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Signpost of TimeOooh, it’s dangerous to make predictions for the future, but I thought I’d give it a go. Project management seems to be changing quite a lot at the moment, and it certainly feels like over the last couple of years we have (finally) taken some leaps forward in thinking and, as a profession, deciding where we should be headed. So, time to lay my neck on the line and tell you where I think project management is going.

Creativity takes teams back to the office

There’s been a lot of talk about flexibility, work/life balance and all that. And we’ve made great advances in managing virtual teams. I work from home some of the time, and from hotel rooms at other times, or on the train. My workspace isn’t just my office desk.

Having said that, there is something to be said for hanging out with your colleagues. You can get more creative and solve problems more quickly. I just don’t think the technology is there to enable the sort of creativity that you get with the whole project team in a room together.

There will always be a need to work apart, especially as we draw on expertise wherever it is based in the world, but I think there will be a drive towards getting people back together as much as possible.

More Agile

This is, apparently, where the conversation is at. Waterfall is dead, long live Agile. Actually, I don’t think it is that extreme. There are thousands of companies who haven’t adopted Agile but plenty more that have opted for an agile-light approach, with just enough process and just enough release management to get changes and features into projects without being able to say that they are truly Agile with a capital A.

I think we’ll see more of this hybrid agile taking off as companies need to move more quickly and get products to market even faster. And ‘proper’ Agile will also grow in adoption.

Metric-driven project management

This year it’s been all about reframing stakeholders as customers. Next year (while that customer focus will continue) it’s all about metrics. KPIs and dashboards aren’t new tools but at the ‘professional’ end of project management (in comparison to the ‘accidental’ end), we’ll be managing by metrics more and more.

Leadership and beyond

Career paths at the top will take you out of project management.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion in the past about how project managers need to be project leaders as well. As a discussion topic this is now evolving further thanks to the work that PMI is doing on trying to get a project focus in the boardroom and in discussions on project strategy. I think we’ll see more talk about how project leaders can evolve into project executives and sit at the boardroom table. There will also be further discussions about career paths at the top and how they will take you out of project management as a discipline. After all, the skills you need to be a good project leader or project executive are the same skills you would need to manage any functional or operational team. Project management isn’t a dead end any longer, and is certainly not something that narrows your business career.

Sustainability

Sustainability has been on agenda for a while but it’s now linked to profitability. Businesses have previously been able to pick and choose green projects because they helped improve their local reputation or because they satisfied some audit requirement. But now, with budgets being even more squeezed, sustainability supports profitability.

For project managers, this means more projects with a green focus and more weight being given to sustainability on other types of projects too – look out for green project metrics and business cases with green benefits.

OK, so that’s what I think is going to be important. How about you? What trends have you seen and where do you think project management is going? Let us know in the comments below.

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6 Things I didn’t know about being a project manager

Picture of a 6

Image credit: Calixto on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/calixto/4750966108

I decided to be a project manager. Admittedly, it wasn’t until I started working that I knew such a job existed, but when I realised I did, I knew it was for me. However, even though I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for there were still some things I didn’t know about being a project manager before throwing myself into the job.

Here are 6 things I learned about being a project manager – things I didn’t know back in 2000 when I started out.

1. It would always be different

Admittedly, part of the attraction of working with projects is that I would be working on different things. What I hadn’t appreciated is that each project would be so different. Even within the same company the project team, deliverables, departments I was delivering for and the skills required would be very different.

It’s a job that is never the same, and that’s a massive benefit.

2. The technology would change

I suppose I should have seen this coming, but back in 2000 I thought I was learning MS Project and that would be enough. Since I started managing projects, social media and online tools have become a much larger part of a project manager’s repertoire.

The technology required to do our jobs, and the understanding of the technology in use by other departments and our customers, is a much larger part of project management than I ever expected (not that I thought about it that much at the time).

3. There is no need to specialise (but I could if I wanted to)

I began project managing in insurance. More specifically than that, insurance IT. Insurance an industry with a specific language (more on vocabulary below) and there was a point where I thought that I would need to stay in the industry. I thought I had some special knowledge – in reality, I did, but that’s not to say that moving industry is impossible. You can learn the special knowledge of other industries, and my shift to healthcare was relatively easy.

If you want to specialise in a particular type of project management or an industry, you can. I love IT, and I can’t see myself moving into marketing projects or anything else at the moment. But every industry uses IT, so IT project management is a very transferable skill – if I wanted to shift industries again, I could.

