to make mincemeat out of your competition. If you haven't spent hours training yourself on spreadsheet uses (electronic or otherwise), you have not been training yourself to be a shark-proof project manager. You should be a spreadsheet wizard, if you want to be a project management champion. That doesn't mean you need to know every arcane function of Microsoft Excel. No, it means you need to know where row and column analysis can make big differences.



  • Methods of reporting and sharing data: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Do you know how to get the right information to the right people at the right time? Do you know how to get your project team to do the same for you?
  • Handling schedule upsets: How to do it in a way that makes everyone happy (or at least think they are happy). You can't always avoid delay, no matter how well you plan or how organized you are. Things happen. Being able to put the right spin on things in an ethical way is good. And so is being able to compensate for schedule upsets in a win-win way. You should know how and when to do each of these.
  • Avoiding "9 men in a Volkswagen" syndrome: How to handle resource problems without making a fool of yourself. Too often, project managers fail to staff properly throughout the life of a project, and then put too many people on it at the end. Do you know how to avoid doing this? Do you know what the signs are? Can you differentiate between understaffing, underperformance, and job tool shortcomings? You need to be able to make that differentiation, if you want to be a good boss or project manager.
  • Secrets of bullet-proof documentation: Your documentation can come back to haunt you--or it can be your saving grace. Do you remember the Bill Gates testimony, where internal e-mails made him look bad? You've also heard of people who have lost big money, because they could not substantiate this or that fact. Documentation is good not only at helping you win adversarial situations, but in preventing them in the first place. Do you know how?



  • Obtaining project funding: The secrets of keeping you from having an underfunded--or cancelled--project; do you know what they are? Do you know how to find out which buttons to push and how to push them? Trying to manage an underfunded project is futile. You will have to compromise on either the schedule or the quality, and you will tear the heck out of your team in the process. You can get funds appropriated to your project, but you must know more than how to fill out a capital request form. The words you put on paper must compel the gatekeepers to allocate funding, not ask them to allocate it. Do you know how to do that without alienating them?
  • Dealing with a difficult customer--and making that customer your biggest supporter. How do you make an angry customer practically force your boss into promoting you? How do you make an angry customer bring eager customers to your door?
  • Dealing with a difficult partner: How to handle manipulative, backstabbing, or incompetent coworkers and bosses. How do you handle the insane asylum that is the workplace? Conflict is largely unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce it--do you know what they are? When conflict happens, do you know how to handle it in a way that doesn't make it worse? Do you know how to handle it in a way that protects you from further abuse? You should.
  • CYA tricks that don't bite you later: The proper way to minimize the impact of mistakes and other gotchas, so you aren't open to liability. Some CYA measures are worse than taking no action at all. However, taking no action at all is a dangerous way to live. Do you know how to handle the unexpected? Do you know when to do what, and whom to address where? If not, you will eventually fail--probably in a big way.



Mastery of project management: how to leverage your success into a better job and career advancement. You should know how to use your present and growing array of skills and experiences to move up. You may be happy doing what you are doing, but if your boss leaves, will you be happy working for that incompetent brown-noser who could very well take his place? Why not get the promotion, yourself? In fact, why not bypass your boss altogether, and move to even greater heights? Or clout--moving up is not always as important as having clout in the organization. The more you understand about how to gain and keep the respect of others, the better you will do in your career.


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