Two Questions I’m Often Asked About Project Management

Given that I’ve managed many custom learning and performance improvement projects and have written numerous articles about project management, you could say I’m very passionate about the topic. So passionate, in fact, I’m repeatedly asked two questions:

  • “Do you think project managers must be PMI (Project Management Institute) certified?”
  • “What project management software do you use?”

Is PMI Certification a Must?

I don’t really care if project managers are PMI certified or not. What matters more to me are:

  • Do they have the right skills?
  • Do they have the necessary characteristics?
  • Do they have relevant experience?
  • Are the right things in place in the environment?

Skills

Obviously, it’s important for project managers to have the right skills, things like: delegating tasks, financial analysis, and decision-making. I’m also a strong believer that they need to have some technical expertise. Managing a software implementation is very different than building custom e-learning. It’s hard to create a project schedule if you don’t know what needs to be done, or when to do tasks simultaneously versus end-to-end.

Characteristics

It’s also critical to select individuals with the right characteristics. Terrific project managers pay attention to detail, yet never lose sight of the “big picture;” are flexible and open to change; work as a team; and tolerate ambiguity. You can learn new skills if you need to, but characteristics are something you’re generally born with. I don’t want to be on a team with a “creative genius-” type personality doing the project management.

Experience

While there has to be a first time for everything, I prefer to assign project managers with tons of experience managing similar projects (complexity, subject matter, pace, and so forth). Sometimes you just need to have a hundred projects under your belt in order to have seen enough examples of what you might encounter. I’m going to be much better managing my 20th project than my first one. But for those first-timers, it’s best to assign them to a smaller low-risk project.

Environment

Project managers will be most successful if they work in an environment that’s set up for success. Below are some really important pieces of the puzzle:

  • Organizational expectations around project management are in place. Leadership has made it clear that projects will be run in a prescribed manner and seasoned project managers will be at the helm.
  • Processes are defined and make sense for the various delivery methods. It’s not at the ADDIE model phase level that things go astray. It’s at the task level. Are we editing before we program or afterwards, for example?
  • Tools exist that incorporate best practices and are easy to use. For example, the headings in the design document template should guide the instructional designer to consider the right issues at the design phase.
  • Standards are set. These standards must address things like technical requirements for e-learning and instructional design features for all courses.

While being PMI certified can’t hurt, I don’t believe certification alone is what makes a great project manager or ensures successful outcomes.

What Project Management Software Do You Use?

I always think this is an odd initial question because it causes me to wonder what the person is really asking. Do they believe if they use the right software, the project will manage itself? Do they mean something broad like a Knowledge Management System to house all the project management tools? Or do they mean a project scheduling software program? More often than not when I ask for clarification, the answer I get is, “you know, something like MicrosoftTM Project.” 

Basically, I’m being asked, “How do I prefer to build project schedules?”

I’m sure there are complex multi-year, multi-element training projects that could benefit from using software such as Microsoft Project. But for the typical three-month training initiative, I would skip it. I’m all about simple, practical, and employing only the rigor required to manage the project.

I see project managers who use Microsoft Project spending hours locked away, tweaking and fine-tuning the schedule and all the linkages behind it. It seems to me this time might be better spent out-and-about with the team and communicating the new plan. Usually when a project schedule changes, it requires resourcefulness and a different approach to getting the work done. It’s not enough just to move all the dates out two days at the push of a button.

I’m very comfortable using a simple Microsoft Word table for most performance improvement and training project schedules. I’ve successfully managed hundreds of projects using a three-column table with step, who, and when. I create it at a level of detail that aligns with the pace of the project, I keep it updated, and I make sure it’s in the hands of the right people. You want to run the project, not have the project run you.

So You Decide …

But I would get the right people in the project management role, give them the right environmental supports, and not make a full-time job out of creating project schedules. It’s all about the right people and simple tools! And above all else, stay flexible.

I’d love to hear how you would answer the two questions.

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