I started my career in the NHS as a Medical Receptionist about 19 years ago in a GP surgery – a role quite removed from the PMO Officer’s one I have now. I have been through so many changes personally and professionally over the years, positive and some not so positive, I want to share how to embrace the project profession when you’re starting out. In 2014, I joined a Foundation Trust as Executive Assistant to one of its Directors; this in my opinion, was my first conscious entry into the remarkably fascinating world of project management. Although, we can relate to project management as a practical approach to everyday life scenario, using this concept at a workplace sparked my interest to pursue it as a career.
Moving from the non-project profession to a project management role came with its own challenges, but I am now in a PMO Officer role which I thoroughly enjoy. Project management, to me, is working and collaborating with a wide range of people both internally and externally to our organisation; working towards a shared goal.
Projects change the world and project-based work is the engine that drives change and progress. Project management experience is something we develop all through our lifetime without realising it. This makes our job easier, however, it is vital to identify and improve on the key project management competencies and see how they can be applied to drive the organisation’s projects forward. I draw on my experience to share a few tips if you’re new in project management, whatever your background. It is helpful to…
1. Find opportunities to enhance your skills. While being an Executive Assistant revolves around managing several projects at the same time, it is still outside the project management profession. I enjoyed project management during this time and, the most valuable suggestion given to me was to volunteer as a project coordinator under the supervision of a senior programme manager to expand my skill set. This not only helped me in building my CV but also my confidence level to manage projects independently.
2. Be an efficient organiser: Managing budgets, timelines and deliverables is a part of a project manager’s everyday life, therefore it’s vital to keep ourselves organised. My experience as an Executive Assistant came very handy in this, whether it was to maintain an action tracker to have project oversight, keeping specific to-do lists for a particular task or organising regular check-in meetings with the project team.
Using the Microsoft Teams Planner is a great way of getting organised. It is a very useful task management tool, which helps in tracking progress on projects. Plans, schedules, phases and tasks can be sorted into buckets and progress monitored. Both individual and team tasks can be managed, and progress received via Outlook.
3. Be a good communicator: It will be beneficial to refine your communication techniques, as this is an essential skill we will be using from the initiation stage of a project right up to its closure. Communicating clearly and confidently is important to align all key players towards your project goal. Ineffective communication puts us in danger of missing deliverables and project targets. Regular progress emails to all key stakeholders gives a better understanding and insight into progress achieved, barriers if any and paves the way for problem solving.
4. Always keep an eye on the schedule: It is important as a project manager to provide a clear vision of the aim and purpose of the project to our team members. A good project plan will need to have good monitoring and control process in place – this will protect the project from going off the rails. For a good control process to be put in place, the most important ingredient I have always found effective is undergoing a good scoping exercise. When work is requested it is important to drill down the smaller details to have a greater understanding of our opportunities and threats thereby planning a more efficient project schedule to deliver the project in a profitable and timely manner.
The SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) tool is a great scoping tool that helps in defining key objectives, outlining a project brief, identifying key milestones, defining timelines and listing out the risks and issues that will impact the project deliverables. This will not only help the project to have a quick take-off but also help in attaining internal as well as external assurance.
5. Keep documenting and stay on track: An essential part of being a successful project manager is to substantiate your project with clear documentation. This helps in establishing traceability, provides insight to the team and sponsors the stage the project is currently at and the work that needs to be done to progress. Once the project brief and business case has gained approval, key decisions and updates can be recorded in a weekly/monthly highlight report, this will help in providing a strategic overview of the progress achieved so far to the key stakeholders.
Highlight reports are also a great way of keeping the team informed of the next steps planned for the project. In order to keep track of continuous progress updates, including work schedules, timelines, actions, barriers and controls, it is essential to maintain action tracker. Traditionally, this is done via an excel spreadsheet however nowadays, is included as part of most project management software. Therefore, it becomes vital for the project manager to understand this function and maximise its use.
6. Learn to celebrate milestones: It’s vital not only to mark the important dates and milestones in a project, but also to show gratitude of the efforts of the team. This will likely keep the project team motivated and look forward to the future. Ideally, targets need to be set with the help of team members as a means of enhancing the team’s commitment.
An email of appreciation or a shout-out at team meetings is a simple but valuable way of acknowledging those around you. Working for the NHS, I saw that celebrating achievements with a Thank you card or Certificates of Appreciation went a long way in creating a sense of reassurance and the much needed sense of hope and strength among team members in pursuing a project to its completion.
Project management and PMOs have grown leaps and bounds in recent years which reminds me everyday that the best is yet to come, they are the building blocks for tomorrow’s organisations. As the future of the world, welcome to our profession and good luck!
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