How to Learn Project Management

Years ago a friend who recently graduated with an MBA asked me to share my knowledge as she started her career as a project manager.  Even though I had worked for Andersen Consulting – now Accenture – and they had wanted to me to move into project management before I left,  I just did not have a process to approach Project Management. It’s something I just did based upon how I observed others doing it, sometimes wanting to do the exact opposite.  This is the article I wish I would have read back then.

Today, I am an entrepreneur and business owner with multiple companies, multiple projects, and I consult with organizations and individuals to improve their project management documentation, skills and approaches. Having a solid approach goes a long way to being organized, removing frustration, handling emotionally charged environments, and being productive.

This article is meant to answer the question, “How can I start to be a better project manager?”. This can be for those looking to make improvements, or those who want a starting point, similar to my post on “How to Learn Java”.

The advice here will be “progressively elaborated” – you can leave comments, or subscribe to be updated as the content grows.

It is not meant to be a perfect document. In fact it is 2am and I am jet lagged and almost burned down the apartment building I’m staying in because I tried to put the electric kettle on the stove.  So I expect there might be some interesting formats and spellings, and fuzzy logic.  But I promised a wonderful group in Dallas, TX that I would write up some of the things we discussed, and this can serve as a starting point – I am OPEN to feedback, change, and the fact I might not have gotten it right the first time. (Qualities I hope you all remember when you are presented with new ideas from other team members.)

So here we go…

BE HUMBLE
If you start to think you are the only one who has the “right” answers – then you close yourself off to the opportunity to learn, grow, and potentially avoid or eliminate many existing or potential risks that others might otherwise present to you. The #1 reason I see for low morale in organizations that I work with – is employees that are not being respected or listened to.

If you close yourself off – take on air of superiority – then you have just screwed yourself and your organization over my dear reader. Of course with anything there are ways to do this, you cannot just let yourself change direction with every slight breeze – but the key points are to respect others, keep your emotions out of it, realize you may be completely unaware of issues or innovations, and that being open to communications and viewpoints can be wonderful.

BEWARE THE MYTHS

There is an abundance of bad advice floating around – no wonder it’s estimated that over 65% of projects fail.  Various sources on this, and higher numbers given in technology projects.

Personally, I have had the great fortune to have really, really, bad project managers, directors, and so forth.
Wonderful, valuable lessons on how not to do things…this was very helpful to me as I formalized my Project Management knowledge, and when I want for, and received, my PMP certification.

On Project Estimation.
“Take your best guess, double it, and add 25%.” – a well intentioned manager who interviewed me for a tech position, but who I believe now was studying project management. He would share advice he learned, I wish I knew where he was getting it because I would have a section entitled BANNED LIST below with the good resources.

“You pick two” – same PM, in reference to the Iron Triangle. What a way to set yourself up for failure. I do not deny that the three main constraints of TIME, COST, and SCOPE have a HUGE dependency on one another. They CERTAINLY do. But the idea of you can only have it fast and cheap, but not good, etc is like saying – we are going to fail in one area.

The biggest thing I stress to my clients, spend time agreeing on what the project objectives are, realize there is some give and take on these, but then baseline your documentation. Manage change. Avoid scope creep. If the project does take on change, it is documented and
budgets are increased, time is extended, scope is modified, and everything is OFFICIALLY signed off. You cannot just modify willy nilly and move forward. Boy I can share some fun techniques we have used over the years such as caution tape, and “Do not Feed the Developers (any new ideas)”. The notion of, “It will only take 5 minutes”, and “But it’s just a button” go out the window. It might take educating your staff as well as your PMs but plan the work and work the plan, and NOTHING ELSE.

“I could do that in Visual Basic in 2 months, so you should be able to do it in Java in 3 months” – thank you JP, for that lesson, as well as how pathologically lying can cause people to jump ship, and bring down an entire company. RIP, C S.

