Change is an unavoidable part of business and getting it right means the difference between a successful business and a failing one. The best way to handle change is as part of a project. Successful projects are normally led by project managers who are experts in tackling innovation and have the drive to see the project through to completion.
Even if you do not have full-time project managers in your organisation, you will have someone who you turn to when you need to get something done. The more experienced this person is, the better the possibility of success. Most organisations do not have the chance to gain this experience as big projects come along fairly rarely. So how do you get these skills?
Good project management is a special mix of good technical ability and interpersonal skills, gained from practical experience or through professional training. Project management has its own jargon, processes and methods and there are organisations, such as the Association for Project Management (APM), that accredit project managers in these technical aspects, but there are lots of short courses that offer a good starting point.
A training provider can offer onsite tailored courses to provide exactly what you want. At the end of the course the team will have an idea about how to set up a project and manage it professionally. Some providers also run training courses for the other project members, as project managers do not do all the work themselves. It definitely helps if the team is introduced to the principles and jargon before the project starts so that the project management environment and language is more familiar. There are also lots of books available on the subject that can be used as support materials during and after a course. The project manager's role is to ensure that the team works together to deliver the final product within the boundaries set by senior management, such as time, cost and quality. They work with people of all levels, from salesmen to developers and need to be able to handle fine detail, get things done, and have very good people skills. They should be able to sort out all kinds of problems and be confident enough to present progress reports to the project board and senior management.
These skills are hard to learn from a course and so it may be wise to get in outside help, but do not let your consultants run the projects it is far better to have them supporting permanent staff who have much more ownership, loyalty, and know the culture and politics.
Using project management wisely will help your company to deliver the project. Here are some key points that you should think about when tackling a new project:
- Projects have a beginning, middle and a defined end. If it is operational or has no definite end it is not a project.
- Communicate. At the beginning everyone will be really positive but it is hard work to keep that level of interest. Relevant, timely communication is essential and you may need to set up a communication team to handle it.
- Ensure the project is supported at the highest level by all the affected departments. If there is no senior sponsorship, people will be dragged off to work on "more important things" or simply not get engaged.
- Think carefully about who to involve. You cannot consult everyone, but you can ask each area to nominate a representative to be part of the project team. It is better to find out sooner rather than later what impact your project will have on each department.
- When the project is over, organise a celebration to thank everyone. You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs this not only helps launch the project but mends some bridges. Make sure everyone is invited and no one is left out.
This was first published in January 2009