What makes a great project manager?
This is an area that has been well covered by just about every project management blog out there. But the fact that it’s still a common topic shows how interested we are all in improving our game. In an industry driven by results, constantly assessing, revising and improving your own practice is vital.
Project management is a profession based on system and structure. For a project to be successful, a project manager must be in control of every aspect; from initial planning to limiting project size, to ensuring project completion on deadline and on budget.
As projects grow, they evolve into living things, and external circumstances can force projects to evolve in new and unforeseen directions. The ability to adapt and execute a new plan, while limiting the scope of its scope and keeping the project path as close to original specifications as possible, is an important feature of strong and profitable project management. But is it really at the heart of what makes a great PM?
Undoubtedly, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, but a set of essential hard and soft skills. Some are obvious, such as expertise in communication and time management, and can be perfected in any position. But to understand the specific building blocks required for a strong career in project management, you need to take a closer look at one of the most vital aspects of the project management industry: the methodologies.
We’ve talked about project management methodologies before, including a guide on how to choose the right methodology to meet your project requirements, but their importance in both the macro and micro aspects of the project management industry cannot be overemphasized.
In addition to providing guidance on the most effective ways to implement a wide variety of project types, project management methodologies provide valuable insight into the skills required to be an excellent PM. While each methodology is suitable for a specific type of project, for example, Agile is better suited to smaller, adaptive projects than Waterfall, there are a few methodologies that give an excellent overall profile that will work across the spectrum of project management.
The most important of these is PRINCE2. PRINCE2 paradoxically succeeds in being one of the least focused, but most accurate project management methodologies. It focuses on a structured approach driven by different self-defined principles, themes and processes, rather than the parameters of a specific project type, which means it has a wide range of applications. Therefore, in addition to its status as the de facto industry standard, we can use the requirements of PRINCE2 to establish a set of actionable strategies to diversify and improve our daily practice.
What we can learn from PRINCE2
While each of the seven aspects of PRINCE2’s respective principles, themes and processes works symbiotically and much can be learned from each of the three levels, we are going to focus exclusively on the 7 principles.
We are going to break down what each of the 7 principles means and how they can inform your daily activities.
The 7 Fundamentals of Major Project Management
1. continued business justification
PRINCE2, like most project management methodologies, is results-oriented. A core aspect of PRINCE2 is ensuring that a project has and maintains an appropriate level of business and financial acumen, and that all use of time and resources is justified in accordance with that purpose.
Creeping project size and consistently reorienting project timeline are issues that constantly crop up in the project management industry. Improper management of time and resources is a key factor in project failure and unfortunately, when we consider the percentage of project failure across the board, far too often.
These problems mainly arise when project objectives are unclear from the outset, and as such, both the project and the project team are confused as to what the overarching goal and end point of the project is. This can lead to your team working on different priorities. make conflicting decisions and eventually reverse the completion of your project.
One way to mitigate this, as PRINCE2’s first principle suggests, is to continuously assess the direction of the project from inception to completion, to ensure that all your team’s interests are owners and the customer are united in their expectations of the project. In addition, it emphasizes the importance of creating a clearly defined project plan and creating the essential foundation before you even begin building your project. Planning, although mundane, is key to successful project management.
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Learn from previous experiences
It is part of the PRINCE2 practice to keep a log of the lessons learned from previous projects for future reference. While this is a bit like writing rules as punishment in school, this log serves as a valuable reference point for learning from past mistakes and not making them. Or, if you do, it provides a valuable foundation for building a reactive damage mitigation strategy.
It is clear that it is standard project management procedure to risk a project before and during its execution, but PRINCE2 goes one step further. By advancing risk assessment and mitigation strategies beyond project endpoints, PRINCE2 encourages you to operate at a level of consistent analysis, discover emerging patterns, and act preventively to mitigate risk.
3. Clearly define roles and responsibilities
PRINCE2 advocates implementing a strong universal structure in your project team, from the scope change application process to ensuring everyone knows who the shot callers are. Not only that, but defining roles and responsibilities early in the project plan promotes a more efficient use of project resources.
By having a clear definition early in the project stages, you reduce the risk of members of your project team missing essential tasks or prioritizing the wrong issues. Likewise, having a clear hierarchical path and reporting procedures means that information always gets to the right people, through measurable channels.
4. Management in stages
Like most methodologies, PRINCE2 advocates splitting your project into separate stages for respective team members or project teams. By breaking your project down into manageable chunks, you can more accurately map the potential duration, priority and requirements of each task and use that information to better inform the allocation of your resources.
By focusing on both the micro and macro aspects of your project, the risk of general mismanagement is significantly reduced.
5. Management by exception
In every project there is a hierarchy of management, including from the project manager to the project board and the customer himself. The PRINCE2 principle of managing by exception simply means that if a project goes well, it does not require much intervention from higher management, such as the board or stakeholders.
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However, this principle fits equally well within your general project management practice. If you’ve done your job well, united your team correctly under your project objective, and established a comprehensive and workable project plan, your team shouldn’t need much intervention from you, allowing you to focus your energy on leadership rather than leadership.
6. Focus on the products
Ultimately, PRINCE2 is a product-oriented methodology. The PRINCE2 manual states the following: “A PRINCE2 project focuses on the definition and delivery of products, in particular their quality requirements.” By focusing on the requirements of the product and the business value of the project, and translating these into the expected outcome, you can work backwards from there to determine the work activity.
When a product is not described correctly, it can lead to many unnecessary meetings, delays, unnecessary new requirements, misunderstandings about the required quality, extra costs and even an end product that is of no use to anyone.
In essence, PRINCE2 advocates proactive management of expectations. As soon as possible within the project, product, or more appropriate, a detailed project plan must be drawn up and submitted to stakeholders and all those involved in the project.
Likewise, as a good product description provides clarity, defines the purpose, composition, derivation, format, quality criteria and method of quality of the product – your project plan should define procedures, processes, objectives and ultimately guide and shape the project. Make it easier to determine resource requirements, dependencies, and activities.
7. Tune in to your environment
Unlike some methodologies that subscribe to a fairly static application for any project, PRINCE2 is adaptable to the requirements of any project and is in fact more successful when it is generously adapted to a particular project shape.
This is the troubled to apply to any project you manage. Just because a particular methodology or process has worked before doesn’t mean it will be successful this time too. Each project is unique and so is your project plan and strategies.
As one of the industry’s most valued project management methodologies, even if you don’t apply PRINCE2 directly to your project, you can still learn a lot to improve your own practice and performance. Even if you have little knowledge of traditional project management structures, or if you are currently working in the industry and want to learn more, the PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner courses provide a much more in-depth analysis of how PRINCE2 can benefit your work practice.