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Why project management matters for communicators

Its easy in communications, where were used to short deadlines and a fast pace, to dismiss project management as an unnecessary and delaying step. After all, the reason were good at our jobs is that we have the ability to just get on with it. But its also odd that we do avoid it, given our proclivity for thinking the unthinkable an issue ignored, is a crisis ensured.

Now, project management is not the same thing as planning. A plan may contain all of the steps required to achieve an end goal, which is in itself a vital element to a project, but a project also sees the bigger picture. Project management enables us to:

  • Balance cost, time and scope/quality, choosing which must be fixed or predictable
  • Know what success looks like and when it has been achieved
  • Understand the needs, roles and responsibilities of stakeholders within and without the plan 
  • Predict what factors will make a project successful and any that are likely to hinder it
  • Appreciate tasks that are fixed and critical, and tasks that are movable (and to what degree)
  • Incorporate risk and issues management into the plan
  • Identify priorities for monitoring performance e.g. critical tasks, or high risk activities
  • Agree and track changes to the project as it progresses

Communications people are good in a crisis, in fact, many of us thrive on the cut and thrust of a media scandal or the adrenalin of racing round to M&S when the catering didnt turn up for the stakeholder meeting. Its easy then to dismiss the risk of something going wrong, because well always handle it. But what if you could have known sooner that there had been a problem, or even had someone on standby to go to M&S while you stuck to your original task list?

For those of us working in larger organisations that include a project office or programme office, developing these skills will also help us to integrate with these colleagues. How many times have you found yourself brought into a project team as an afterthought? Speaking their language helps a great deal.

In the end, I see project management as a way to make up for the fact that we are only human. Our brains are actually very bad at planning and our psyches are even worse. The suite of tools that project management provides, works to extend our cognitive ability beyond what we can do on our own. The possibility for success is pretty much endless!

Nancy W Mendoza is a senior communications and PR professional, specialising in Science Communication.

Nancy recently attended a Project management for communicators course run by PR Academy, which leads to the APM Introductory Certificate.

 

5 comments

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  1. Martin Arcari
    Martin Arcari 12 November 2013, 10:15 AM

    I think that project management in a PR / marketing context is crucial to deliver your proactive strategies. Without clear roles, responsibilities / timescales, they just get pushed to the bottom of the pile as you focus on doing the more urgent (but no more important) firefighting tasks. I think that the trick, as you say is to make sure you've got fallback strategies in place to be as prepared as possible for the reactive stuff so that when it does come up it doesn't totally derail your other workstreams.

  2. Nancy Mendoza
    Nancy Mendoza 24 October 2013, 12:37 PM

    Thanks, Joyce. Once of the things I've learnt over the years is that teams function best when there are a range of strengths and styles. I'm quite a 'big picture', creative type, and I know that I need really good details people around me to help tether my ideas in reality. What's great about good quality project managers, though, is that they insist on actions, roles and responsibilities, as well as details.I think it's a pretty rare breed of person who can do both big picture and details at the same time, and I get that different projects need different degrees of both, but I'd be suprised if creative projects could work at all without the balance you describe.

  3. Joyce Moore
    Joyce Moore 23 October 2013, 11:35 PM

    Your article has a lot of relevance for projects within creative businesses.  Project Management seems closely connected with the construction industry - in areas such as architecture, refurbishment and commercial interiors.  Many Project Managers - I include myself - come from a design background - where creative thought is largely dependant on conceptual thinking, and unrestrained innovative ideas.  Harnessing those concepts, and turning ideas into reality requires the application of structure to the process - and Project Management disciplines and methodoligies provide the tools.  Keeping hold of the 'vision' for a project while working throuigh the process of initation, planning and development is key to success.  But again effective Project Management methods help us to determine and contnually re-affirm the aims throughout the course of the project, keeping focus on the objectives.  In short - Project Management skills enable us to organise our thought processes to achieve the required outcome. 

  4. Nancy Mendoza
    Nancy Mendoza 21 October 2013, 05:08 PM

    I completely agree. I've also used mind mapping to organise and plan for several years. I've found that project management tools and principles go a little further, though...

  5. Kelly Robertson
    Kelly Robertson 21 October 2013, 02:35 PM

    Thanks for the article Nancy. I am a marketing professional and while I have not had any training in the professional tools and recommended methodologies associated with project management, I am managing projects more and more, from website launches to marketing and campaign plan implementation. I find that having the correct toolkit can benefit me enormously and means I am following the same process each time to ensure my projects run smoothly. For me, that's using mind mapping software (MindGenius) and I think it's important that we follow a consistent process for project management whatever role we are in. If we jump right in without doing this it can waste time in the long run if we have to firefight to keep things on track.