Project management has been called both an art and a science. Below, you will see how mastering the
science of project management provides a foundation for the art of leadership. The reasons to improve project success are common to both. There is no question that the best project managers are also outstanding leaders. They have vision, they motivate, they bring people together, and, most of all, they accomplish great things.
Indeed, when you listen to the experts characterize the creative attributes of the great project managers, their skills can seem mysterious and magical, as though the good ones are born and not made. I disagree with this “born leader” theory. While great managers may possess certain intangible qualities, much of what they do can be learned.
I’ve learned that certain essential factors can be discovered among the magic and mystery of successful projects. I have boiled these down to five factors, essential if you want to improve project success.
The 5 Ways to Improve Project Success:
Agreement among the project team, customer, and management on the goals of the project. “Clear goals—now there’s a yawner!” you might say. The importance of having clear goals seems so obvious that it’s almost embarrassing to bring it up. Yet thousands of projects, at this very moment, do not have clear goals, and the results of this fuzziness can be devastating.
A plan that shows an overall path and clear responsibilities and will be used to measure progress during the project. Since every project is unique, the only way to understand and execute it efficiently is with a plan. Not only does a good plan show who is responsible for what and when, but it also demonstrates if hat is possible. It contains the details for estimating the people, money, equipment, and materials necessary to get the job done. And because the plan is the basis for measuring progress, it can also act as an early warning system for tasks that are late or over budget.
Constant, effective communication among everyone involved in the project. People—not plans or software—complete projects. A successful project is a result of people agreeing on goals and then meeting them. From concept through implementation, success depends on the ability to come to agreement, coordinate action, recognize and solve problems, and react to changes. All of these things require that people communicate well.
A controlled scope. Success is in the eye of the beholder. This is why, from the very start, the successful project manager will ensure that everyone involved understands exactly what can be accomplished within a given time frame and budget. This is called “managing stakeholder expectations,” and it is an important, ongoing task throughout the project, especially if changes are introduced. Stakeholders must not only agree to the original scope of the project, but also understand any changes in scope.
Management support. Project managers rarely have enough formal authority to make all the decisions it takes to complete a project. They rely on people in traditional management roles to supply people and equipment, make policy decisions, and remove organizational obstacles. Even the most enthusiastic, creative, motivational project leaders will stumble if they do not enlist the people with authority to act on their behalf.
Combining Project Management Art and Science to Improve Project Success
Far from being mysterious, these five essential factors’ can be achieved through the diligent, persistent use of the science of project management. That is not to say that success comes without art—on the contrary, art is immensely important.
Art encompasses political and interpersonal skills, making creative decisions when complete information is lacking knowing intuitively when to delegate work, and more. But learning the basic science is requisite to practicing this art. Stirring up the team with a fiery speech will be a waste of energy if the project lacks goals and a basic plan.
The art of leadership embodies skills that are gained through experience, sensitivity, and a thorough knowledge of the basic science of management. Learning the basics of project management can be your first step on the road to becoming a skilled and inspiring leader.
While developing all these skills may take time, the basic science can be learned fairly quickly; able students can read and practice the lessons in this book on their very next project.
Projects are defined as work that happens one time only and has both a clear beginning and end. This kind of work may be contrasted with the ongoing operations of an organization that involve repetitive work—such as manufacturing—with no defined end.
The world of work is changing—and the rate of change is increasing. This has led to an increased demand for projects, because projects are the means by which organizations adapt to changing conditions. Projects are required to re-engineer an organization, assess a company’s direction in a new market, or bring out a new product. This increase in the number of projects has led to a rapidly expanding need for project managers. And, because working with projects can be exciting and challenging, project management has become a popular career choice for professionals in all stages of their careers.
Given that the workplace is becoming more project-based, most managers would do well to learn project management skills. Learn them and you will have every chance of steering a project from its planning stages through to its successful conclusion.
For, while employing art and creativity are also important, the science of project management will provide the foundation for success of any project.