As a Senior Account Executive on the Internal Communications team, I am taking on more responsibility. To support me with this, I recently attended STL’s Introduction to Project Management training. What did I expect to get out of it? A foundation of how to successfully manage a project. You know, the ABCs – a framework that I can refer to.
My first thought: how do you manage a project? Is there one set way that leads to triumph?
Project management stretches far and wide; it’s not as simple as ‘here’s how you manage a project successfully’ – instead, it’s fundamentals and skills which are beneficial across nearly every business, in every position. There are aspects that can be taken into your role, whatever that role may be. The first step of any training course is usually introducing yourself, what industry you work in and giving a short description of what your work day looks like. After the introductions, it was evident how diverse the group was.
As we worked through the course, the teacher encouraged us to share stories. We began to talk about certain relatable areas of the syllabus, which were each answered with a brief solution from the teacher. It became apparent that everybody in the room had their own way of approaching projects, naturally. Project management is about people, it’s about planning, it’s about adapting – these are things that we come across in our everyday lives outside of work and we all have our own way of dealing with these situations personally. How do we manage our relationships with friends? Are you somebody who plans an itinerary for a holiday or do you prefer to wing it? How do you react to a flight delay or cancellation?
From the course, I learnt that there are two core approaches to projects: agile and waterfall. Agile is iterative, it’s adaptive and it embraces change. Waterfall is linear and sticks to a solidified plan throughout. How you approach your work is influenced by three things: the culture of the company at which you work, the company’s approach to business and your personality. However, it’s rare that a project will be approached completely waterfall, or completely agile.
There’s no winning combination. Every project is different, and the cocktail of variables that derive from either agile or waterfall can change between projects. But there are fundamentals that can be taken into the start of each project – whether these change down the line is just the fun that projects bring – and how you adapt differs every time.
“A bad beginning makes a bad ending,” said ancient Greek tragedian, Euripides. Although he probably wasn’t referring to project management, it’s relative. Planning is everything. What’s the scope? What’s the timeline? Who’s on the project team? Who will give sign off? Initially, these questions will arise and be answered over time, but it’s valuable to have a checklist that you can draw from to plan your project from the very beginning.
Following the plan comes the execution. No two projects are the same, even if you approach them the same way as a previous one. There can be a drastic difference between how you envisage the project unfolding, versus what actually happens, once the project gets rolling. This all depends on what’s being delivered, who it’s for and the budget, of course. The most important factor in this phase is communication. The plan was put in place to create phases to follow and goals to reach. If there are changes in the project that will affect these, communicate them. Regular updates with the project sponsor or client make for an easier ride. Nobody benefits from poor communication.
Once all is said and done, days, weeks or months have passed, and the project is over. Every project is a learning curve for the next – although all projects are different, the more projects you have been involved in, the more similarities and parallels from past projects you will be able to draw from and take into the next.
It’s important to note, you can also learn a great amount from your peers – everybody has their own style, and your knowledge and experience is only going to continue growing if you can learn from the people around you. So, in summary, the key aspects to successful project management are: finding an effective approach that works for you, being prepared and communicating well.