Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Project Management Course

At the behest of my esteemed employers, I just completed a 22-hour course in project management for engineers. Some of it was not relevant to what I do, but much of it would be very useful for anyone just starting out in project management. For example, there is an excellent description of what has to be accomplished in a kickoff meeting, and a good discussion of how to delegate. Since I have been doing this full-time for about three years and worked closely with my old boss for nearly a decade before that, I already knew a lot of this. But it was interesting enough that I don't regret having done it.

At the beginning there is a description of a "successful project manager" that is based, they say, on interviews they have conducted over the years; the authors are business consultants who work in the engineering industry. It's just what you would expect from any list of successful Americans: project managers keep physically fit, dress well, tell the truth, treat everyone with respect, don't waste time with trivial matters, and get to the office an hour early to have time for long-term tasks that may get crowded out by crises once the rest of the staff shows up, etc. They "eat, sleep and breathe the project."

There is also an amusing lesson that contrasts the ideal type, the Strong Project Manager, with the mere Project Administrator:

As I worked my way through all these lessons illustrated with photographs of models in spotless, utterly dirt-free, obviously-never-been-on-a-construction-site hard hats trying to look like people building skyscrapers, I amused myself by collecting kernels of Project Management Wisdom. I find that these add up to a sort of pointillist picture of American business life and its values. So here, presented in no particular order, are some of the pearls you need to absorb to become a Strong Project Manager; all of these are direct quotations from the lessons.

Start now.

Keep control of your own time or others will.

When someone asks for your time, make ‘No’ your first thought.

Balance is the key.

The best way to solve problems is to avoid them.

Don’t be afraid to decline attending meetings that are likely to waste your time.

Never say “No”; say “Yes, if...”.

Keep your files in order.

Be assertive.

Recognize when you have to compromise.

Deliver faster than you promised.
Deliver more than you promised.

Eliminate excess perfection.

Keep the lines of communication open.

It’s impossible to see any further ahead than you look.

Give credit. Take blame.

Do not draw a line unless you know what it means.

Schedule meetings at odd times (e.g., 10:53 a.m.); this encourages punctuality. Start meetings at the scheduled time, even if all participants are not there.

Make sure only your agenda takes place.

Brief emails are always better.

There is nothing that destroys the quality of a project more than trying to meet an unrealistic schedule.

Pick one solution and go with it.

A professional (not emotional) response is the best way.

It is a well-established fact that people perform better and make fewer errors if they are able to work in a comfortable atmosphere with other team members. Even though a small amount of stress is good stimulation for most people, constant levels of highly charged stress usually cause the performance to decrease and more errors to occur.

Do not waste time in pleasantries.

Document everything.

Do not surprise your boss.


Shadow said...

My favorite:

"Do not waste time in pleasantries."

I love those efficiency experts who pretend if you save seconds here and there you can recombine them into productive half-hour sessions of real work (and end up neurotic). I would marvel at the amount of time wasted maintaining detailed, meticulous Franklin Planners. That ended when the fad ended. Then came Microsoft Project -- Microsoft's gift to the anal retentive -- which everyone loved to play with, but could never figure out how to use correctly, and never baselined because once you baseline your schedule it can show slippage, and no one ever wants anyone to see that. (I exaggerate, but only a little.)

Interviewing and hiring is the single most important thing you can do. Never hire just to fill a position with a body. Second is the schedule, which is often not under your direct control but remains your responsibility to meet.

Definition of consultant: someone who never has to do what they tell you to do.

G. Verloren said...

I keep coming back to the thumbnail picture, which is wonderfully absurd, almost Dadaist really.

It's actually making me consider creating/buying an actual cutting board for my kitchen that's shaped like a clipboard, just for my own amusement.