So there you are, shipwrecked on a desert island. Twenty hapless souls, no food, no water, no shelter. A real need to get organised and get things done. Luckily one of the survivors swam ashore clutching a Prince2 manual.
Even more fortunately another survivor has a box of matches and soon a beach fire is roaring and fish is searing. The remainder of the Prince2 manual is carefully re-wrapped for future fire lighting.
Around the fire it is agreed that John Sergeant - who was once an army sergeant and has had survival training - should be asked to organise things. The group is split into two teams - one to build a shelter, the other to find sources of fresh water and food. Each of these two teams has a leader. One of the members of the hut building team turns out to be a skilled carpenter and though completely unable to organise things himself he thrives when given clear direction by his team leader.
A few days later a hut has been built, a stream has been found, fruit trees located, wild boar spotted - though none caught yet. A large fire is built on a hilltop to be lit when planes are spotted.
When no rescue comes the group realise they could be there for years. They get together to work out what they need to do for long term survival. Plans are put in place for cultivating crops, channelling running water to the hut, building more huts. John Sergeant makes sure their designs are robust enough to survive tropical storms. Once a week the group get together to discuss progress and agree additions and changes to their plans. John grows into an excellent leader: people want to do things to please him; he praises hardworkers and encourages slackers to do better; he is pleasant and inclusive yet not the sort of guy you want to get on the wrong side of.
And there you have it. Determining what needs to be done, working out how you'll do it, assigning responsibilities, thinking about potential problems, monitoring how things are going, adapting as you go along, rewarding and punishing - all the things a project manager does.
To some people all this comes naturally - it really is just common sense to them. By contrast some people, though they may have tremendous technical skills, do not have this capacity for getting things organised. The middle majority of people will have project management skills to a greater or lesser extent but will need training if these skills are to be realised.
Often overlooked in project management literature is a person's ability as a manager - as a leader. Some people are naturally good man-managers - they enjoy being in charge and people respond to them. You can give a hopeless man-manager all the project management training in the world but it's unlikely to transform him into a good man-manager. And if you can't manage people you can't manage projects.
But being a good man-manager isn't enough. A great man-manager may be a hopeless project manager: he may be good with people and good running teams who are essentially doing the same thing over and over again but he may be utterly hopeless when it comes to a blank sheet of paper and the need to establish project goals, invent and assign roles and plan the novel work that will need to be done to achieve those project goals.
Good project managers need to be good man-managers and they need to have the skills that mark out good project managers: planning, defining roles, etc - and even a bit of entrepreneurial flair.
Well, it certainly is not the ability to recite a Prince2 manual. Indeed bad "project managers" hide behind the bureaucratic procedures: if they have all the bureaucratic niceties in order they think they are running the project well. "Project managers" in quotes because these people are not project managers - they are bureaucrats who have been given a project manager title.
This is not to say that bureaucracy is a bad thing: a large project will quickly descend into chaos if the paperwork is in disarray. In much the same way, a company will need to keep its accounts in order but you want entrepreneurs, executives, leaders running the company - not the book keepers. Setting up and running a project is akin to starting up a company - it requires similar skills.
Project management is leadership - good man management. Project management is the ability to think into the future: to establish clear goals; to determine what work must be done to achieve those goals; to work out who will be responsible for what; to think what could go wrong and allow for those things; to monitor progress and take corrective action if things look like they are going off track; to be flexible enough to accommodate change but not be so amenable that desirable but non-essential change is allowed to drag the project down.
Free year planners and wall charts. Academic year, fiscal year and calendar year.
And the list of skills needed by project managers can be a very long one when one gets down to the nitty gritty of setting up and running projects.
Maroon a group of people on a desert island - you'll soon find out who has the requisite leadership skills. Less dramatically, give someone responsibility for leading a small team in a large project: you will find out if they have leadership skills and specific project management skills (planning, etc) and they will learn a lot about project management because there is an awful lot of it going on around them in a large project (one hopes).
Management Book explores the skills and techniques needed to set up and run office-based
(as opposed to desert-island-based) projects.
For example, what roles might be needed and for what should each role player be responsible.
Project Management in the Public Sector
Project Management Proverbs, Saying, Laws and Jokes
Towards a Project-Centric World
So You Want To Be A Project Manager?
Free Online Project Management Book
Quality Management in Software Development Projects
The Tale of Three Project Managers
Copyright M Harding Roberts 2008
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