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What use is project management?

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This seems a foolish question to ask. Clearly, its utility is in delivering projects effectively and efficiently; and we need projects to create the assets and changes that drive growth and prosperity.

Job done: end of article. Or is it? I still think of myself as a project manager although, truth be told, I haven’t managed a ‘proper’ project for years. So what use is it to me? I have been wondering.

The mental block that I had for a long time was that it all seemed too obvious: my skills are self-evidently essential. But then, surely that is the point.

Project management is an exceptional career platform for whatever you choose to do next: whether it is in developing deeper project and programme delivery skills, focusing on related disciplines such as risk management or stakeholder engagement, or moving away, into other areas of business, public service or voluntary work. When I think of all of my experiences as a project manager, I can see that they provided a phenomenal platform for learning almost everything I apply daily in my work.

Consequently, my business today is built on the foundation of skills I gained as a project manager. In the December issue of Project, I will look at the learning opportunities I was able to create for myself. But my thoughts about what use project management has been for me went even deeper than that.

Project management hasn’t just given me skills: it has honed my attitudes to everything. I approach pretty much anything I do with a project management mindset. I fundamentally believe that this makes the dominant contribution to my productivity, my effectiveness and, therefore, to my success.

The seeds of this were sown early. Among the most popular of my blog posts on project management were four I wrote in memory of my father1: a man who was not a project manager, but a shopkeeper. And there’s the thing: we learn our first lessons in project management at home and at school.

Project management is not a business skill, it is not a professional skill, it is not a workplace skill: it is a life skill. While I had been busy observing the ever-increasing number of managers, supervisors and staff members who are called upon to manage projects in their workplace, I had been neglecting the reality that we need to manage projects in all areas of our lives.

And the very backgrounds that make participants on my courses so open to project management methods, and so familiar with its core ideas – even with no prior training – prove the point. We learn to manage projects at a young age, because our lives are full of projects.

Education is a political and professional issue, so I am cautious in suggesting we add to an already crowded curriculum. But, just as the best schools find ways to ensure children learn social skills from the earliest age, they also find ways to teach project skills.

I’d like to see a subtle shift of schools bringing project management to the fore of their teaching methods. I want children to learn the formal skills of project management as they do their educational projects. And I want this for a simple reason: when I think about what use project management is, I can only conclude that we can use it for everything.

If we want our children to build and live in a world that delivers more, with finite resources, while taking a mature approach to the risks involved, there is nothing more valuable that we can teach them.

This blog first appeared as an article in the Autumn edition of Project magazine.

Other blogs by Mike Clayton:


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