Project Management for Non-Project Managers
Almost everyday someone has a “project” for you to do. It may be a formal project that is accomplished by an Integrated Project Team (IPT) with some form of formal planning and control, or an assignment that is a quick-response informal task such as the preparation of a briefing or a report. The first example might be given to a recognized or certified project manager, but not necessarily. The second example is often given to whomever the manager feels can do the work or who is available.
Projects are not defined the same way in all organizations, nor do they require the same amount of rigor, formality, and documentation. In general, small projects or efforts are less complex, fairly low cost, and can be completed quickly and informally. The same holds true for the application of project management tools, techniques, and practices. The more complex the project, the more complex the planning and reporting tools – and reporting may require something like a project management software system. Smaller projects still need documentation (schedule, budget, resources, scope, and risk); they just do not need it to the same level as more significant efforts.
Many “projects” are accomplished by team members and employees who are not, nor have any intention of becoming, project managers; however, everyone applies the elements of project management to some degree in the accomplishment of their daily activities.
Consider the performance evaluation criteria found in most annual performance reviews. Almost all performance reviews have criteria that include items such as, timeliness of delivery, quality of the output, how much work is accomplished, resource management – human, equipment, material, financial, leadership, and team cooperation – all elements of project management.
You don’t have to be an expert in project management to apply project management principles. Whether you are launching a new product, organizing a social event, fixing Thanksgiving dinner, taking a cross-country driving trip, or pulling together a presentation for your manager, there are some basic steps that everyone must take in order to achieve a successful outcome and deliver the product or service for which the effort is being undertaken. They include:
First – Define and understand what is to be done.
- What needs to be done? – Clearly understand the requirements and the deliverables to be provided and to what quality standard must the work be done.
- For whom is the work being done? – Who is the primary customer (generally the requestor) and who is the ultimate, or final, customer? It is also important to remember that with almost all work activities there is often a third customer; that is your internal management who is concerned not only about the deliverable, but meeting internal strategic and operational objectives.
- Why is the work being done? – It helps to have a good understanding of the reason why the work is being done. For most work not classified as a formal project, the rationale might not always be communicated because the requestor may assume that the reason is understood or that you do not need to know. However, if it’s not clear, ask. Whether a presentation or report is going to be used internally or externally makes a big difference in the approach you take to planning and accomplishing the work.
- What are the major activities or deliverables to be provided? – Understand what the ultimate deliverable is and consider the major work elements (scope) to be accomplished. This will help determine the amount of planning, time, and resources required. Whether it is a large effort or something that can be done in a short period of time, there will be an ultimate deliverable and sub-deliverables that will need to be provided.
Second – Determine how to accomplish the effort.
- Timeline – When does it need to be done? All work has a timeline associated with it. In some cases the delivery date will be mandated, in others you will have the flexibility to tell the requestor when they will get the deliverable. In either case, all work requires a schedule that communicates to stakeholders the steps to accomplish the work and when they will get it.
- Budget – How much or how many resources are needed to complete the work? – All work has costs and a budget. Whether your budget and cost is in dollars, labor hours, or peanuts, things get consumed on the accomplishment of the work.
- Key stakeholders, who else in involved? – Beside you and the requestor, who or what other people or groups are involved with the successful delivery? From whom do you need information or support and to whom do you need to provide something. The more stakeholders the more complex the project, even if it appears to be a relatively simple and short effort.
- How much decision making authority do you have? – This is related to the amount of decision-making authority you have regarding the work (project) time, cost, resources, or scope. In most cases, your authority will be clearly understood, especially when it is your manager who is giving you the assignment. Your position and the work to be done are pretty well defined.
Third – Identify what can keep you from being successful.
- Assumptions – What basic assumptions are you making? Every work activity is based on assumptions, or something believed to be true for planning purposes, but needs to be verified.
- Constraints – What hard constraining factors must be considered? Something that limits one or more of the project elements, such as a mandated delivery date, fixed budget, or limited resources.
- Risks – What risks are there? A risk is something that may or may not happen and if it does occur could negatively impact the work outcome. In other words, what are those things that can keep you from accomplishing the works?
Fourth – How do you know you are done and the recipient is satisfied?
- Success metrics – How will you know you have successfully completed the task? What quality standards need to be satisfied? How do you know what was delivered was what the requestor wanted and that it was done the way they wanted it?
- Finalizing the work – How will you be delivering the final outcome and wrapping up any final paperwork?
Let’s take a look at a simple example:
You walk into your office at 8:00 AM, open your email and find a message from your manager informing you that by the end of the day, she wants you to put together a draft presentation for the briefing to the senior executive committee.
You send a note back saying that by 4:00 PM you will provide her with a draft PowerPoint presentation with bullets that address the key elements. You estimate that it will take about six hours to deliver the draft, and that you should be able to do it by yourself. However, you are also working on other assignments and ask where this fits into the priorities.
You realize that you will need information and support from other work groups in order to put the briefing together and inform your manager that she may need to help you get this presentation completed.
Because this assignment came from your manager and your role in the organization is pretty well defined, you typically know how much authority and control during this assignment.
You develop a simple plan on how you will get the work done, get the draft presentation completed, and delivered to your manager by 4:00 PM and follow up with her to check if the draft addressed everything that was needed if the draft meets the manager’s expectations.
While this is not a complex or formal “project,” you followed the same basic steps as if it were. Understand what the deliverable is, develop a plan to accomplish it, complete the work while tracking your progress, and deliver the end result.
Applying project management principles does not mean using a set of complex tools or templates; it is about applying the appropriate amount of rigor and formality to accomplish a work effort. It is simply a way of thinking through the what, who, why, when, how, how much, and what if.