What is a Project Manager?

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What is a Project Manager?

project is something that you plan and do, usually in a series of steps, to achieve a specific objective or outcome within a specific timeframe. The goal of a project is to achieve some sort of positive result, benefit or success.

A project manager is someone who oversees the completion of a project.

Typically, a project manager helps define the core elements of the project — scope, schedule, and resources — based on the defined goals and objectives. Then, the project manager uses tools and techniques to manage people to achieve the goals on-time, within the established budget and with the quality desired.

There are nine primary responsibilities of a project manager:

  • Manage Scope. Scope defines what will be done as part of a project. Anything that must be done is considered “in scope.” Anything excluded from the project is “out of scope.” A project manager must ensure that items in-scope are delivered while not getting unduly distracted by items that are out-of-scope.
  • Manage Schedule. A project manager must drive the project toward completion within a specific period of time. This includes hitting macro-level schedule targets (e.g. complete project by the end of the year) as well as micro-level targets (e.g. task must be completed this week).
  • Manage Resources. A variety of resources are needed to execute each project: people, physical locations, hardware, software, etc. A project manager must keep an eye on all resources that are needed and plan ahead to secure them in-time, keep them working together toward the project goal and let go of them when no longer needed.
  • Manage Budget or Cost. A project manager must have a clear understanding of budget constraints and must manage resources effectively in order to stay within the financial budget.
  • Manage Quality. Quality is probably the most subjective thing that a project manager must manage. It’s so subjective at times that I purposely call it a thing. To a large degree, quality is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, it’s critical that a project manager know who ultimately “owns” the project and be sure to understand his or her view of quality so that it can be achieved.
  • Manage Communication. Meetings, hallway discussions, emails, phone calls, conference calls, PowerPoint decks and documents. During a typical project, all of these communication methods — and others — are used to convey important messages to others. A project manager must communicate well.
  • Manage Risks and Issues. A project manager must always be looking for, assessing and proactively managing problems and potential problems that could impact the success of his or her project. Risks are things that might impact the project in the future based on what is known at that moment. Issues are things with a definite impact on the project.
  • Manage Vendors and Service Providers. Many projects require input from multiple organizations. A project manager must ensure that other organizations do what is needed to deliver the project successfully.
  • Manage Integration with Other Projects and Programs. Some projects can be completed in isolation. There are no dependencies on people or organizations outside the project team itself. However, most projects are dependent on other people, projects, teams and organizations. A project manager must work with other project and program managers to coordinate tasks so that both/all projects can be delivered.

Project management is complex. There are often so many competing views, priorities, decisions, personalities and goals. There are typically controllable and uncontrollable dependencies. There are problems and more problems. There are knowns and unknowns.

Yet it is helpful to know that a project manager has a fairly succinct set of responsibilities and that, in the end, a skillful project manager can focus on the nine primary responsibilities above and use tools and techniques to move projects forward and complete them successfully.

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About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |December 27th, 2012|Tips|Comments Off on What is a Project Manager?|

The Five Stages of Every Project

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The Five Stages Of Every Project

According to the Project Management Institute, there are five stages or sets of steps that every single project must follow:

1. Initiate.

During this stage, interested people define the project at a high-level, identify the goals of the project and set the guidelines and constraints to govern the project going forward. Once defined, a decision is made to move forward with the project or not.

The most important questions to address during this stage include:

  • What is the overall goal of this project?
  • How will success be measured? What explicit criteria will be used?
  • What is the high level scope of the project?
  • Who are the key players? Customer? Team members? Financier? End-Customer?Vendors? Partners? Objectors? Influencers?
  • At a high-level, what needs to be done in order to achieve the goal?
  • Among all the other projects, tasks and activities, is now the right time to pursue this project?
  • Are there any conflicting goals, projects or or environmental challenges that must be considered?
  • Is there sufficient buy-in from appropriate authorities and stakeholders?
  • Are the right resources (e.g. team, budget, office space, computers) in place to make this project successful?

