I hear from project managers every week who aren’t sure what skills they should be building on. So much of what you might have read about online or in project management books, or even be taught on training courses, is simply not aligned the skills we need to use every day.
The way we do project management has evolved. We have better technology, broader job roles, and flatter organization structures. The last 15 years has seen huge changes in business models. We need to make sure that the skills we spend our valuable training dollars on are the right ones.
That’s not to say that project management training is pointless. Courses, coaches, blogs, and websites try to give us a rounded view of what project managers need, and some skills and tools do still have value in some situations. But if you aren’t in those situations, personally, I wouldn’t waste time developing my abilities in those areas.
In this article I’ll look at 5 project management techniques, processes and skills that you will no doubt have heard mentioned time and time again. I’ll give you my view on whether it is something worth spending your time on so you can best develop your professional skills in the direction that makes most sense for you.
I remember learning how to calculate the project’s critical path by hand using forward pass and backward pass calculations. And that was on a training course quite recently.
However, in real life, I have never known a project manager to work any of that stuff out with a pen and paper. It’s not practical. Today, our project schedules can run to hundreds of lines, if not thousands. Manually being able to calculate your critical path would take so long that your schedule would be out of date before you’d finished.
Having said that, the critical path itself is a very useful tool on projects. It shows the links between the tasks with no float, or ability to slip, so it’s the shortest possible time the project can be completed in.
I get that learning the math behind the critical path can help you understand what you are seeing. Project management software can work out the critical path efficiently, and keep it up to date when tasks change. You should know how to make the software show you the critical path, what the critical path is and how you can use it, but it isn’t important to be able to do the math yourself.
No requirement to know how to calculate it manually, but you must understand what a critical path is and how to use it on your project.
All projects involve working with people. Those people have opinions on what should be done, how it should be done, and what the deliverables from the project should be. Those people are your stakeholders.
In project-land today, we seem to have more stakeholders on projects than in the past. Perhaps it is because we have a better understanding of who is affected by a project. But I think it’s more likely to be that business systems today are far more integrated, lean and systemized than ever before. The pace of change remains fast, and that means we’re working with stakeholders on a compressed schedule.
The work we do touches more people and has more impact.
Because of that, stakeholder management has evolved somewhat. Today, you’re more likely to hear people in project management circles refer to it as stakeholder engagement. We’ve moved on from the idea that a few impact and influence grids can actively manage other people’s behavior.
The model of working with stakeholders today is more around how we engage people to support the project’s goals and use influencing, negotiating, teamwork and conflict management to effectively get work done through others.
Whatever you want to call it, the whole process is still important for the successful delivery of projects.
Not knowing how your tech works is a surefire way to be the least productive and successful member for the team.
Earned Value Analysis (EVA) is a way of measuring a project’s progress and performance against time and budget targets. It is known as a hugely powerful tool, but one that takes some set up. You need accurate data in to get useful results out, and interpreting the data involves a learning curve.
It’s considered an advanced technique in many project management circles and there are millions of projects run successfully around the world without it. However, some construction, industrial, and government projects especially in, for example, the defense industry, wouldn’t be able to function without the governance and oversight that EVA provides.
The jury is still out! Depends on your industry and the types of project you do.
Resource leveling is the process of making sure that your project resources are not overstretched with work. For example, an individual can’t physically take on 3 tasks, each of 8 hours, on the same day, just because you’ve popped those figures into your project schedule. They will need 3 days to do the work.
That’s a relatively straightforward example, but when you are balancing multiple projects, multiple team members, multiple tasks and priorities that always seem to shift about, getting your resources used optimally can be a challenge.
It’s so important to get this right because underutilized team members are a drain on your resources: your business is more profitable and efficient if they are being used on project work. And over-utilized resources burn out.
These days, intelligent project management tools incorporate resource leveling capabilities into the system, so tasks are automatically balanced as they are assigned to each team member.
No requirement to know how to work it out, but you must understand how to interpret your project management resource reports to act on the data and make changes accordingly.