This project management article series are perfect for someone who wish to know more about strategic project management, regardless of context. I will cover the basics of project management in a way which is easy to follow, set-up and adapt to your circumstances. To start it all of, I’m sharing my personal philosophy on strategic project management.
If you want to study particular methods such as Scrum or Agile, this article series is not for you since it will not cover any particular methodology.
This is for anyone who wish to get more effective in managing your work, planning or just plain old “getting things done” as well as pinpointing the business value of the work to be done for a client or department.
My first hands-on experience with managing projects stems back to the beginning of my freelance career, where I had to manage everything myself from client communication to doing the actual work. Back then, design and illustrations.
Everything I know I’ve learned in relation to working within the vast digital industry. Encompassing both creative, development, support, marketing, software development and being the end-customer – where I collaborated with a digital agency to reach a specific goal. The latter gave me the valuable experience of being on the non-agency end so to speak. Gaining valuable insight on what the customer expects and appreciates in terms of solving their challenges.
Through the years I’ve transcended further and built up knowledge on managing both large and small task to plan ongoing work – in another other word; projects of different kinds, either a one off project, ongoing work or being responsible for several ongoing projects for one client or department (roadmap). I’ve never adhered to a particular method or process. Rather always been in a position to manage projects in a way that suits the specific situation and client and implemented my previous lessons going forward. I constantly learn and refine as I go along. I never consider myself “done” in terms of learning new things in relation to project management and my work. As I work solely (so far) in the “digital industry” there is always something new and exiting to learn just around the next corner.
To further illustrate how I think about project management, I have broken it down to 5 steps which are not a linear, but for me an ongoing circle of continuous progress:
Lets me elaborate:
This is where I work on understanding and listening to the customers request. What are their needs? What challenges are they looking to solve and how will it benefit their business and bottom line. I try to gather as much information about the task and tasks at hand as possible. I try to look at the assignment from every angle and assess possible solutions and do any initial research if needed. Either this is something that I can do myself or its a team effort, gathering everyone who is needed to pitch in with their specific experience.
Outcome: a brief, knowing and understanding what the request and customer requirements and challenge are, what we are doing and delivering. The value the solution to the challange will deliver for the client or department.
2. DEFINE THE SOLUTION
With all the information on the table. Could be paired up with a brief, the request, a list of problems to solve for a customer. It’s time to define what the solution is. What work needs to be done to solve the customers request, how long does it take, what is the process, the budget, deliverable, team and so on.
In some cases, to deliver a specific solution, requires the work to be done in stages and now is the time, where I define the phases/stages and the goal and specifics for each stage. Or help the client prioritise in a roadmap of tasks to be done throughout the year, if an initial pre-study has been performed.
Outcome: time, and outline to solution or solutions, a project proposal with project plan/process, costs, preliminary time plan and deliverables. A goal or goals and assumptions to verify with the customer. Or a roadmap for the year.
3. DO THE WORK & DELIVER THE SOLUTION
This starts with a project “kick-off” – usually including both the customer and team. Where we go through the project process, crucial points and any deliverables that are required throughout the process of the project. This is where you set the foundations for communication and expectations on each other.
Then it’s just as simple as executing the project plan, follow up with the team and the customer when needed and delivering the solution.
However, during this period, it may be the case that the solution may need to be altered. Or further requirements are discovered. Then I work with the customer and team, to understand what is best – either to change the direction and solution for the project (with the adjustment of all the specifics such as time and budget etc) or to collect whatever new needs the customer have and make a plan for how to solve these once the current project is ended or come up with another solution that fits.
Outcome: the right expectations, working solution delivered to a happy customer and in some cases an outline for further work.
So when the work is done, take the time to evaluate the project and work done. Get constructive tangible feedback from the team on what can be improved and ask what worked well.
Don’t forget to do the same with your customer. If things work out really well, you can get your hands on a few words to use as a review/testimonial.
If it has not been brought up yet – this is a perfect opportunity to discover if there is any more needs from the customer or input from the team on further work to enhance the solution which is delivered or help the customer further.
Outcome: acknowledge what worked well, list of things to improve internally and from the customers perspective. Outline for further possibilities for helping the customer i.e further work.
5. LEARN AND EVOLVE
Once the project is evaluated from both team and customer end. Ensure that the knowledge you acquired is stored appropriately, i.e any documentation is updated, invest in new tools, change your process, switch the team around, define which actionable steps that can be implemented from the feedback from both team and client – then take them.
Celebrate what worked well.(Personally I prefer champagne 😉 )
Outcome: new knowledge stored, improvements implemented or in the process of being implemented.
I also want to stress that I’ve never seen my job as a project manager to be one of administration. I see my responsibility to be helping the team, to ensure they know what to do and that there are no distractions in their work. That they have the tools, info etc in place to be able to do what they do best. For the client, as I also see as I vital part in any team (if I work agency side) my job is to be their advisor, understand their business, vision and goal and to best help them achieve those goals, while being aware of their internal challenges and situation.
Secondly I think it’s really important to be updated on the type of project I lead. I need to know more then the basics, thus I think it’s really important for the project manager to be both a skilled in business, strategy a good organizer/planner, a positive leader, a problem solver and someone who has knowledge about the type of project they lead. For example – in my experience I’ve noticed that a project manager that have a background in development will be much more skilled in leading a development project then someone who has a mere business degree. There is a layer missing. Everyone can be good at business – to say the least the people who has experience within it, but project management is not just about the business and the administrative end of things. Its about delivering value for a client or department and leading people towards creating value. Along that way there will be challenges and you need IMAGINATION within the industry I work in, because many times we are imagining new solutions that does not yet exist to challenges we are facing or in our work.