Friday, December 15, 2006

Project Management in a Nutshell

In a previous life, I used to be a project manager for one of the world's largest companies.  I just came across this post by Keith Robinson giving some excellent advice for project management:

Look at what you need to do. Break it down. As a project manager you’re probably not going to have to do all the work yourself. You just need to make sure that it gets done, is done right, is done on time, etc. What are the tools you need to do that? A proper plan, good people, clear expectations, good communication, a timeframe, deadlines, a budget, etc. If you really take the time to look at it all, you’ll likely see that with a little thought it’s pretty manageable. Whatever you do, don’t go making a mountain out of a mole hill.

I think one of the biggest problems with many project managers is that they over complicate things or they force you into an overly ridged or complicated process. This makes everyone’s job harder. The idea is to work on the project, not for the project.

Some very good advice!  Overdefining tasks can kill a project or make the effort much less enjoyable and less efficient than it needs to be.  Part of being a good project manager entails giving people freedom, responsibility, accountability, and clear goals.  One of the first rules is that something, somewhere will go wrong.  Uncertainty is certain and setbacks are incorporated into any good plan.  In a sense, absent a market-mechanism, the project manager tries to lower transaction costs of accomplishing a project and getting it out the door.  A good project manager is part coach, coordinator, taskmaster, and peacemaker.  Good communication is key.

Robinson sums it up in a nutshell:

If I were to boil it down to some quick and easy tips, I’d go with:

  • Don’t make it harder than it is
  • Kick off strong and with clear documentation
  • Stick to the high-level
  • Always make sure expectations are set and understood
  • Trust people to do their jobs
  • Be a great communicator at all times
  • Have a solid yet flexible process
  • Use tools that work for you, not the other way around

That’s pretty much it.

That is pretty much it.  Pay special attention to the first point.  Missing it can kill the rest.  This is some great advice for coordinating people to work in just about any type of endeavor -- in a firm, a non-profit, a church, etc.  I often think there is much here that would be usefully applied to what we do in the academy.  I can dream, can't I?

If you have any involvement with working with people or leading a group, read the whole post.  It won't take long and it is full of good thoughts and great advice.

(HT Gina Trapani)

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