4. There is a complete vocabulary to learn

Vocab is something that creeps up on you. You learn it through professional study, training courses, talking to colleagues, surfing the internet, reading project management blogs like this one. Because you don’t know that you are learning it, you suddenly wake up one day and realise that you speak project management.

Many jobs have specialist jargon, so in that respect project management is no different. At the time I started out, I didn’t realise how much language specific to my job I would pick up, and how it would become a part of the way I think and communicate.

5. It is a life skill

Project management is not just a job, it’s a life skill. You can use a project plan for pretty much anything, from moving house to planning a wedding.

When you have project management skills, I think you become more organised, more structured in the way you approach tasks and more able to take on responsibility for co-ordinating groups. That’s why I think project management should be taught in schools.

6. No one would understand my job

The final thing I didn’t realise about being a project manager is that no one would understand what I do all day. And that’s not just family and friends. People at work (those who are not project managers) often don’t get what it is that I do. From the outside, project managers look like the people who tell everyone else what to do. That’s part of it (although there isn’t much ‘telling’, at least, not the way I do it). It is far more about relationship building to get things done, but doesn’t that sound like buzz words? My job is to make it easy for other people to do their jobs, and if that doesn’t sound like a non-job then I don’t know what does.

I still struggle to explain what a project manager does, but I think big projects like the Olympics, the Jubilee and a Royal Wedding have perhaps made people a bit more aware about what managing a project is all about.

What about you – what things did you not know before becoming a project manager? Let us know in the comments.

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Qualifications

What credentials should individuals or employers choose?

Project-related work and the number of project-related jobs are growing too quickly for our approaches to professionalism to keep up.

You don’t have to look to hard to see that the world of work is becoming more focused on projects. I don’t think it’s just project professionals who would say that – business leaders are also aware of the fact that projects are a core part of any company, and project management standards and approaches are being applied to more things. Ben Snyder even called his book Everything’s a Project.

In parallel to that, the role of the Project, Programme and Portfolio Office is growing. There are different types of roles available now to people who want to work in projects. You could be a PMO specialist, a risk professional or a project support officer. The management frameworks and organisation structures that support project-based work are in use in many companies.

But what does ‘project management’ mean?

While the growth is good, what I am also seeing is that project management has different interpretations for different people. Project management jobs are offered with salaries of £20k to upwards of £80k. That can’t possibly be the same job with the same responsibilities.

Project management ‘professionals’ (i.e. you and me) have taken the approach that industry bodies are the right groups to explain what project management is. In the US, this is relatively clear, as PMI sets the standards for what project management means. I don’t say this because I’m a particular fan of the Project Management Body of Knowledge or the PMP credential, but because in the US there isn’t as much competition between industry bodies.

In the UK it is a different story. We have the Office of Government Commerce, which produces the PRINCE2 and MSP frameworks. These are the de facto requirements for project and programme managers over here.  We also have the Association for Project Management which is affiliated to the IPMA. They have their own body of knowledge and credential scheme. Then we have a small but relatively active PMI Chapter, so there are people with PMP and other PMI credentials.

For employers, it’s a mess. Do you want a PRINCE2 Practitioner or a PMP, or someone who has both? What does APMP mean and it is better or equivalent to a Master’s degree in Project Management? If I want to recruit a PMO Manager, what should I be looking for? There is no national standard to help employers make the right decisions for their companies.

For individuals, it’s worse. Most employers advertise for people who are PRINCE2 certified, but that course won’t teach you to do proper scheduling and it certainly doesn’t reflect your experience in the field. So should you get PMP as well? What about the new Registered Project Professional designation from APM? This is in its infancy but the idea is that people who have RPP then adopt Chartered status and become Chartered Project Professionals when the APM is awarded its Royal Charter. That will apparently move those people into the same stratosphere as Chartered Accountants or Chartered Surveyors. So let’s say you want to go for that. Who will pay for it? Many employers will only pay membership fees to one professional body for you (or none at all). Do individuals have to pay for PMI membership and APM membership and ask their employers to send them on PRINCE2 courses every 5 years for recertification?

There’s no clear path to solving these problems

I don’t have the answers. This is a challenge for industry bodies, employers and individuals. Professional bodies won’t suddenly stop producing certificate-based courses. It is how they make money and how they convince employers that they are relevant to today’s working environment, and for the most part the courses and credentials are very good.

I don’t have an issue with the standard of project management education – I just worry that there is too much off it, which makes it hard for employers and individuals to know what is the best option for them.

