Chapter 1 - No Fluff Project Management

Chapter 1 - No Fluff Project Management

Project Management, at its core, is very simple.

The primary goal of a project manager is to take a project from conception to successful completion.

The secondary goals of a project manager are to bring a project to completion efficiently and predictably

Everything else you will ever learn or do in project management are just strategies and techniques for one of those three goals.

  1. Bring the project to successful completion
  2. Bring the project to completion efficiently
  3. Bring the project to completion predictably

That is the order of priorities you must have. It doesn’t matter how efficient a project is if it’s never completed. It doesn’t matter how predictable a project is if it’s a failure.

As a project manager, all you need to know is what it takes to bring a project to completion successfully, efficiently, and predictably.

To effectively deliver projects successfully, time and time again, you need to know what causes projects to succeed and fail.

Successful Vs. Failing Projects

The key factors that impact a project’s success are:

  1. Great project management
  2. A strong project team
  3. Sufficient resources
  4. Good planning/research/design

If you’ve got those four factors covered, it’s a near certainty that the project will succeed.

If any one of those factors is missing, the project’s success may be at risk.

If more than one factor is missing, it’s highly unlikely the project will succeed.

I cannot emphasize this enough! Never choose to manage a project that you know is unlikely to succeed. It’s a poor use of your time and may hurt your career. Either change the frame to solve the problematic factors or find a different project completely. To be clear, I’m not saying you should reject every project. What I am saying is that you should be assertive, selective, and proactive.

Filter out projects that aren’t going to work. Ensure that you feel confident that you have the tools needed to succeed. Sometimes, the smartest decision is not to undertake a project that is set up to fail.

On the other hand, a good project manager can often change the circumstances of a project and help ensure that all the factors ARE covered before a project really gets underway. Most elements are in your control, even more than you realize.

1. Great Project Management

By the time you finish this book and apply these lessons to a few successful projects, this will be you. You will be equipped with everything you need to manage a project of any size. The same core skills are required no matter what kind of project you are managing and how big the scope.

Therefore, if you are managing a project, either explicitly or practically, the factor of having great project management is covered.

What if you are on a project, and there is another designated project manager? That’s fine. If the PM is great, then everything is set. Even if you don’t have a great PM, you can effectively perform nearly all of the project management duties without formally being the project manager. I have done this for years, and taught many PMs valuable techniques and mentalities for managing projects even as, formally, an individual contributor.

It doesn’t matter what your title is. It only matters if the project is managed well. Anyone with these skills can cause a project to be successfully delivered.

If you master this book’s contents and you are on the team, you have this factor covered.

2. Strong Project Team

Whether the team consists of 1 member or 20, you need a strong project team. Without a team that’s equipped to tackle a project’s objectives, it’s not possible to succeed.

The stronger the team is, the more they will be coordinated and motivated. This will result in a better project outcome.

Having the right team for a project is so essential that I have dedicated two entire chapters to assembling and motivating your team.

3. Sufficient Resources

Many project management books and programs define resource management as the critical area of consideration. To me, resources management would not be the first factor or even the second factor for a project’s success. It would be the third.

You need the right resources, certainly. But having a strong project team and a great project manager are more important. Having a strong project team could be considered a resource issue. However, in my mind, treating people just as a resource issue misses how impactful people are and the magic they bring, both individually and as a team.

Since resources are the simplest and most traditional project management factor, we will explore this angle in the next chapter. You need to ensure that a project has enough time and funding, with a properly-sized scope to match.

If you don’t have enough resources to complete a project, it won’t be completed. It’s as simple as that.

4. Good Planning, Research & Design

While it’s often true that the project itself will include a good amount of research and design, it’s also imperative not to begin a project until enough planning has already happened.

You and your team should answer:

  • What is the purpose of this project?
  • Whose problem will it solve?
  • What are the unstated project requirements?
  • What are the undiscovered project requirements?
  • How much time should this project take?
  • How much money should this project cost?
  • What people will be needed to complete this project?
  • What are the success criteria?

