You think you know all there is about project management or can learn it in two weeks if you lack the experience. How hard can it be, right? You’ve managed resources before, right? Ok, let’s move forward and look at what goes into managing a project….
Statement of work. Project budget. Project resource plan. Project charter. Project communication plan. Project schedule. Project test plan. Project implementation plan. Technical project documents like the functional design document and technical design document. All of these are put in place just to make the project manager’s life very complicated. That isn’t true, of course, but it seems that way sometimes. Let’s consider what I believe to be are five key things that you need to know right now about managing a project that may clear your mind and help you go into a big project with the right expectations and frame of thought…
It’s hard. Managing projects is never easy. Even on the easiest projects; the shortest projects; the simplest projects… it’s not easy. I’m not saying it’s all really hard and complex either. But I don’t think you’re ever going to finish a project and say “that was a piece of cake!” At least I never have, and I consider myself to have pretty decent PM skills and successful experience. Every project and every customer presents a unique challenge. Don’t go into it with blinders on.
No two projects are created equal. Projects can be similar – and often you’ll start each project out with a template project schedule to be sure you have all the basic steps covered. That’s what I do and it never seems to fail me. Why create the wheel over and over again on every project? Find a good “template” schedule to start with from a great past project you led. Preferably starting out with more detail than you may need – it’s easier to remove than to remember to add based on the project requirements and overall scope.
It’s not rewarding. If you’re looking for a career with lots of reward and recognition then you may want to look elsewhere. Success is hard to come by, but it is generally expected. The target is always on the project manager’s head – so you are always in a highly visible high profile position as the leader of a customer project responsible for maybe a $1 million budget. Failure will gain you lots of recognition – success generally will not. But the victory at the end of a successful project will – even if it doesn’t come with lots of organizational recognition.
Customer priorities ≠ your priorities. No matter how much you think you and your customer are aligned, your priorities are not his priorities. He’s looking at the big successful picture and his normal day job with his own organization and you’re focused on this week’s assigned tasks and what the health of the budget, resource plan and usage and the overall schedule is at any given week along the way. You’re running your team – often trying to sort out the real needs of the project because whatever the project customer came to the table with may be only part of the problem.
What worked last time may not work again. Just because it worked last time, that doesn’t mean it will work on this next project. The same tech solution might not be right for some reason even if the projects are similar and appear to line up well. The customer needs may be just enough different that an entirely different plan is needed. The deliverables required by the project, the solution and/or the customer may be different. Start with a template to get out of the gate, but rely on any scope statement of statement of work to build out the real plan for the schedule.
This list could go on and on. But I think many project managers are pushed into the profession – I know I was many years ago as I was proposed in the PM role on a high tech, data sensitive, very large government project we were looking to win. Ready to get started? For the experienced PMs out there – does this list look right to you? Please share your thoughts and let’s discuss.