On Human Resource Management
“I want your team to feel empowered” – AH, as he wasted our time saying one thing and doing another. He did come up with really good ideas, when he wasn’t taking credit for others, and while I was impressed with some of his creativity, I was astonished at his inability to be open to new ideas or realize what a d*&$head he was being.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT != MS PROJECT*
Sure MS Project can be a great tool for scheduling and resource allocation, but lesson #1 – there is a lot to Project Management. It is NOT just GANTT Charts. You need to get a grasp of everything that it covers and then “Mind the Gap” – ok, for those of you playing at home, I am currently in London, and feeling quite punchy. So, yes, take an honest assessment of where you are, and study up on the areas you would like to enhance.

* the notation != translates to “does not equal” in GeekSpeak…

GET AN INTRO:

I must say i am not 100% satisfied with any intro materials, but again, chart your course.

The PMBOK is a great resource when you have some experience, but intro books, I think, drop the ball on real teaching concepts, and step by step intros. It really becomes a matter of reading a lot, and absorbing what works for you. When I come in to help clients, I have my own process, rather than saying read this list of 100 books.

Here are some suggestions if you like to take this route.

I am a big fan of Amazon Prime and SafariOnline, but you might also consider more affordable ways – that I mention in my post:
http://www.karmoxie.com/subdir/expand-your-mind-and-your-wallet/

I havent read through this one completely yet – but I really enjoyed what I have ready so far. Again, not a step by step, but good points throughout.

LEARN A STANDARD (PMI or Prince2)

You can get a certification from PMI (Project management Institute). This requires that you have experience as a PM. It doesnt hurt to see the standard and what areas you are missing in your background.

The PMI standard – PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) is a wonderful reference.
If you wish to become PMP certified, you will become INTIMATELY familiar with the concepts in this standard.

9 Knowledge Areas:
Project Integration Management
Project Scope Management
Project Time Management
Project Cost Management
Project Quality Management
Project Human Resource Management
Project Communications Management
Project Risk Management
Project Procurement Management

5 Process Groups (Phases):
Initiating
Planning
Executing
Monitoring and Controlling
Closing

Although I PWNED* my PMP exam….I am not yet certified by PRINCE2. A goal for 2012 perhaps. My exposure to PRINCE2 though gives me this takeaway, more focus on having quality gates to ensure you do not pass from one phase to the next until you have done all that you need to. A great philosophy, and a LOT of the PM software my clients are using now have this concept built in, its just a matter of choosing what is right for your organization to configure it correctly.

*PWNED = owned, ruled, kicked the butt of, scored very well with minimal study

CREATE A PROJECT PLAN – if you havent already!

Okay, I am using singular “plan” here, and if you havent figured out already, this means a LOT of documentation. Really a summary of many documents that you can/will/should use. Formats? Excel / Word / Visio / MS Project / JIRA Tickets / Custom PM software and information systems….many choices here.

I think I will create further posts to discuss these in more detail, but as promised to a wonderful group of people here are some links to some templates so that you do not need to start from scratch.

Imperial College – London

PMDocs

There are many resources out there for templates, it really is going to be up to your organization to develop what works in YOUR organization.

For example, we have begun using Google Docs to track Project Documentation for Karmoxie…and…I…LOVE IT.

LESSONS LEARNED

Do NOT wait until the end of the project to do this. Its tough when a team is disbanding and you are all ready to move onto somethgin new, and you need to stop and think about what worked, what didnt, and how we could make improvements. Make this a weekly if not daily habit.

My lesson learned for today – do not attempt to make coffee until the brain fog of being jet-lagged has disappeared.
In other words, dont try and heat an electric kettle with a plastic bottom on a stove top.

Yes, I make plenty of mistakes. But I try to learn from them. We have to laugh at ourselves sometimes, and move forward.
I hope to share some stories in the future so that you can avoid some pitfalls that I have encountered, and leverage the tools and techniques I have found success with.

More business advice, Myth Busting, and DO NOT DO WHAT WE DID posts to come. Subscribe for infrequent, but yet informative postings.

And finally, paraphrasing the 3 questions we should always after an interview:
- do you have any questions/comments for me?
- is there anything else you think I should address?
- is there anyone you think would like to join this conversation?

Please leave comment or forward this post as appropriate. Thanks!

Cheers and Best Wishes,
Judy Lipinski
PMP

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