Magazine

In Praise of Project Management

Why and How to Bring it to Your Company

By Stan Portny

Is your company filled with project managers? It should be. But if the question confuses you, you're not alone. For many folks, the words "project management" call to mind an arcane, highly technical discipline consisting of charts, graphs and, let's face it, a higher-than-average ratio of pocket protectors! But project management's geeky image has undergone a dramatic change in recent years. It's no longer viewed as a career choice, but as a necessary business skill.
In fact, says project management consultant Stan Portny, your company needs people with strong skills in this arena. Furthermore, even if you think you're doing project management, you may really just be playing at it.
Project management is a skill that pervades every aspect of a corporation. It is a way of thinking about the work you do. Therefore, it is not a separate department within your company, but an integrated business approach. If there isn't someone within your organization capable of imparting the tools and techniques of project management to key employees, now is the time to bring in a trainer.
Why is project management training so critical for today's organizations? Portny offers the following reasons:
Our current business environment is project heavy.
First of all, companies in general are completely integrated now (as opposed to the old "silo"structure). But the issue is much larger than that. In an age of finite resources, tight deadlines and more and more cross-functional team involvement, work is increasingly broken into projects. Solid, proven project management skills are necessary for juggling the myriad components of our multifaceted work world. They literally turn chaos into order.
The sagging economy demands project management skills.
We're all having to do more with less. Money is tighter than ever, there are fewer employees to get the job done, and many employees suddenly find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to manage projects. Furthermore, many companies are barely hanging on. There is little or no room for error so getting those employees some training in project management is paramount.
Project management training alleviates stress.
Naturally, having to manage projects when you're totally unfamiliar with the process is incredibly stressful, Portny points out. Few companies can afford the luxury of even one employee having an emotional meltdown. When you consider the systemic nature of stress (the way it tends to spread through an organization) it's not hard to see that you must help your employees alleviate their stress. Teaching them the tools and techniques of project management will do just that.
Ensuring employee happiness is an investment in the future.
Just because jobs are scarce right now doesn't mean they will be tomorrow. If you are currently putting your employees in a stressful work situation, they'll resent it. And when the economy picks up again, they may decide not to stay with you. By teaching them the art of project management, you're creating a workplace in which they can thrive and you're giving them a skill they need for career advancement. They'll appreciate it! Furthermore, project management transcends the business world. Your employees will be better able to handle other life issues. That makes for happier employees, which in turn leads to a healthier, more productive company.
What to look for
OK, you're convinced that project management training is a good thing for your company. But how do you go about getting it? There are lots people out there who offer this service, so how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Here are Portny's thoughts on the most important qualities to look for in a project management consultant:
* Credibility. This one is fairly obvious, but it bears emphasizing. Look for a consultant who has a lot of first-hand experience under his or her belt. There is no substitute for a history of having personally managed hundreds of projects. How else is a trainer to know what works and what doesn't? Furthermore, make sure he or she can demonstrate adequate knowledge of your industry and even your company. Good project managers do their homework. And be sure he or she is a Project Management Institute (PMI) Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and that his or her
* Good people skills. It really doesn't matter how well a consultant understands the technical side of project management if he or she can't relate to and inspire people. An understanding of the mechanics of project management and an ability to whip out charts and graphs is only the beginning. A good consultant creates an exciting training environment, communicates well and uses humor to help people relax. After all, project management itself demands good people skills; a consultant must be able to convey this fact and demonstrate it by example.
* An ability to create a comfortable, non-threatening learning environment. I have found that 90 percent of the training session's benefit comes during the question-and-answer session. It's vitally important that participants feel comfortable asking questions, even questions they may fear are 'dumb,' cynical or negative. I know project management works because I've done it for years, but people won't believe this until they can think it through themselves and explore it from every angle. I want my participants to actually look forward to coming to my sessions and that's the attitude you should look for in a consultant.
* A commitment to follow-through and accountability. A good project management consultant should be with you for the long haul. He or she should not only do a thorough job of training your people, but should be willing to return, say, a month later to get your feedback and see if there's a marked difference in their effectiveness. Make sure your consultant is open to having people call or e-mail with questions. After all, project management training is not just about sharing information, but making sure it works in your real-life situation.
Perhaps the most critical quality to look for in a project management consultant, says Portny, is one that's hard to quantify: passion. A person who has a fervent belief in the power of project management is much more likely to get your employees enthusiastic about it.
An exciting field
I've had people tell me, "I think this kind of stuff will work and I know that you believe it and that motivates me." When people can see that you're excited, they get excited. And that makes all the difference in how effective your project management efforts will be.
And it really is an exciting field. It is fascinating that the same processes that were used 50 years ago to build skyscrapers and create space programs will work in today's business environment. Whether it's a 10-year project or a two-week project, taking a simple, logical approach makes your work easier and more efficient.
It's so rewarding to me to help people recognize that mindset and develop that sense of focus... and to see the tremendous difference it makes in an organization.

Stan Portny, president of Stanley E. Portny and Associates, LLC, is an internationally recognized expert in project management and project leadership. During the past 28 years, he has provided training and consultation to more than 100 public and private organizations in the fields of finance, consumer products, insurance, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, information technology, defense and healthcare.

Article Abstract from April, 2002




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