Project management is one of the most fundamental skills needed by employees in hi-tech. I'd argue that a significant percentage of the tasks completed each day in hi-tech companies could be organized into projects.
The issue is that these projects often don't have clear owners, backing by key stakeholders, or well thought out project plans.
Poor project management is one of the top hidden costs to the business.
In this post I'm going to cover what I consider the most important project management principles. This post will teach you the following:
Before jumping into my list of project management principles it will be a good idea to define our terms.
Project - I define a project as a complex set of tasks which usually involves multiple individuals. A project may take one day or one year to complete. Examples of projects include running a conference with thousands of participants, building a multi-widget dashboard, or implementing a new CRM system.
Project Owner - The individual who is ultimately responsible for completing the project.
Project Team - The individuals that spend any of their time working on the project. A team member might spend 1 hour or multiple days working on the project.
Project Beneficiaries - The individuals who directly benefit from the value the project brings. An example is a sales rep who benefits from using the new and improved CRM system you just implemented.
The very first principle that you need to understand is every project as an opportunity cost. A simple way to think about this principle, is that if you and others in the company work on "Project X" then you can't work on "Project Y". The cost of doing "Project X" is the value you would get from the resources going towards "Project Y".
Since every project has an opportunity cost it is critical that before any project is started that the following questions are asked and good answers can be provided.
The major decision makers that are relevant should sit in a room and go over these questions. If the majority of stakeholders come to an agreement that the project is worth the resources, and the opportunity costs involved are acceptable, you can then move forward.
A good project manager understands that there are human elements involved in any project that need to be managed.
This process starts before the project even starts. Certain stakeholders and project beneficiaries need to be brought into the project. You need to have the people that can either help you or hold you back on your side from the very start. This might involve multiple meetings to discuss the plans of the project and why these individuals should spend their time helping you with the project.
Once the project has started you'll need to constantly juggle task management and people management. This will involve regular updates to keep everyone in the know, sharing both positive and negative news, and much more.
Below are some tips on handling the human element of any project:
A project plan is created by the project owner and has one main purpose; to clearly communicate how the project will be completed.
The project plan needs to include timelines, task lists, responsibilities, prerequisites, risks and anything else which will help project team know what is required of them.
I've worked on hundreds of projects throughout my career and the best way I've found to visualize a project from a high-level is with a gantt chart.
If you've never heard of a gantt chart before then check out the example in the screenshot below.
A gantt chart will clearly communicate the major building blocks of the project over the duration of the project. The gantt chart will also show the different teams or individuals that will be responsible for each building block. In the example above you see how the different responsibilities have been shown in the chart through the use of color. Everyone involved in this project can see where they fit in and how their work moves the project closer to completion.
There are numerous tools that can be used to create gantt charts. I've included my favorite below.
If for whatever reason you aren't a fan of the gantt chart then take a look at the list below of popular product management tools.
If your favorite project management tool isn't included in the list above then please share it with me in the comments section.
I've had my fair share of disastrous projects and sometimes the best decision is to shut the whole thing down and move on. This is a bad place to be in but a far worse option is trying to stick it out and move the project forward when it seems hopeless.
There are a lot of factors which may lead to scrapping the project. These include:
There is a very important financial concept called sunk cost. Every project manager should understand this concept and the biases which come along with being a project owner.
If you made it this far you would have covered what I consider the most important project management principles. If you can master these principles and use the ideas I've shared in this post during each project, you'll master project management.
A strong project manager is a shining light in the eyes of the leadership and you'll gain more respect and responsibility.