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How not to do Project Management

Not so much a recipe for disaster, more a five-course menu

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Project management When you are taken on for a project management role, or allocated to lead a project, it is easy to assume that key people in the organisation know and understand your role, and that you understand all the problems. Big mistake. Here are five fatal assumptions that you can make about what you do, and what they think about it.

1. They know what you do

Even the person that hired you might have a misconception about what a project manager (PM) does. The company may have a clear idea of what it wants you to achieve – build a bridge, install a wind farm or create a new CRM system – but may be less clear about your contribution.

And that's just the senior management. Further down the organisation will be scores or hundreds of people whose attitudes range from constructive to downright belligerent. Some will be affected by their perception of your role, some by fears about how the changes will affect them. Andy Siddiqi, a contract project manager, sums it up: "In some firms there is little previous experience of the PM role. You have to create the governance, the systems for making it happen. You have to handle resistance with extreme diplomacy. Underestimate the soft skills at your peril."

Cooperation will depend on your ability to communicate and convince stakeholders of the value of the project to the business or enterprise.

2. You will be judged on past success

Yes, experience is important, but employers want people who can handle difficult challenges. Adrian Treacy, MD of IT recruitment firm Arrows Group, says: "They don’t just want project managers that have run smooth operations. They are looking for people who have faced challenges and problems and learned how to resolve them.

He also believes there is increasingly professionalisation of the role: "We are seeing more career project managers out there. There was a time where project management was merely a stepping stone to becoming a business analyst but now there are more people choosing project management as a career, resulting in project managers of a higher quality, with more experience."

And with experience comes exposure to failure – not a bad thing if lessons are learned. Government efficiency adviser and former boss of the Office of Goverment Commerce, Sir Peter Gershon, says. "We look at failure because we learn a lot from it. I think it is more educational than success in terms of helping us move toward a more professional approach to project management."

3. The estimates are right

One of the hardest parts of project management is estimating the costs, the resources needed and the time required to complete a task. To protect yourself you need to research past costings and timings as far as is possible. Then, once you have come up figures, add some fat, as one project manager put it. This extra 10-15 per cent gives you a bit of leeway when the inevitable overruns and overspends occur. The downside is that it makes the initial budget fatter too.

If you are coming late to a project bear in mind that initial estimates may have been priced to ensure the overall budget is approved; or conversely, the job may have been priced without a proper competitive tendering process.

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