Project managers can often be mistaken for wizards in the business world – the ones that, when there is business change, swoop down Merlin-like with big complicated charts, PC’s and frightening words like Risk, Resources and Critical Path. Then, as if by magic, make it all happen.
In truth though, project management is not wizardry. It relies on a methodical approach to planning, executing, monitoring and amending the original plan. Those that practice the art do not possess super human powers.
They are, however, specialists in their field. When change is to be effected it is these skills, combined with all the necessary expertise in the business, that are brought together to provide the sum total of knowledge about how things are done today, as well as how we want them done tomorrow. In other words, facilitate business change.
Take for instance the introduction of a new computer system to manage the workflow of a department, and the following groups within the business that could be affected:
- The end users – their day to day work is about to change.
- Human Resources – they may need to negotiate changes in working conditions.
- IT department – they will have to act as frontline support.
- Training department – they will need to carry out upgrade training for existing staff as well as training new staff.
- Corporate Communications – they will need to dispel the FUD factor (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) and help ensure smooth changes, while maintaining business as usual.
On the face of it, even a simple change can have far reaching impact within an organisation. With this potential level of impact, it’s no wonder things don’t always go to plan.
A project for any business is, by its very nature a temporary organisation set up to carry out change. It gets disbanded once the change has been implemented and bedded down to become business as usual.
But each of the areas in the example above can be considered a small project in its own right – and staff can make a positive contribution by understanding the project management processes, and in an ideal world, even get involved and support the project manager (who would never turn down genuine offers of help and support.)
So it is well worth sharing the secrets of project management, such as learning what a critical path is and how to construct one – or even better, undertaking some fundamental project management training.
While it might not be necessary to know the full range of risk management and Monte Carlo analysis techniques, an understanding of what a clear requirement is and how to plan and link a set of dependencies will go a long way to help and support the project manager, as well as realising the impact on other parts of the business.
Organisations that allow their staff to practice this wizardry won’t guarantee success, but they certainly won’t prevent it.
There are also beneficial spin offs. While project managers might be required for large changes, some of the smaller projects can be given to other members of staff, for example:
- The HR Manager who needs to plan a recruitment campaign.
- The Marketing Manager who needs to organise a successful conference.
- The Training Manager with a new programme to implement for key staff.
- The Office Manager with a new system to implement across the company’s different locations.
- The Production Manager who needs to get a special order out for a client.
All these would benefit from knowledge of the tools and techniques that today’s project managers use.
For more information on the skills and standards needed to become a project manager, watch the ESI Managing Projects video.
Phil Vale is an ESI instructor, specialising in managing projects, scheduling and cost control, project leadership and risk management.