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Why every manager should have project management skills.

Project management is defined as the process of leading the work of a team to achieve goals and meet success criteria at a specified time. By this definition any task that involves a team, has goals and a deadline can be considered a project.

Managers are faced with numerous tasks that resemble projects, whether it be a stock take, determining an annual budget, planning a sales campaign, preparing for an audit or planning a staff function. The truth is that anything that does not form part of your day-to-day business is in essence a project, and as soon as you are responsible for getting others to contribute to the success of the project – be our own team, others in the business, outside contributors or any combination of these – you are a project manager.

It therefore stands to reason that having project management skills will be highly beneficial to any manager and ultimately the organisation. It also just so happens that many of the qualities that make a successful project manager are qualities that make a good manager in general. More about that later…

As a manager, there are a variety of benefits in learning project management skills. You will improve project outcomes and improve your ability to manage teamwork, which will in the end make you a more valuable asset to your organisation since you will be expanding the scope of your abilities. Ultimately, learning project management skills will give you a more competitive skills advantage that will be beneficial to your career for many years to come.

So, let’s dive right in…

What is a project manager?

Project managers play the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing projects. They are accountable for the entire project scope, project team, resources, and the success or failure of the project.

The project manager’s role varies depending on the industry and individual business, but at its core, project management entails balancing a project’s timeframe, budget and overall scope as the team works to meet its objectives. Project managers oversee the individual tasks that move a project toward completion, so its ultimate success or failure depends in large part on the project manager’s competency.

Project managers keep knowledge and information flowing seamlessly. They need both technical know-how and first-hand knowledge of the tasks they assign to others to keep the project moving forward.

Good project managers are people with an excellent entrepreneurial mindset. This allows them to think about a project beyond the basic skills set needed to manage it, and it is the project manager’s job to direct teams and team members to the finish line.

What makes a successful project manager?

Managing a project, whether it be planning a big corporate event or developing new software, can be daunting, to say the least. The reality is that there is no secret formula that will make your project unwrap flawlessly; more often than not you’ll stumble upon a series of challenges and obstacles before you reach success.

It is the ability to overcome these unexpected obstacles and deal with them on the go that makes a successful project manager. A successful project manager will be able to picture project management within the context of their company’s culture and align objectives with the already established practices and mission. Behind each successful campaign, a superbly organised event, or a functional product is a project manager with a sharp skill set.

Let’s look at eight essential qualities that lead project managers to success and create an environment of trust, communication, and productivity:

●      Effective communication skills – A successful project manager must be a great communicator! Project management communication is a skill that is never perfected, can always be improved and is pivotal in being able to initiate and execute a project effectively. The PMI (Project Management Institute) suggests that a project manager should spend 90 percent of their time communicating!

●      Stakeholder-focused – Project managers have to adopt a stakeholder-focused approach. Good management of stakeholders will not only clear the path of any possible obstructions but will also promote steady progress and eventually improve the quality of the results you are generating. It’s not just a case of keeping stakeholders happy – it’s also a matter of using their resources, knowledge and influence to help you achieve your objectives.

●      Strong leadership skills – Developing leadership skills, is important for project management because the overall success of any project is determined by its leaders. Leaders, or project managers, oversee projects and make critical decisions that can lead to their success or failure. When project managers develop these key leadership skills in addition to their technical skills, everyone benefits. Project teams work more effectively under good leadership, and a project’s chances of success are greatly increased.

●      Team-building skills – Project success starts at the team level. Equally as important as workplace technology and sufficient resources, good project management team building allows managers to assemble teams that work together to overcome obstacles and work efficiently to meet deadlines.

Good team building is achieved by managers who go the extra mile to help their team succeed. Instead of simply delegating and monitoring tasks, the project manager works to build the confidence, decision-making skills, and agency of his or her team.

●      Have integrity – Call it integrity, honesty or loyalty. A successful project manager needs to have them all. The project manager’s actions set an example for the rest of the team members and they are ultimately responsible for setting ethical standards for the rest of the team. The project manager should practice what they preach and in turn earn trust.

●      Cool under pressure – In this line of work – the project manager is in charge – it is critical that project managers actually stay in charge and maintain the perception of remaining cool. Especially in stressful or critical situations. If the customer senses that a project manager is losing control of his team, or the project, or the situation as a whole, then they are going to become frustrated and uncomfortable.

●      Empathetic – For a project manager, empathy is very important. It puts you in a position to understand the level of creativity or competence in handling a particular task, and that helps you to adjust in terms of delegating duties.

When you are empathetic, you get to know and understand how your teammates like to work. This will bring out the best in your team.

●      Technical expertise – A strong project manager must develop an understanding of the sector, the business issues and the specialist skills as quickly as possible. Without that project managers will be unable to connect with stakeholders or truly ensure that the expected outcomes are delivered. Critically, they will be unable to facilitate the identification of solutions to problems or have the flexibility to identify opportunities when they present themselves.

IMM’s Project Management Fundamentals course

After assessing the needs of the industry, the IMM Graduate School has developed a Project Management Fundamentals short course that will teach you how to effectively and efficiently approach and execute projects.