I can’t see that any of the professional bodies in the UK would give up marketing their services because someone else is doing a similar thing. What I would like to see is more alignment and collaboration between them, so that it is easier to compare bodies of knowledge, standards, frameworks, certificates and credentials and whatever else is out there. This has started – there is movement towards bridge courses between credentials, and training courses are being marketed specifically at people who have a different qualification.

We need project management as a profession to hang together, not become more fragmented. The project-based workplace is here to stay, and the discipline of project management needs to catch up pretty fast so that companies see the value and know where to turn for professional advice. What should we be doing to help that happen?

This article is based on an interview I gave for The Project Management Podcast last year.

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Are you a project chugger?

Woman with clipboardA bit of bright weather and suddenly the pavements are full of people waving clipboards, trying to get you to stop at the end of a busy day and donate to charity. While the causes are always good, the method of extracting direct debit details from passers by is low-tech, and if you are trying to get somewhere in a hurry, you will have learned that it’s best to give the chuggers a wide berth.

The term chugger comes from ‘charity’ and ‘mugger’ and is a catch-all word to describe people who flag you down in the street and engage in small talk while trying to get something out of you that you may or may not be willing to give.

Change the context of the street to the office corridor, and project managers are just as guilty of being chuggers – and we don’t even collect money for charity. We’re just after information from the project team for status reports, emails and because we feel insecure if we don’t know what is going on all the time. Every time we see a team member walk past we jump on them for the latest news, even if we saw them only a couple of hours ago.

Do you recognise yourself? Lots of project managers are project chuggers, without realising it. Unfortunately for our teams, it’s not easy to work for a chugger. There’s the constant worry that you don’t have all the information to hand and that you’ll be asked for the details when there aren’t any to tell. On top of that, you have to be prepared for any eventuality: who knows what your project manager will ask you about this time? There’s no structure to chugging for information. And there is always the risk that it’s easier to make something up or try to baffle the project manager with science if there isn’t anything to say, rather than see the disappointed look on their faces when you tell them you have nothing to report.

There is some good news: if you are a project chugger there are steps you can take to curb your addiction to project information and make it easier for your team to give you status updates.

Get updates at regular times

Ask your project team to give you regular updates at specific times such as every Friday afternoon, or first thing every day. Make this once a week at least. This way your team will get into the habit of giving you information on a continual basis. They will know when to supply it and you will know when you will receive it, so it won’t feel like you are working in an information vacuum.

Define what you need

It’s great to know what the latest status is of every last detail, but do you really need to know?  If you trust your team to get on and do their jobs you can implement reporting by exception.  If you don’t feel comfortable going that far at least define with your team what the important elements are and focus on those.  Better that you know about the big issues so that you can do something about them, instead of listening to issues that your team can resolve perfectly well without you.

Who gets the update?

Do you all get together for a regular round-the-table update? Or do you speak to each team member individually? It is useful for everyone to have a view of what the whole team is doing, so if you can all join in and listen to the status updates from each individual then make the time to do it. Finding out what your colleagues are up to can alleviate problems, prevent rework and generate a more cohesive team atmosphere. If you get the updates in writing decide who is on the circulation list. You could get each individual to email you directly and then you can produce a consolidated report.

Set a time limit

Some people will ramble on… Stick to the time limit by using an egg timer.

If you meet regularly and you bring the whole team together for status updates, bear in mind that some people will ramble on.  You probably already know those characters.  Tell people that they only have two minutes to give the update for that day/week. People often have no idea how long two minutes actually is, and they can still be talking ten minutes later. That’s fine, if what they say is relevant to the entire group, but you can encourage people to stick to the time limit by using an egg timer or a stop watch. Otherwise you risk wasting the rest of the team’s time.

Be flexible

There will be times when you need to get information outside your set status update framework. That’s fine: it happens, and as the project manager you do need to know what’s going on. However, you can approach this in a non-chuggerish way. Don’t pounce on your team member. It’s appropriate to check if they are in the middle of something and be prepared to come back – in half an hour or so, not three weeks. If you need to speak to them straight away, make it clear that it’s necessary. Get all the information you need in one go: don’t go back several times with “just one more question.”

Most people respond well to being allowed autonomy and the benefit of a trusting work relationship. However, there are some people who will never give you status updates, regardless of how many times they promise faithfully to send you a report every Friday afternoon. For those characters on your project team the more direct approach will work better, or else you risk not getting any updates at all. Don’t chase everyone though – save your chugging to those who respond best that way, and keep it to once a day at a maximum. You don’t want your project team to start walking the long way round to the photocopier just to avoid your desk!

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