The Ultimate Guide to Being a Successful Project Manager

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Fact or Fiction? Increasing Demand for Project Management Skills

70,000 GBP – that’s the average annual salary for a project manager in the UK, as per the latest salary trends released by the Guardian. PMI.Org estimates salaries in most western economies to be well over 100K USD, depending on domains, experience and economic factors. PM as a profession indeed seems very lucrative, as evidenced by these statistics from independent and reliable sources.
 
Job markets for PM professionals also seem to be ever expanding: an increasing number of organizations today are willing to invest their extra time and buck to help build internal project management expertise. Expertise which generates significant returns in terms of lowered costs, greater efficiency, improved customer satisfaction and project success rates. This has been further enhanced in the current market, as companies look to lower risk, cut costs and consolidate their positions, in the aftermath of the global economic turmoil.

 

The Competitive nature of Project Management

However, increasing global demand and compensation for Project Managers have also ensured increased competition, as employees seek to attain these once-niche skills. As the increasing number of Project Managers worldwide suggests, the value of this role is one that’s felt not only by senior management, but also by the global workforce striving to fill these roles. With more people acquiring Project Management skills each year, it is vital to remember that not all Project Managers are created equal. An aspirant looking for long-term career success would do well to keep the best practices of this profession in mind. Read on to find out what separates the great from the good, the wheat from the chaff.
 

How to Succeed in a Competitive World - Best Practices

  1. Have a defined Project Charter, with an agreed scope: A defined Project Charter seems to be a fundamental, and seemingly innocuous practice, right? Surprisingly, detailed project planning and documentation also appear to be one of the most frequently overlooked areas, with a tendency among inexperienced managers to “cut to the chase” and “get on with the game”.The results of this approach can be drastic – improper planning can lead to an ambiguity in scope (and scope creep), stretched schedules and waste of valuable project funds – an unforgiveable offence, especially if money and resources are in short supply and schedules are tightly bound.
 
A Project Charter is a primary project planning document that seeks to bind a project together, and provide a high-level overview of the project for the benefit of all stakeholders involved. A well-defined Charter should have the following:
 
  1. Business Case: Why do the project in the first place? What business objectives would be realized? What will happen if the project is not done?
  2. Problem and Goal Statements: What is the problem or opportunity? How big is it and where does it occur? What is the severity or impact of the situation? How is it measured?
Goal statements should ideally be SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, result oriented and time bound)-a good goal statement should encompass the goal being aimed for, with measures and pragmatic deadlines.
  1. Project Scope: Avoid projects bordering on “World Hunger” and “Boiling the Ocean”.
  2. Financial Calculations: Performing thorough benefit and cost estimates.
  3. Project Team Structure and Stakeholders: Who are the team members of the project? Who are the Sponsors and Champions? Who are the customers?
  4. Assumptions and Risks: Are there any assumptions underlying this project? What are the risks, if any? What could be their possible impact and how do we plan for them? (possible contingencies)
  5. Formal Project Sponsor approval
 
  1. Delineate your Project deliverables: Planning tools such as WBS (Work Breakdown Structure), Gantt Charts and Network Diagrams can help you break down the project into detailed task lists and also determine the amount of time and the number of resources to be allocated to each. This provides a systematic way of arriving at your project deliverables and creating your project work plan. Once the work plan is defined, try to ’climb the hill’ in the defined succession of steps, with a sense of direction and urgency.
 
  1. Have clear procedures outlined: Ensure that you have clear and pertinent plans outlined for dealing with the following issues:
    1. Communication: Communication frequency, medium, recipients
    2. Scope Creep plans: Plans to help deal with situations causing increase or decrease in Scope.
    3. Quality: Project Quality Parameters and how these can be met
    4. Risk: What are the various risks that may be encountered? What plans do you have to deal with them?
 
  1. Define Project Milestones or “Tollgates” and take approval: A project typically has 4 main phases in its life cycle: Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closure. Before passing from one phase to the next, make sure you have conducted a detailed “Tollgate” exercise where all deliverables from this phase are reviewed, and approvals sought from stakeholders. This has the benefit of managing Risk and Change better. It also helps ensure that everyone involved is ’on board’.
 
  1. Encourage open and transparent communication: Timely, open and clear communication is critical for a project’s success. Make sure a formal Communication process is defined and followed rigorously, with project updates being shared among everybody involved. Project status dashboards and reports are also an excellent practice.
 
  1. Identify and Manage Risks: Identify all possible risks that can be accounted for at the beginning of the project, gauge severity and have control or preventive plans in place to minimize the risks. Risks that crop up unexpectedly during the project will also need to be managed and open communication lines can help identify approaching risk before it becomes a reality. Corrective and preventive actions must then be taken.
 
  1. Document everything (that maters): In spite of the project team’s best efforts, they will occasionally fail to meet project schedules and budgets. This could be due to scope changes midway through a project, or due to unforeseen risks and situations. In situations like these, it helps if project leader and team are covered through appropriate documentation. This is especially important in cases where the project team might be spending billable hours working on areas not covered under the initial project scope.
 
  1.  Be alert for Scope Change, no matter how small: Be ready to initiate Scope Change management procedures as and when required. Often, individual small scale changes can add up to something substantial, which if not planned and estimated for can derail a project’s schedule and budget. Make sure you have all the relevant documentation and approvals from all concerned stakeholders before proceeding on these change requests.
 
  1. Develop your interpersonal skills: The best project managers don’t necessarily hold doctorate degrees in project management, they do however have excellent people skills : these include great communication skills, the ability to lead from the front and resolve issues, and the persuasiveness to move a team of diverse mindsets and varying interests towards a common goal. They are able to foster lasting formal and informal networks, and are open to inputs and feedback. They are inspiring consensus builders, with a genuine love for people and their work, and love the opportunity of being able to “steer the ship”
 
  1. Time, Cost & Scope – that’s the mantra: No matter which stage of the project you’re in, you will be judged by your ability to keep moving toward the project goals while staying within the boundaries of time, cost and scope. Anything that might be a cause of compromise on these metrics needs to be addressed, and urgently. Ensure scope changes are documented, people issues resolved, major risks averted and big issues followed up and resolved with urgency. Be a positive people person, and remember that every project has some lessons to teach – learn them.

 

Conclusion

With more and more organizations looking to jump onboard the Project Management discipline bandwagon, for reasons that make a lot of business sense, it is logical and imperative for employees worldwide to hone their project management skills. A recent survey by McKinsey & Co found that nearly 60% of senior executives stated building a strong Project Management discipline as a top three priority for their companies as they look toward to the future (1).In a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey, 90% of global senior executives ranked project management methods as either critical or somewhat important to their ability to deliver successful projects and remain competitive (2). As employees strive to get these skills however, it would help to have a finer understanding of the time-tested and proven best practices of project management, which can so often make the difference between a well-managed and an excellently-managed project.
 

Appendix:

  1. In a recent survey by McKinsey & Co, nearly 60% of senior executives stated building a strong Project Management discipline as a top three priority for their companies as they look toward to the future. (McKinsey & Co., January 2010. Results based on a survey of 1,440 senior executives).
  2. In a recent survey, 90% of global senior executives ranked project management methods as either critical or somewhat important to their ability to deliver successful projects and remain competitive, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit survey. (Closing the gap: The link between project management excellence and long-term success, Economist Intelligence Unit, October 2009)
  3. http://www.indeed.com/salary/Project-Manager.html

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