2. Plan.

During this stage, a more detailed effort is made to define the specific tasks, resources, schedule and budget. All of these things are put into a master project plan, which can be tracked using sophisticated software like Microsoft Project or with a simple tool like Microsoft Word or Excel. For really simple projects, it might be sufficient to use a notepad.

I worked with a colleague who often said, “The plan is nothing. Planning is everything.” My former colleague is exactly right! Too often, project managers want to define a project plan and set it in stone. This is entirely wrong! Inevitably, things change and an effective project manager must adapt along the way. The plan must be created to set the path forward but must not be written in stone. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. The important thing during this stage is that thought and effort are exerted to identify the key steps that must be taken to complete the project, people are identified to complete each step, that a timeline is established to complete the overall project and each step within it and that a financial budget is set and understood by everyone who needs to know.

Critical questions to ask during the Plan stage include:

  • What is the detailed scope of the project?
  • What steps or tasks need to be completed to achieve the project goals?
  • Who needs to complete each step or task?
  • By when does each task need to be completed?
  • What are the absolute critical tasks that must be completed?
  • How much money and other resources are available to be used during this project?
  • Are there any dependencies that could impact the delivery or success of this project? If so, are they controllable dependencies or not?
  • What other risks are there at the outset? What can be done to proactively manage the risks?

3. Execute.

During this stage, actual work begins. Now, I’m not saying that initiating and planning a project isn’t work. But sometimes initiating and planning feel more like talking about and preparing to do work than doing work itself. By this stage, however, the project is beyond preparation. People are in place, sometimes many people. For many business transformation, software and systems implementation projects, teams of people are documenting processes, identifying requirements or business needs, designing user interfaces, building and validating solutions and, finally, delivering solutions to the customer.

Questions that should be answered during this stage will vary greatly depending on the type of project being executed. However, typical questions include:

  • Are the needs or requirements stated clearly?
  • Do the appropriate people agree with the designed solution?
  • Does the solution meet the needs of the customer? End-user? Other stakeholders?
  • Is the solution ready to be delivered to the client/public/customer?
  • Have the end-users been sufficiently trained to use the new solution?

4. Monitor or Control.

This is an interesting stage because it occurs simultaneously with the Execute stage. While the Execute stage — or set of activities — focuses on getting work done, the activities to monitor or control a project aim to ensure that everything remains on-track. Often, a separate person or team of people monitor a project than those responsible for executing the project. This can be especially helpful for large projects as well as projects that are part of much larger programs or strategic initiatives. Often, the people who are “in the weeds” don’t have the time to see and be aware of what’s going on outside the project that could impact their project significantly.

Key questions to help monitor a project include:

  • Is the project on-track to deliver the expected results?
  • Is the project on-track from a schedule perspective?
  • Are individual tasks on-track to be completed?
  • Have any new issues arisen that must be addressed?
  • Have any new risks appeared that threaten project success?
  • Are there any risks or issues that must be escalated?
  • Are the resources still sufficient for the project?
  • Is the budget still sufficient?
  • Are there any dependencies outside the project that are falling behind schedule or impacting the project in some other way (e.g. quality, budget)?

5. Close.

For many projects, the line between the Execute and Close stages is very thin. Often, the Execute stage includes formal handoffs of solutions to clients and end-users. During a project closing, effort is placed on wrapping things up. That can include making final updates to the project plan, conducting a post-mortem assessment of how things went, interviewing stakeholders to obtain their feedback, documenting lessons learned to apply to the next project, reconciling the budget and providing final status updates to appropriate people.

By this point in the project lifecycle, most people are ready to move on. But it’s important to properly close out a project and address the following questions:

  • Did the project achieve the desired goals and objectives? If not, why not?
  • Is the customer — the one who funded the project — satisfied with the results?
  • Is all the documentation in its final state and stored in such a way that those who might need it can find it without too much trouble?
  • Were the project estimates on-target? If not, how far off were they and what can be done to improve them next time?
  • What lessons can be learned? Which ones are critical to apply next time around?
  • Were there any people on the project who you’d rather avoid next time around?

