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Why project management skills are for everyone

By: Kirsten Lora, Vice President Learning, Catapult

Have you ever been asked to accomplish a huge goal and you had no clue where to start? Ever feel overwhelmed by work and can’t figure out what to do next as there is so much to do? Do you find yourself swimming in a to-do list at home or at work, but struggle to prioritize?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, project management skills are for you.

I am not a natural project manager. I am a bright shiny object, idea generator with horrible organizational skills, zero logical filing systems, and I struggle to follow through on operational tasks. However, I am great at driving others to define what they want to do (or could do), generating ideas for tasks and activities, and working through people to get stuff done.

To me, project management boils down to five key elements—and this is what has worked for me for decades, it is NOT Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) aligned, nor is it sanctioned as the only way to accomplish project-based work.

    1. Know your audience.
    2. Define your scope.
    3. Figure out what must be done and who does it.
    4. Convince your team.
    5. Communicate like crazy.

What do I mean by these elements?

  1. Know your audience. PMBOK calls these stakeholders—but it might be your customer, your employer, your executive sponsor, or even your teacher. When I taught college students how to write technical documentation, I told them, “Know your audience. Make sure you understand what they care about, deadlines, priorities, communication styles, jargon they use, the things that make them tick.” The same goes for formal projects. If you are building a product, know who your end-user is and make sure you meet their goals. If you are merging one company into another, know the executives involved and what they care most about—is it team retention, streamlined processes, improved bottom line? What are their timelines? Do they need weekly reports and progress updates? How involved do they want to be? Knowing your audience will help you define a scope that meets what they need so you can be successful.
  2. Define your scope. We all know how easy it is to never finish a project. I’m a huge party person—I love hosting themed birthday parties for my kids or holiday gatherings. Enough is never enough as far as I am concerned, as you can continuously improve and add ideas until the day of an event. However, if you do not define your scope, you can spiral out of control and fail to meet your goals. There is a limit to how many things 11-year-old girls want themed for games, favors, food, photo booth, etc. at a party. Eventually, they just want to hang out and play without mom trying to force direction on an event that is supposed to just be fun. Making sure you know what you are trying to do, and that it is limited in nature and achievable with a start and end is essential to good project management.
  3. Figure out what must be done and who does it. To get work done you have to define what needs to be accomplished first by the scope and then by identifying specific tasks and activities. These tasks do not get done unless people know to do them. Making sure you know what needs to be accomplished to meet your goal is important. Making sure your team knows what needs to be done and who on the team is responsible for it is the difference between a wish list and list of accomplishments. Team members need to know roles and responsibilities and have authority to complete their tasks and accountability for getting the job done.
  4. Convince your team that this project is something exciting and wonderful to be part of and that they are important to the success of the project. Make sure your team knows the scope of the work, the tasks, and their roles and responsibilities. Use your audience members to explain the importance of the work being done. Recognize the efforts of the team. Have daily or weekly standups that detail accomplishments, short-term goals or sprints, and outstanding efforts. Understand your team as an audience member. What motivates each team member? How should you best work with them to influence, delegate, and get even more accomplished through others? I had an agile project once where we worked 70+ hours a week. The people on my team all had different drivers and ways to encourage the extra effort. For some, it was praise to a college professor during an internship. For others, it was maid service and dinner reservations so their spouse would be more understanding of the long hours. As a leader, know what matters to your team members outside of work, so you can help get more done within the work effort.

  5. Communicate like crazy. There is no such thing as overcommunication on a project. At least not with your team. Checking in often, communicating status, identifying and escalating risk, and making sure that everyone involved is aware and apprised of the project is key to being successful. Again, know your audience. An executive does not need daily status updates. However, your team might. Figure out who needs what type of communication and when and modify to accommodate that. For some, you may need to send written follow ups. For others, a quick stand-up meeting is perfect. Communicate, communicate, communicate. And if you’re not sure people understand, then communicate again.

I am willing to bet that you work on projects every day in your life. Planning a party? That is a project. Event management is a type of project management that just deals with more social or large business functions. Creating a new product? Again, a project! Doing an upgrade? Yup, project again! Creating new marketing brand standards and collateral? Yes, that is also a project. So much of what we do could have a more formal structure around it and ultimately be easier to manage.

Check out our new project management course, The Essentials of Project Management and learn more about how you can apply these techniques to make your work and personal life easier to manage.

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