The Importance of Professional Project Management

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Michelle Symonds
Michelle Symonds spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in SEO.

Private companies and government organisations involved in running large projects, or many smaller projects at the same time, already recognise the benefits of formal project management but as the amount of experience and knowledge gleaned from such tasks has increased so project management has become more complex. And as it has become more complex so the tools and methodologies have had to evolve to keep pace.

It was the UK governmental body OGC (Office of Government Commerce) that back in 1989 first defined the structured methodology that has evolved today into the internationally recognised PRINCE2 methodology. It was originally established to help Government departments deliver the best value possible from its capital expenditure and is an acronym for Projects In a Controlled Environment. Of course, there are also other knowledge-based methods from APM (Association for Project Management) and PMI (Project Management Institute).

Formal methodologies are commonly used for software development, manufacturing, engineering, and construction projects to plan, schedule and control all of the tasks and activities required. More and more they are also being used by services and solutions companies in order to add discipline and control to their projects.

Consequently, managing projects is now a fundamental part of many businesses and the role of project manager is now a professionally recognised one, which involves not only planning, scheduling and controlling activities but also expertise in the management of risk, change and quality. The skills required to successfully complete projects are very much in demand in the competitive business environment and include not only a technical ability to efficiently manage tasks but also people management skills and good business awareness.

An internationally recognised qualification can be a real advantage but equally important are other skills such as:

  • An open-minded attitude to each new task
  • The ability to select the right software tools
  • Understanding the business case
  • Describing the business goal that the project is striving for
  • An ability to tailor methods and techniques to particular projects
  • Effective prioritisation of every part of the project
  • Negotiating skills for requesting additional resources
  • Learning lessons from previous projects to avoid repeating mistakes
  • Questioning all assumptions made
  • Diplomatic skills to gain support where required

Of course, all of these skills will only benefit a project manager with a good, sound understanding of professional methods and techniques.

It is essential to create a written document that clearly states the scope of the project. This might be known as the Scope Document, the Project Charter or the Business Requirements Document. Whatever it is called in your organisation the key factor is that the scope of the project, what is included and what is specifically excluded, is clearly and unambiguously documented and that it is approved by all of the stakeholders to the project.

This document will prove invaluable later on in the project when issues are bound to arise over what exactly should be delivered and where certain responsibilities lie. It will also help with assessing how realistic initial schedules and budgets are. A scope document should include a breakdown of the different tasks required to complete the project and an assessment of the likely benefits versus the costs in a cost-benefit analysis.

It is also essential to ensure that there is a communication plan in place so that all stakeholders, managers, team members and anyone else with an involvement in the project are kept fully aware of the progress of the project. Communicating is a two-way thing so the plan should allow for feedback and, more importantly, all feedback received should be assessed. Ignoring the concerns of anyone involved in the project, no matter how junior they might be, runs the potential risk of failing to deliver the project on-time and on-budget. By communicating effectively, vital commitment and cooperation will be gained from the team, and support from those who are affected but maybe not involved to any great extent. A lack of communication only serves to raise objections and generate resistance to a new project.

And while all this is going on a professional project manager will not forget to motivate and encourage the project team, to repeatedly monitor progress and adjust the project plans, where necessary, and to manage all the potential risks within the project. After all project management is simply about getting things done whether you choose to follow a PRINCE2, PMP or APMP methodology.

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