The unwritten rule is that you don't get ahead by just doing your job well. What employers always want to see is "something special". That boils down to the willingness and ability to take on - and complete - projects that pose a clearly defined challenge and call for a range of management and organisational skills.
You don't have to build a Three Gorges Dam or run an Olympics. The basic requirement is to achieve change or an outcome within a specific time and budget. In the corporate context, this might include anything from arranging next month's office move to setting up a new factory on the mainland. It could be organising the annual dinner, upgrading the IT system, or co-ordinating the company's initial public offering.
Improve Your Project Management, by Phil Baguley, provides a reference for anyone keen to learn or lead. The author says that no two projects are ever the same. He explains the five fundamentals common to all and then sets out the essential steps for successful planning, monitoring, budgeting and execution.
The focus is to teach best practices and transferable skills, not to blind with project management science. There is a theory in terms of how best to organise teams, track progress and analyse risks. But this does not overwhelm, and something like the critical path on a Gantt chart becomes accessible when the "project" it relates to is making a cup of tea. What soon emerges is that whether planning a Nasa mission to Saturn or a weekend getaway for two, getting it right depends on similar factors. At one level, there exists the usual trade-off between time, cost and performance. At another, there is the importance of soft skills for communicating, negotiating, motivating others and moving everyone towards the desired outcome as effectively as possible.
"Projects are, above all, about people," Baguley says. "So managing a project means you are going to learn how to lead."
One chapter focuses on selecting specialists and team building. Others tackle managing finances and dealing with unexpected problems - done perhaps with the 80/20 Pareto principle to gauge potential impact, or an Ishikawa (cause and effect) diagram to identify root causes.
Baguley spells out the need for milestones, well-managed progress meetings and understanding the "pulse-points" of the project.
"Things don't always happen the way that we planned," he says. "Coping is one of the key skills shown by experienced managers."
Failing to plan means that you are planning to fail
A project without a “critical path” is like a ship without a rudder
Computers and software packages do not give you planning skills
Effective project teamwork starts when you all move “me” to “we”
Communication is the glue that holds your project together
Empowering project managers
Title Managing Complex Projects (Kindle edition)
Authors Harold Kerzner and Carl Belack
Category Project management
The book offers tips on how to solve issues encountered by project managers, including:
Dealing with multiple virtual teams located around the world
Working with people with limited project management tools/experience
Adjusting to long-term projects in which the stakeholders may change
Managing projects where stated goals and objectives differ among stakeholders
The book, out next month, shows how firms, such as IBM, are exploring avenues to aid them to take on projects by combining "hard" skills, such as risk management, with "soft" skills focusing on people.