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This piece is presented by the USD Beacom School of Business executive education program.
Most of us in the workplace have had to tackle projects – and know that some are more successful than others.
What makes some project leaders more effective than others? How can you make sure projects are delivered on time, under budget and to leadership’s satisfaction?
Project management expert Tom Martin, a professor at USD, will address those questions and many more in a two-part course this October through the USD Beacom School of Business executive education program. He served 22 years in the Army and has worked with many organizations to improve their processes and profitability through project management.
But first, here are some quick tips from Martin to better project management today.
Identifying the scope of your project is a key to effectively managing it, from your objectives to the time and resources it will require. What are some tips for leaders who struggle with this important first step?
Know what the goal for the project is before you start. That’s where a lot of people go wrong. They don’t’ specify what the goal is and what we want this to look like when we’re finished — and then we don’t know when we’re finished. So know the goal and spend time in planning. That’s time you’ll save later on when you’re actually doing the project. Know what the risks are and what could go wrong. Make a plan to mitigate those risks or have contingency plans if they do happen.
Do you find organizations increasingly are adding project management or ramping it up as a function of their organization? What benefits are they seeing?
It really depends on the organization. Some are willing to send people to things like this two-day course, and some think they will learn it as they go. Some don’t realize they’re doing project management, but they are. But many are using a more formalized process.
It does mesh very well with companies trying to be lean — that continuous process of finding ways to eliminate waste and do things better. It depends on the organization, but many find it leads to saving time and money, and can apply in many different places.
What are some key qualities an effective project leader should have? And can they be learned?
It’s a little bit of both — innate and learned. It’s the ability to lead versus manage. Even though they’re a project manager, they’re leading their team, they’re leading the project. Communication skills — written and verbal — are key. Whether it’s going great or you’re having problems, you need to be able to communicate to your boss, your customers and anyone involved. And part of being a leader is being able to know the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and what we need to work on or accomplish. Know your team. And know it’s all your responsibility. If something goes great, that’s fine, but when it goes wrong it’s still your responsibility because you are the leader.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make in managing projects?
Probably the first one is dollar estimates that are too low. Sometimes they can’t control that, but being too optimistic in what you’re going to be able to deliver for a price, what materials are going to cost and then time estimates that are too long. People will use the time you allow them to use. Give them two weeks, and they will take two weeks. It’s not that it couldn’t have been done in a week. Sometimes we could do projects a little faster and become lean in that process and save time and money for our customers.
We’ve all been there – a project team member isn’t getting it done. As a leader, how should you deal with this?
That’s a really broad question, but that’s part of what makes you the leader. Being able to adjust your style depending on the issue and knowing the individual is key. There are many angles you can take. You have to ask why. You can’t just go in and yell at them to get it done. Is there something going on in their personal life? Is their time not dedicated just to your project? Do they report to multiple people? There are many things that can happen. Do they need help? Do you need to assign someone else to help? Do they not have the skills required? It’s a tough one. As a leader, you take each individual differently. But you can’t just let it go on and hope the problem fixes itself.
Who should consider taking your course? Who’s the right fit for it?
It would be really good for an entry-level manager or supervisor who’s never had formal project management training or someone who has managed projects and wants to see some different techniques or a more formal way of doing things.
Martin’s Foundations of Project Management course runs Oct. 12 and 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University Center in Sioux Falls.
Most of us in the workplace have had to tackle projects – and know that some are more successful than others. Here’s why.