Achieving Results with Project Management – Part 5
Projects in the real world
Projects do not always run smoothly and go exactly to plan, so you need to be flexible. When starting to think about your project, you will need to allow for:
Risks. The unknown and uncertain
It is rare that the project will be 100% predictable, so prepare for the fact that you are going into the unknown, since projects are all about change and are unique.
Therefore, your plans need to allow for things going off track. Occasionally you will find that uncertain areas are indeed predictable. This calls for your needs to carry out risk management, learning how to assess, and then manage risks.
Yet again, sometimes the areas of your project are not at all predictable, and this brings in the aspect of contingency. You need contingency, because if things can go wrong they almost certainly will!
Learn by experience
Despite your best efforts to assess feasibility and develop good plans at the start of your project, you may find later that you cannot achieve what you thought you could, or in the way you thought you could.
If this situation happens, you need to rethink in the light of the new information that you have acquired. Sometimes you can see upfront that you will not know how a particular set of the project is going to work out until you get nearer to that point and better information has been gathered.
Do not worry about that, just pointed out in a clear manner at the beginning of your project
Your initial feasibility and benefits assessments are sound, and your plan is detailed and realistic.
However, imagine if certain key project team members leave the organisation without warning during the project. Or a new technology emerges, and it is more appropriate to use than the one in your original plans.
Perhaps the business environment changes and with it, your organizations whole product development strategy.
Because ignoring these occurrences may seriously jeopardize your project success, you will want to rethink and re-plan in the light of these new realities.
The role of the project manager
In essence, the project manager’s job is to manage the project on a day to day basis and to bring it to a successful conclusion. The project manager is normally accountable to a senior manager who is the project sponsor, or to a small group of managers who for a project steering committee or project board.
The project manager’s job is challenging as they will often cordon eight technically specialized professionals, who may have limited experience working together, in order to achieve a common goal.
The project manager’s position is a role it is not about status. This is true for all of the roles within a project and there may be for example be very senior people working as team members, such as chief engineers or specialist advisers who are accountable to the project manager even though in the normal business as usual, they are very much more senior than the project manager.
Both team members and the project manager must understand that the that the project manager has the responsibility and authority in a project that comes with a role, independent of their organisational grade or rank.
When the project manager has a clear accountability to a sponsor or steering committee, life is much easier because everyone can see that the project manager’s authority comes from the senior managers.
The project manager does not do any of the technical work of the project in their role as project manager.
If the project manager is involved and technical work, it is with a different role – that of a team member. This distinction is important because if you are doing teamwork as well as project managing, you must be clear about both roles and only where one at a time.
It is too easy to neglect the management and let the project run out of control because you are so engrossed in the detail and challenges of your part of the technical work. This is often a danger for new project managers that are promoted from a technical role, because the temptation is to focus on what you already know best.
The project manager’s role requires hard skills such as planning and costing, but also soft people skills, and a project manager success requires a keen ability to identify and resolve sensitive organizational and interpersonal issues.