You need to have a very clear picture of all of this before a project begins. Beginning without a plan is very risky.

Going into a project, there can be unknowns. But, they should be KNOWN unknowns. You should know exactly which things aren’t known yet, and roughly how long it will take to find them out. The more unknowns there are, the more resources will be needed to complete the project.

If you’ve done good planning and initial research, then you set yourself and the project up for a much easier time throughout the entire process.

Sure, you can successfully complete projects with less planning, but you will be giving yourself an uphill battle.

What about communication?

Why isn’t communication on the list of key project factors?

Communication is an essential skill for all group endeavors. It’s as essential for group efforts as breathing is for living. However, it doesn’t have any project-specific requirements.

You can’t manage well, have a strong team, allocate proper resources, or have good planning/research/design without good communication, unless you’re working solo.

In the chapters on each of these factors, we will look at the most important communication elements that directly impact project success.

What is expected of you?

When you are managing a project, you are either a powerful leader, moving heaven and earth to deliver the project, or you are a powerless scapegoat at the whims of a cruel and chaotic environment. These is a spectrum of places between these two poles, but most of your clients, stakeholders and bosses will secretly lean strongly towards one side of that perceptual scale. It may not be fair, but that’s how you will be perceived. One way or the other.

This is true whether you are managing your own projects or managing client/employer projects. If you aren’t leading proactively with great initiative, then when the project doesn’t come to fruition, you will have many feeble complaints about the project when it’s over.

This will even be true in your own mind. If you are working on a solo project, either you will be feeling confident and capable, with everything proceeding according to plan, or you will feel like the project has a chaotic will of its own. You may feel like time is slipping away. You may watch your project money vanish more rapidly than expected with less to show.

I know because I have experienced both of these outcomes many times in my project management journey. I am the most disappointed when one of my projects isn’t completed as successfully as I wanted.

However, this isn’t something that left to chance or the universe. You can be that powerful project leader when you know how to mentally handle the natural variance of projects and adapt effectively. The project may be a bucking-bronco, trying wildly to throw its rider into chaos. You want to be the experienced cowboy, riding the bronco and bending it to your will effectively, letting its strength take you where you want to go. The experience you need to do that effectively is covered in this book.

At every moment in a project, you are expected to be able to have an answer ready for the following questions:

  • What progress has been made?
  • What work still remains?
  • Can I see the current progress for myself?
  • When will the project be completed?
  • How much more will the project cost?

People will often come to you with other requests and questions mid-project. They may sound different, but they are really asking the same thing in different ways.

  • “Can we add this additional feature?”
  • “We need Bill for another project, will it be a problem if we borrow him for a few weeks?”
  • “We really need this feature to show a client, do we have something ready?”

If you know how the project is going and can communicate it effectively and visually, it will resolve a lot of the complexities of those questions. You can explain the exact tradeoffs that will be made for any change. You can show exactly how the project is progressing. That’s what enables you to be the powerful leader, who effectively manages the project, and insightfully communicates the status of the project.

Our Project Management Learning

Throughout this book, I will share the key mental tools you need to fully understand and execute the project management process.

I will cover:

  • How to conceptualize key project constraints
  • How to measure and build project momentum
  • How to provide perfect project predictability
  • What tools are needed to manage projects
  • Good and bad things about popular project management frameworks
  • How to assemble a strong project team
  • How to motivate your team
  • How to communicate project results and progress

These are the supporting pieces for how to accomplish the three goals of a project manager. Everything that follows supports our three goals as project managers:

  1. Bring the project to successful completion
  2. Bring the project to completion efficiently
  3. Bring the project to completion predictably

Chapter Review Questions:

  1. What is your primary goal as a project manager?
  2. What are the secondary two goals of a project manager?
  3. What are the four factors that determine project success?
  4. What project information must you be ready with at all times?