Five stages: Initiate, Plan, Execute, Monitor, Close. The examples I’ve presented assume a certain context, namely a typical project you might see in businesses around the world. Yet the same stages should be followed even with other types of projects such as weekend house-renovations, video-creation, blogging and self-improvement.

You will make great strides in your pursuit of succes if you define projects and ingrain these stages into them on a regular basis.

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About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |December 18th, 2012|Tips|Comments Off on The Five Stages of Every Project|

What is an Outlier?

"Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book [Outliers] I'm interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August."
By |December 12th, 2012|Tips|Comments Off on What is an Outlier?|

What is a Project?

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What is a Project?

The term project is used a lot. I think it’s safe to say that most people understand what the term means, in general. But it’s always a good idea to be certain so here is my working definition. A project is:

  1. something that is contemplated, devised, or planned
  2. something that is undertaken; something you do, either large or small
  3. something that has a clear, unique objective or desired outcome
  4. something that has a clear start, middle and an end

In a sentence, a project is something that you plan and do, usually in a series of steps, to achieve a specific objective or outcome within a specific timeframe.

Let’s look at a few examples to examine the types of efforts that qualify as projects…and those that do not:

Writing this blog post?

I thought about writing this post. I planned a time to sit down and write it. I organized a few thoughts in my head before I began. My main objective was to write an introductory post for my new blog so I could get rid of that infamous “Hello World!” post. My secondary objective was to write something that would be somewhat educational for those who have heard the term project but may not necessarily live in projectland on a daily basis. I set aside one hour to write this blog post today. Finally, I drafted, reviewed and published this blog post. So…was writing this blog post a project? In short, yes. It meets the criteria so it was, in fact, a project.

So that brings up a question. Does something have to be complex to be a project? Quite simply, no. Something really simple like writing a blog post can be and is a project. But what about something like…

Picking up a pen?

Look at the criteria in my working definition. Is picking up a pen something that is (or can be) contemplated, devised or planned? Yes. Is it something you do, either large or small? Yes. Does is have a clear, unique objective? Yes, probably to enable you to write something (or perhaps to defend yourself if your name is Jason Bourne). What about a clear start, middle and end? Uh…no. There is no start, middle and end point in picking up a pen. You just pick up the pen. And, by way of this illustration, that’s the difference between a task and a project. Picking up a pen is a task. Combine the task pick up a pen with other tasks and you might have yourself a project: plan a trip to the grocery store, pick up a sheet of paper, pick up a pen, write a list of items “To Buy” on the sheet of paper with the pen, take the “To Buy” list to the grocery store, purchase groceries on the “To Buy” list, mark items off the list as they are purchased, etc. That is starting to look more like a project. Add a clear objective (feeding the family so they don’t starve?), set a timeframe for achieving the goal (tonight would be good!) and this example is well on its way to becoming a project.

What about something that is really complex like…

Living life?

Let’s look at the criteria again. Is living life something that can be planned? Well, yes…and no. You can and certainly should plan elements of your life but not all of it. For example, you cannot plan when you will be born. Is living life something you do? Yes. Is there a clear, unique objective? Yes, there can be. Is there a start, middle and end? Yes. But is it clear? No. Again, you cannot plan your own start. Technically, your parents can pick a birth date but now we’re getting really, really technical so let’s just say, “No.” Similarly, you can plan your own end but, for the most part, you do not plan your own end. In summary, living life can be a project but, practically speaking, it is not a project.

There’s a lot of room between picking up a pen and living life. And that’s the space we’re going to explore on this site because that’s the space where projects live. Projects are bigger than picking up pens and smaller than living life. A project is something you plan, something you do, something that achieves a particular goal or objective, something that is started, is executed and is ended.

And they are a great way to achieve success.

Dave_thumbnail.png

About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn

By |December 4th, 2012|Tips|0 Comments|