Learning to Be A Project Manager By Building on the Basics



Sometimes I think that as we work to develop new project managers, we make the subject matter seem more complicated than it needs to be. I’m not trying to say that all of the tools and processes and Bodies of Knowledge, and best practices, aren’t important for the next generation of project managers to learn about. It’s just that as experienced project managers seeking to teach the next generation, I think we get so caught up in communicating the esoteric, complex details of project management, that we miss conveying its essence. This complexity can confuse and distract, and perhaps even intimidate and turn-off aspiring PM’s. Those of us already steeped in (scarred by?) the art and science of project management are of course anxious to pass along everything that we’ve learned over our careers, to allow those that follow to be more successful. However, in our zeal to share our knowledge, too often we use the “fire-hose” teaching methodology, in which we direct an overwhelming flow of information at our students, sometimes “knocking them on their butts” so to speak.

So let’s focus on the basics. In my view of the project management world, the basics are handled by these ten questions and methods:

Project Initiation and Planning.
1. What is the work to be done? = The Statement of Work and the Work Breakdown Structure
2. When must that work be completed? = The Logic-linked Tasks in a Project Schedule
3. Who will do the work? = The Responsibility Assignment Matrix
4. How will the work be done? = Project Execution Plan and the Risk Management Plan
5. What are the risks to our plan? = The Risk Register and Risk management Plan

Project Execution, Monitoring & Control.
6. What accomplishments can we celebrate? = Recognition & Rewards
7. Is the Project on Plan? = Technical, Cost & Schedule Metric Variances and Action Plans
8. Are there New Issues or New Risks? = Registers and Action Plans
9. Who Needs Help? = Action Plans
10. What have we learned? = Lessons Records

I understand that project life isn’t as simple as these questions imply and that the “devil is in the details” as they say. However I believe that thinking about complex things in simple ways leads is a key leadership attribute and sets the stage for achievement and innovation.

About donmcalister

I retired at the end of 2011, after a 39 year career in the Aerospace industry as a Propulsion Engineer, Engineering Manager and Program Manager. My professional interests and expertise are in the areas of Program, Risk and Knowledge Management. I'm passionate about life-long learning in a wide variety of topics and I'm committed to sharing my knowledge and ideas with those who are interested. I'm an Aerospace Industry Consultant. I serve my community as a Rotarian. My hobby is playing as a jazz keyboard.
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4 Responses to Learning to Be A Project Manager By Building on the Basics

  1. Guy E. Pratt says:

    I agree with your assessment of todays training practices of new Project Managers but I think I would add one more item to the first step. I was certified as a PM in 1982 and have been in the computer industry since 1968. During that time I have implemented or lead implementation teams in everything from CAD systems to the latest Storage/SAN infrastructure systems. The lesson that I learned very early was, ” Understand the Bussiness Need” that is driving the project. That helps the individual PM motivate the team and the team has a better understanding of the need for there successful completion of the project.

    Good article and great thoughts.


    • donmcalister says:

      Great add to the basic questions list! Understanding the customers needs(or internal business needs)is indeed a critical first step. Sometimes what they say they want and what they write in the requirements aren’t always the same.

  2. Ann says:

    Great article Don. I also agree with Guy’s point that understanding the customer’s needs is important. What I have noticed though is that some current Project Managers need to understand or focus on the basics also. It almost seems as though once they have received their PMP certification they forget the basic tools, processes, and best practices.

  3. Barry says:

    Ann raises a great point.. Having basic PM hygiene factors in place is very much a CSF for delivery. The number of SMEs/BA’s who get promoted to junior pm roles is growing, and they need to recognise that they are not the experts anymore – therefore just basic things like maintaining risk and issue logs can often be seen as a chore by them rather than an essential function for success. We need the foundation skills in place …

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