At one time or another, just about everyone will find their project management skills tested – whether “PM” is part of their official job description or not. Project management skills are fundamental to business success, and even those who have no formal training would do well to add them to their toolbox.
In truth, project management skills aren’t only applicable to business, either. Whenever someone embarks on a big personal project, such as losing weight, they use project management capabilities in a wide variety of ways.
They need to:
In business and in life, many mishaps are driven by a failure to put these fundamentals into practice. To realize your objectives, no matter your industry or situation, project management skills make up a necessary overlay. Taken together, they interface with your subject area expertise to get you where you want to go.
With that in mind, there is never a wrong time to practice project management. You will need it all through your business career and beyond. But, considering how many domains it encompasses, where should you begin? After all, a “project” entails everything from initiation to planning, executing, controlling, and closing.
These four project management skills will serve you well at any level of development:
Communication is fundamental to project management. During any project, you will manage key relationships and conflicting priorities. You must not only be able to clarify and communicate the vision to your own team, but also work with internal and external stakeholders who may have interests very different from yours!
Clients, vendors, and cross-functional partners are just a few of the constituencies you will work with as a project manager. Understanding the motivations that drive each side is essential. You will not be able to satisfy everyone at all times – keeping a project on time and on budget means diplomatically resisting scope creep!
The two principal goals of any project manager are to deliver on time and on budget. Project scheduling is where the rubber meets the road on that first objective. After all, overshooting your timeframe naturally leads to cost overruns that can increase exponentially.
The project schedule is the first and most valuable opportunity to make that worst case scenario less likely. A savvy project manager understands each task, all the dependencies among them, the potential bottlenecks, and who in the team is best suited to execute at each stage of the process.
Risk can arise at any stage of the process in varying degrees. Every time you make a trade-off between getting things done quickly, getting them done cheaply, and doing them right, you increase risk on one dimension or another. Risk can also arise from unforeseen events, including externalities outside of your direct influence.
Of course, you cannot eliminate all risks. Managing risk requires you to tap limited resources that might have more pressing uses elsewhere in your project. As a skill, risk management consists of recognizing all of the most likely potential issues and taking the right balance of steps to mitigate them based on probability and severity.
Big or small, all projects begin with a budget. However, developing the budget is only the beginning. You must do the necessary research – or have that research done – to qualify costs, uncover expected expenses, and ensure that your level of spending will provide you with the tools, technologies, and staffing you require.
Once the budget has been verified, cost control continues throughout the project lifespan. The PM must watch every step of execution to ensure unexpected costs do not imperil the overall financial picture. If costs grow unexpectedly, then the project manager must fight on the team’s behalf to get the necessary resources.
From the Bird’s-Eye View to the Weeds, Project Management Is Business Management
Project management is complex because it serves, in effect, as a business in a microcosm.
A project is conceived, launches, grows, produces its deliverables, performs a structured hand-off, and records lessons learned for future reference. Professional project managers may orchestrate this entire process several times throughout an average year.
Even if you will never hold it as a formal job title, odds are good you will put on your “project management hat” as your leadership responsibilities grow. The four skills above provide you with the reliable groundwork you can use to explore PM best practices while continuously moving your project portfolio forward.