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The foundation skills for all project managers

Building up the right skills

I was recently talking to a colleague about project managers when he said: “Expectations of their role are difficult, they are like ameba” and it took me a second before it clicked – an amoeba is a formless thing which takes many shapes. 

And yes they are! As I speak with project managers from around the world and across various industries, I see how much their roles and responsibilities vary.

The basic managing projects skills that all project managers should grasp and build a foundation on, however, remain universal.

If you have read some of my other posts, you will know that I am not a fan of rigid process and often feel project managers throw around acronyms to validate their specialty.

That aside, I believe in the necessity for project frameworks and understand there are a few key elements (tools, processes, techniques) that project managers must learn in order to repeatedly deliver successful projects.

Specifically, the Work Breakdown Structure, the Project Schedule and the Project Plan.

Many project managers use these incorrectly and interchangeably when they should not. Again, this may be semantics to some but standards and repeatability foster strong communication and quick on-boarding of new team members.

Project Plan

The project plan can be likened to an operations manual which describes the execution, management and control of each project aspect. Often confused with the project schedule, the PMBOK Guides and Standards definition of a project plan is as follows:

“…a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among stakeholders and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines.”

Here are a few elements a project plan should include:

  • Requirements Management
  • Schedule Management
  • Communications Management
  • Change Management

Managers or teams should always document procedures for their respective areas. Examples might include requesting changes, how funds are approved or released and how project updates get communicated.

Ultimately, should you need to leave, a new project manager ought to be able to read the project plan and pick up where you left off.

Work Breakdown Structure

Every project has a few core requirements. They are usually expressed as high-level deliverables.

The work breakdown structure is a process—an actual form or document—in which the project managers, subject matter experts and the team break large deliverables into smaller chunks or tasks. This can be compared to a sprint in the Agile world.

Breaking large deliverables into smaller, more addressable parts allows project managers to better organise efforts, align resources more effectively and track progress with greater precision.

A lot of project managers skip this because they believe it is tedious and don’t want to feel they are micromanaging.

You must fight that impulse and realise it is tremendously effective for developing an accurate project schedule.

Project Schedule

As an output of the work breakdown structure, your team must be able to identify the resources required, with dependencies in-place and time needed to complete each task. With this information, the project manager can develop a project schedule the team can review and support.

Your project schedule is basically the list of tasks with start and end dates, assigned to team members and any respective dependencies.

A key point to remember is that the project schedule is a living document; it must be reviewed and updated throughout the project.

A dependency may get removed, allowing other tasks to start sooner or some team members may become ill, pushing their task finish dates further out.

Even with the best planning and collaboration, things happen. Make sure your project schedule reflects the actual and current reality of the project.

Learn Project Management Basics

In many offices, no one will notice or care if you call the project schedule a project plan.

But, as your organisation grows, or depending on whom you work with (such as formally trained project managers) such gaffes may create confusion.

If you work with certified project managers or PMBOK followers, it might even cost you some professional credibility.

Learn these basic items and get them down. Leverage them on every project.

Think of it as grammar for project management. It may not always seem important, but when you get called on an error it may feel rather awkward.

Author bio
Robert Kelly is a Managing Partner at KPS, a project management consultancy. Robert is also the Co-Founder of #PMChat, a global community of project managers and business leaders that discuss best practices and lessons learned via Twitter.

Follow him on Twitter @rkelly976

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About Robert Kelly

Robert Kelly
Robert Kelly is a Managing Partner at KPS, a project management consultancy. Robert is also the Co-Founder of #PMChat, a global community of project managers and business leaders that discuss best practices and lessons learned via Twitter.

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