In this course you will start off by becoming familiar with the key characteristics and features of projects and explore the role of the project manager. You will get introduced to the ten general areas of knowledge as set out in the ‘Project Management Body of Knowledge’.

You will also learn about the phases of a corporate strategy, project management methodologies and the feasibility study which is the initial design stage of any project. Following on from this, you will deep dive into the project planning process, which lays out the roadmap for the project and shows how the project scope will be achieved. Additionally, you’ll learn about the monitoring and control of a project which involves tracking the actual project performance against the project plan.

Finally, you will come to understand how to plan the time intervals for monitoring and evaluation, monitoring of team performance, monitoring the project budget and other important activities all the way up to the correct procedure to follow when closing a project.

Visit us at https://shortcourses.imm.ac.za/online-course/project-management-fundamentals/ to learn more about this course or to sign up today!

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity: Why project management is essential in a VUCA world

Some fifteen years ago I received an amazing gift. On the first of May of that year, I started as a regional manager with a company involved in a merger. I received three things: my new laptop already set up to start working, a printer in a box, and a file. In the folder were details of a three-day project management course I had to attend, with the details of another few days to do a course on the MS Project programme.

Those courses changed the way I approached projects and events. We were taught how to do everything – small and big, personal and work projects – as a way of working through a project management approach. Today, that is still how I tackle my deliverables at work and commitments in my personal life.

Acquiring project management skills is a gift each person needs to give themselves.

It is important to know what project management is and what the role of a project manager is –especially when implementing a strategic marketing campaign.

According to the PMI Standards Committee (1987), project management is the “the art of directing and co-ordinating human and material resources throughout the life of a project by using modem management techniques to achieve predetermined objectives of scope, cost, time, quality, and participant satisfaction”.

Every project – no matter its nature or industry – has five stages in the process: defining the project, creating the business case, planning the project, implementation and control as well as completion and close-out on each project to measure its success.

According to the IMM GSM, in today’s world of business it has become evident organisations that perform best tend to be those that manage projects better and quicker. Previously, it was acceptable when project managers were mainly trained as technical specialists when required to deliver complex, technical programmes of work. No longer.

The VUCA world of work

In the VUCA world of work, more innovative marketing strategies are inspired by strategic foresight and visionary leadership to deal with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. As a result, more and more organisations across sectors expect a wide range of staff to adopt a project management approach as part of a strategic approach. More managers are allocated to project teams – often outside the normal line management structures –tasked with delivering changes and improvements to goods, services and operations on time and within budget.

What does project success mean in a VUCA world? In an era when marketing projects have become increasingly common in organisations, this question is more relevant than ever. In answering, Shenhar et al. (2001) remind us that the distinctive skills and roles of the project manager have become much more widespread and has become a strategic imperative in marketing.

No matter what the motivation for the project, the question of its success is strongly linked to an organisation’s effectiveness. Central to this, it has become important to attend to front-end matters before jumping in and just ‘doing’ the project (IMM). In a VUCA environment, marketing projects require team members to devote more time to the early phases of their assignments.

It is crucial that the objectives, options and processes in marketing projects (including events) are clearly defined at the beginning; otherwise the success of marketing projects comes into jeopardy with adverse impact on the organisation.

Skills required to be successful in marketing in a VUCA world require specific training. According to the IMM, key skills for project managers are technical (i.e. knowledge of the business sector in which the project is being conducted; and interpersonal (i.e. communicating to and managing effectively the different parties with a stake in the project) in nature.

Three essential skills

Project managers need certain skills to ensure successful marketing projects. According to the IMM, these skills are defined in three categories.

Firstly, human skills are vital to ensure the ability to mobilise the mental and emotional energy of their sub-ordinates, team members and stakeholders involved in marketing projects. Developing human skills will also allow marketing managers to cope with situations by having an open mind, flexibility, patience and persistence.

Furthermore, project managers that focus on their own personal development through becoming a leader of self with a high emotional maturity display high self-esteem and a more empathetic approach in their dealings with both internal and external stakeholders.

Secondly, technical skills are needed for in-depth project knowledge and in the understanding methods, processes and procedures as well as specific knowledge in the use of project management tools and techniques.

Lastly, conceptual and organisational skills are required in terms of organising, planning, strong problem orientation skills and the ability to visualise the relationship of the project to the industry and the community.

Three project management techniques

Through such training marketing professionals will learn to identify why a marketing project may fail, how to avoid any failure, how to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of projects, and how to measure project success to meet time, budget and quality goals with stakeholders.

Furthermore, training should introduce the three main project management techniques that have been become prevalent in organisations:

  • Agile project management
  • Integrated project teams; and
  • Heavyweight project management (IMM)

Within the VUCA world, many organisations are now starting to adopt one or more of these techniques when delivering certain projects, and although no substitute for core traditional project management skills, they are proving useful in certain projects.

In closing, project management has become a strategic imperative for marketing. There is a solid business case with an associated return on investment (ROI) to implement a project management approach in marketing projects to understand the cost drivers for a project, identify its risks and strategies for managing them, and to develop contingency plans to ensure their success.