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Why Make Project Management Harder Than It Has To Be?

Brad Egeland Creator and Author of Top Project Management Blog: Bradegeland.com

What is project management? The definition of project management is “the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. … The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals within the given constraints.” There really is no one way to get a project done.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) from the Project Management Institute (PMI) is generally accepted as the defacto process to follow for proper project management principles and techniques and professional training and certification is available to note your dedication to the profession as well as to strengthen and enhance your skills as a project manager through this learning and certification process.

Does that mean that one must know the PMBOK frontwards and backwards to successfully manage projects? No. Does that mean that a project manager must achieve project management professional (PMP) certification in order to successfully manage projects? No. Some of the best and most successful project managers I know and have worked with have never cracked open the PMBOK in their life… yet their customers want them back every time managing their projects.

It all comes down to key processes to make the project successful, make the customer happy and make sure the project is complete and performing for the client.  Let’s look at this concept and consider a few steps…

Kickoff the project. A good kickoff session that brings both teams together to discuss the project schedule, the deliverables and milestones, the assumptions and the next steps is a great way to get the project off on the right foot with everyone on the same page as to the PM processes to be used and the next steps to happen. Beyond using project management scheduling software, it may be a good idea to incorporate a mind mapping tool that can enhance everyone’s understanding and knowledge retention by visually connecting ideas and information with fully customizable maps through the next steps project planning phases and throughout the engagement.

Report status precisely and consistently. Communication on the project is Job One for the project manager and that usually begins and ends with a great project status report.  I subscribe to the one size fits all concept that will make all stakeholders happy and what that is may depend on the size and type of the project. It may also involve some tweaking early in the project to get to that point. The best project status reports usually need to incorporate a good high level dashboard view to make those higher ups happy who want to see project health at a glance and not get into the daily and weekly details of the project.

Manage the financials and resources. A key to keeping the project on track and the customer happy is to keep the project financials and resources on track by managing them closely, accurately and often. Managing the financials and the resources on the project go hand in hand – the resources are usually the biggest ongoing expense on the project. And keeping financials and the project budget within 10% of plan should always be the goal – a 10% overrun is fixable and often acceptable while a 50% overrun is nearly impossible to fix.

Ensure completeness.  Finally, ensure the project is ready to closeout.  Are all deliverables complete and signed off? Have all tasks been completed? Are all invoices paid?  A good project does not closeout with any loose ends hanging – it’s a sign of a management deficit and must be corrected.

Summary / call for input

While certification may make this all easier to accomplish, especially on larger complex projects where risks may be greater, technology more difficult to implement and teams larger and more challenging to manage, it doesn’t mean that it’s always necessary or that you need to make project management harder than it needs to be.  The more simplified and repeatable you can make it, the more repeatable project success can become. I think certification and experience can go well hand in hand… but stick with good sound principles throughout that work for you, the team, the project and the customer.  Don’t try to make it all about a given process if it doesn’t fit those four things well.

Readers – what are your thoughts? What are your thoughts on my list and the concepts I’ve discussed here?

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