Project management is becoming more and more common as a profession. Organizations have realized the advantages of adopting a disciplined approach for delivering successful projects. Yet, becoming a project management practitioner is not like becoming a medical practitioner, there is not a standardized educational and professional path that leads one to project management. How many times have we heard managers saying that they fell into project management by accident? Although various career routes can lead to project management, there are common capabilities recognised in successful project managers: they put a lot of heart into managing change, delivering results, and last but not least, interacting with people.
What skills are needed in today’s and future project environments?
The list could be endless, but if we want to keep it short, there are a few that can’t be ignored. Successful project people have somehow managed to develop certain skills throughout experience; good business judgement, the ability to demonstrate project’s contribution to the business, and some personal competences.
Business Analysis - the bridge between project management and the business
Successful project managers need to develop good business judgment. Do project managers need to become experts in specific areas?
I started my career as a financial analyst in the banking sector. I quickly got involved in project management activities and my expertise in finance really made the difference when I began interacting with the stakeholders and managing their expectations.
Quite often, the question about the difference between project management and business analysis raised. How are the business needs translated into business solutions, product, or technology? The business evolves rapidly, and change is inevitable. Business analysis facilitates change in organisations. Project management is about making sure that what has to be done is done. Business analysts ensure what is done is the right change. It’s about formalising the change and describing the needs. What is the impact on project management practitioners? There are common capabilities such as communication, team management, and change management. Successful project managers and business analysts are good communicators and facilitators. As projects go faster and cost environment becomes more challenging, business requirements management plays a more vital role at early stages of project. It is important to start looking at business data as early as possible, identify the trends and issues, and start documenting lessons learned for successor projects. Business analysts help project management head towards this direction.
Project managers can not be asked to become experts in every business area, but they need to look at the fundamentals of business analysis capabilities; facilitation skills, requirements management, business case development, and to develop critical business thinking.
Turning project management into business value
Many organisations spend large sums on project management. Yet, only a few really know whether they are getting business value from project management. How to measure the project management impact on business? My experience has shown me that successful project managers are able to demonstrate how they directly or indirectly contribute to improve business performance. Key measures are set to demonstrate the value of having project management in an organisation such as growth in project delivery measured against baselines. And more difficult to assess, indicators defined around contribution to revenue generation, cost saving, business reputation, and even talent retention.
This will vary depending on the organisation, the business, the project management maturity and practices. It’s also been my experience that it helps when there is sufficient senior level engagement and ownership support encouraging project managers. With no clear senior level direction, the organisation generally remains skeptical to changes and project managers spend their time trying to justify its need.
Developing essential personal skills
Today traditional project managers are used to deliver projects following project management fundamentals; control over time/scope/resources, with clear structure and authority. They manage projects through sound processes, resource management, and reporting. These are essential skills, but not sufficient to make a successful project manager. One of the biggest challenges project managers face today is about leading projects and teams.
Leadership is more than managing, it’s about influencing, and engaging people towards a common objective. These skills are even more important in situations where the project managers perform in cross-functional environment with limited resources directly reporting to them. Their challenge is to get people engaged, get them to buy-in the project, and provide a framework to let them self-organise and deliver results.
The work environment is becoming increasingly virtual with more and more work teams based in various locations. According to the International Data Corporation, the world’s mobile workforce is set to represent more than a third of the world's workforce by 2013. The challenge for new comers to corporations is to feel as though they are apart of the same organisation and remain motivated. How to engage project teams and build connections among them? The team management model has to be consistent with the behaviour the employees are asked to adopt. Leading is about taking the time to explain the project goals and the change impact to people involved in the projects to ensure their contribution is consistent with the common mission. At early stages of a project, managers need to spend time mentoring and coaching junior people and sustain momentum with additional coaching sessions on regular basis. This brings complexity to project managing and the challenge will be to develop skills to manage virtual teams and facilitate self-management with less emphasis on structure and authority, which however does not mean lack of clear governance. The use of knowledge sharing tools is a viable option. Portal solutions are used as places to share ideas and collaborate on project work and progress. A better-adapted work recognition model (financial/non-financial rewards) will also improve team performance and encourage entrepreneurial behaviour.
Communication is also essential. Communication is not only about giving sound messages and fantastic presentations, it’s also about seeking feedback. Communication is a two way model. If project managers do not seek feedback the communication flow is likely to fail and the project will be harmed. With feedback the project managers will ensure the stakeholders’ understanding, support, and engagement.
What’s the best way for self-development?
It may sound evident to most project managers but experience is undoubtedly the best personal self-development. Gaining experience and exposure to project management is key. It does not have to be in a sound project manager role, it could be in an operational role, as a subject matter expert, business analyst, even outside of work (i.e. volunteering in social events or educational programmes). The individual will develop and demonstrate certain sets of skills, which will help them move across into project management. It may take a while so the advice is, do not give up and to continue to gain exposure until achieving your goals.
Education is also considered a good source for self-development, especially in organisations where renowned practices (i.e. PMP, Prince2) are recognised as standard. Certification is one benefit but what education also gives to managers is self-confidence.
When I first attended project management training courses, I realised that the project management activities I had performed over years could be translated into a disciplined methodology. Education gives you more confidence in what you already know and helps identify your development needs. It really comes down to knowing the right questions to ask. For example, as a project manager, have I identified all the stakeholders and understood their expectations? What tools and techniques can I use to improve the relationship with stakeholders? Are they supportive and committed to seeing the project through to delivery?
Another example of a knowledge area I improved through education is, risk management. How to articulate a risk management approach? Have the stakeholders an appetite for it? Projects that fail to properly manage their risks can cause severe damages to the organisation; significant financial losses and harm to their reputation with customers and employees.
Project management education provides a common language and develops basic practices among the project management community. It helps save time and therefore money with a common understanding of project governance between project managers, operational managers, and project boards. Education does not only show theoretical knowledge but also experience and expertise to executives and future employers.
A professional project manager’s roadmap to success – What is needed?
Develop essential soft skills and embrace the change – gain experience, if necessary get qualifications, define a clear framework, encourage teamwork and cooperation, and embrace the change. Change is constant in big or small organisations so maintain a certain level of flexibility in your approach, always try to clarify the message, and keep in mind the fundamentals; select a few key project management documents, develop appropriate communication and seek feedback, regularly report on project progress, and as much as possible demonstrate contribution/value added to the business.
© 2010 allPM.com
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