Is project management your job? Even if you’re not an official project manager, these skills and habits are ones to encourage.
Project management. If you’ve ever tried to keep coworkers and deliverables on track, you know it can be more challenging than you think. Actually, if you’ve ever tried to organize a friend’s birthday party, family holiday dinner, school reunion, or even your own wedding, you’ve managed a project!
Quickly defined, project management is the shepherding of a project from concept to completion. It involves the application of skills, tools, and resources working together to meet deadlines, cross off tasks, meet budgets, and, eventually, achieve a pre-defined goal. In order to manage a project, there must be a project—it could be the launch of a new product, the hosting of a conference, or the building of a new home. It must be something that can be defined with a clear start and end, and with ways to monitor progress and success. And, chances are, it will come with boundaries or limitations, such as cost, staffing, or deadline. These elements inform the project and the critical and creative elements that will ultimately bring everything together.
Project management is a deep dive into the systems and reporting structures you might already do naturally. However, with this deeper dive comes more control and organization. Even if you don’t actively think about project management, it helps you accomplish your daily, weekly, monthly, and annual goals. From running a household to running a construction team, project management keeps life on track. It ensures deadlines are met, people are paid, and goals are achieved. And when done well, it can feel like a seamless and natural part of your work routine.
So, imagine what successes you could find if you actively followed project management lessons.
History of Project Management
Have you ever wondered who built ancient cities and iconic structures? Such great tasks did not happen overnight, and they did not happen without organization. While project manager was likely not an official job title in ancient times, it’s safe to say that project management in one form or another has always been around. The need to build or create massive landmarks, organize governments, or set out on journeys of discovery all involved leadership, budgets, and timelines, explains ProjectManager.com, which has a history of the project management on its blog. However, it is only more recently that we have been able to point to project management as an official title and skill.
One key development project managers can look to when unpacking the history of the profession is the creation of the Gantt chart. Named for their creator, Henry Gantt, who is believed to have created the tool in the 1910s, the chart could link tasks and create a visual timeline. As an engineer and management consultant, Gannt saw the need for a new tool to organize and anticipate a schedule. Others did too; the Gannt chart was famously used in the creation of the Hoover Dam, helping workers understand when each phase of construction would take place. It was a natural fit for people looking to better understand workflow—which was needed around the world. In fact, the harmonogram is considered the earliest form of the chart, having been developed at the end of the 1890s in Poland.
Today’s Gannt charts are a mix of the two methods and can be more easily drawn up through software. However, they are not the only option or resource for project managers.
Project Managing For Today
Fortunately, since we recognize project management as a skill for today’s world, there are resources and learning opportunities available to properly support and encourage good project management. So, do you need a designated project manager? Is this where your team should be investing in skills? Let’s talk about the elements that create project management success.
Project managers have the ability to see the forest from the trees…and the trees from the forest. While they are able to zoom in on the details that can make or break a project, they can also zoom out to understand the overall goal and timeline. With project management, it might seem like you are planning one event or one campaign. But project managers know all too well the many tasks that make up one cohesive package.
Some essential project management strengths include:
- Creativity and critical thinking
- Time management
- Problem solving
Additionally, now that project management is a sought-after skill and defined role, there are the hard skills that savvy project managers learn. Budgeting, spreadsheets, and certain technology and applications (like those Gantt charts!) are important. Whether or not you have an official project manager, you will need to call on your inner organizer. A project manager depends on the teamwork of others. Ultimately, like many of today’s jobs—especially those in marketing and communications—a blend of soft and hard skills is needed. It would be difficult to be a good project manager if you are not willing to set deadlines. You need to stay organized ask questions, speak up, and understand balance!
Where Does Project Management Start?
Let’s back it up. A challenge for project management is having the pieces fall into place at the right time. So, it’s important to remember project management starts not with the launch of the project, but with the project idea.
When a coworker or client comes to you with a thought or goal, project management zooms out. Take a look to see if everyone is in the room and on the same page. Together, the pieces must be gathered. What do you know? What do you need to know? Too often, a pain point for teams is discovering that the right hand hasn’t been talking to the left hand. A dedicated project manager can provide the attention to detail. This way, everyone starts together and works together as different deliverables come in. Think of planning a holiday meal. What would happen if everyone showed up with mashed potatoes because no one communicated or planned ahead?
There are many perks to having an official project manager in the room. In having a high-level overview of a project, teams can understand what items and skills are needed. In turn, you can ensure staff come together efficiently and effectively. But they can also apply a sharper eye—they can ask, “Is this a good idea?” and conduct risk analysis or informative follow-up with clients to understand what worked or didn’t work. With a project manager, teams have valuable and hardworking assets looking out for them and the quality of their work.
Working Together to Reach Success
Now that you’re thinking of project management in official terms, you might be wondering where to start. When you were younger, did a parent leave you a list of chores to do on a day home from school? Perhaps you could think of them as your very first project manager. In this way, start small. A first step could be creating a to-do list and breaking down big projects into small tasks. If you’re not ready to break out the Gantt chart yet, that’s okay.
Excel and Google Drive to Asana, Monday, and Workamajig. There are also many resources to help tie together your team projects. Some offer free membership, with limitations. So, if you have a small team, there are ways to ease yourself into tracking. You may even find that it’s worth investing in project management tool to “assign” yourself chores around the house! Afterall, your life comes with projects of its own.
Thinking back on your own experiences, it is important to remind yourself that you can do this. Remember, if you’ve ever planned a birthday party, you’ve managed a project. It’s what you do between the invitation and thank-you notes that helps you define and reach success.