How To Take Charge of Project Management

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 03-04-2011

How To Take Charge of Project Management

Effective project management is an essential career skill for any CIO. Whether it's overseeing an IT project for internal or external customers, you must demonstrate more than "tech skills."

You must oversee a wide variety of factors that determine a project's success or failure: budget, scope, deadlines - as well as the human resources that bring all project components together. The AMA Handbook of Project Management (Amacom/Available now) serves as a thorough, authoritative guide to project management, exploring the requirements of managing projects in terms of both day-to-day needs and long-term vision.

In this book from the American Management Association, editors Paul C. Dinsmore and Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin have compiled dozens of research reports from subject-matter experts within private industry and the academic world, examining topics such as cost estimates, quality management, team-building, strategic execution and scope/time/cost management.

Dinsmore is president of his own consulting/training firm, and a winner of the prestigious Fellow Award from the Project Management Institute. Cabanis-Brewin is editor in chief of the Center for Business Practice, the publishing division of PM Solutions, a project-management consulting/training firm.

Five Steps for Developing Your Project Management Structure

Here are selected highlights, including five steps for developing your project management structure, four keys to creating a sound budget estimate, and five tips for building the right team:

  1. Projects should be unique undertakings. Like installing an entertainment center in your home, they should not be repeated frequently. If so, then there is a fundamental problem with your approach to project management.

  2. Maturity tracking must be taken into account to evaluate a project's long-term benefits. Ask: "How will this project help us tomorrow?" This will allow your organization to pursue planned, not chaotic, growth.

  3. All projects must have a quantifiable quality deliverable. If the predetermined, measurable goals are not met, the project cannot be considered complete.

  4. Metrics, however, are not simply a project afterthought. Measurement of likely success is needed throughout the project-execution process, in addition to completion.

  5. Projects are driven by competing constraints. These constraints include but are not limited to scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources and risk. Any one factor can impact the others. A strong project manager maintains firm oversight over all.

Project Management: Developing a Solid Budget Estimate

The publication also provides four approaches for developing a solid budget estimate:

  • Use expert judgment, meaning one or more experts are solicited to analyze project costs. This method is most often used when no prior data is known to exist.

  • Analogous estimating uses actual costs or data from prior projects to develop an estimate for the currently planned one.

  • Bottom up requires detailed accounting for all project components in more "real," concrete detail than the other methods.

  • "PERT" (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) estimates allow project managers to consider "most likely," "optimistic" and "pessimistic" scenarios in coming up with an estimate.

Project Management: Creating the Right Team

It's important to remember that these days your projects are more likely than ever to be overseen by geographically distant teams. It's important to take into account differences in languages, time zones, cultures and working environment, among other influencers. According to the book, there are five stages for effective team-building:

  • Forming -- when you assemble the players and define structure, goals, values and purpose.
  • Storming -- when the manager allows relationships to build to encourage interaction and innovation.
  • Norming -- which requires the manager to take teams to the next stage of involvement, to communicate and affirm project processes and allow members to emerge as a unified team.
  • Performing -- where a team should essentially be on autopilot, achieving required tasks routinely with minimal management intervention.
  • Adjourning -- when the manager and team focus on final evaluation, review and closure. The team should now feel rewarded/motivated by feelings of achievement and self-actualization.

It's also essential not to overlook generational transfer. It's important to have a plan to retain knowledge when you top tech talent departs. Every person who leaves an organization takes project "history" with him/her. Proactive mentorship to pass along knowledge from experienced employees to new ones is needed to keep a "best project practices" culture in-house.