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Getting the basics right, repeatedly

The Project journal archive has a wealth of material that we have sifted through in order to gain some insight into how we can ensure successful project delivery, for any size project. In the first of the Project Digest series we highlight the most relevant articles which will talk about the key elements we need to get right as project managers, to ensure project success.

1. So what should we do? Go back to basics, they say. 

Project management is just a matter of finding out what works and doing it over and over again. Or is it? In the world of project management, repetition relates to the process of getting the basics right – repeatedly. The challenge, however, is defining exactly what those basics are.

So what do project managers need in their toolkits to help them get the basics right? At the very least every project should have a risk register, a project-initiation document, a business case and a project plan. You may also find it useful to use a Gantt chart in the planning and scheduling of projects.

2. That fundamental one thing.

It’s hard for project managers to come to an unbiased conclusion as to which element of project management is the most fundamental. It's quite a debate - and it's difficult to just choose one... Is it scoping, one of the hardest parts of project management? Control? Scheduling and planning? Surely we build all our project management processes upon a bedrock of governance? Then again, don’t stakeholders determine the success of your project, making stakeholder engagement fundamental to project management?

Most project managers do however agree that the most basic project management concept is the rather the pyramid of balance: time, cost, quality and scope. You can read more about the pyramid of balance in the APM Body of Knowledge.

3. Mapping the road ahead: planning is integral

Planning – whether for a road trip in a foreign country, an inherent part of your job or an addition to your house – is vital to success. “Fail to plan and you’re planning to fail.”

We look at the absolute basics of project management with Maura Kelly who explores project controls. 

The world is essentially made up of projects. Every new endeavour is a project and the plan is the roadmap. You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint (nor without a team of professionals who know how to build a house), and you most likely wouldn’t travel somewhere new without opening the Google Maps app on your smartphone.

The experts agree: APM’s Conditions for Project Success report  found that thorough, well-considered planning is critical to achieving positive outcomes. Learn how to make an actionable plan, develop a scoring mechanism to help you prioritise and plan for the unexpected.

4. What about project leadership?

Tools and techniques, such as those set out in bodies of knowledge and methodologies, are important for laying the foundations of good project management, but it’s the behaviour of project managers and those around them that build on those foundations. How can you determine that you are on a path to becoming a great team leader and successful project manager?

Projects are done by people, for people. Successful project managers know this and use it to their advantage to create a team that is focused on working with other stakeholders to create success. Discover the six basic tips on becoming a great project manager, and yes, you’ve got it – the most important element is managing your team well so that they are fully committed to achieving project success. Do you have the leadership skills to do this?

5. Keep learning new skills.

Project managers risk falling behind if they fail to learn the basic skills necessary to succeed. New demands from industry to deliver projects of ever-greater complexity in a rapidly changing global environment means that new ways of learning and working must be adopted in order to survive.

Nowadays project managers are also required to have skills such as leadership and business acumen. For example, statistics show that an increasing number project managers spend more than 30 per cent of their time involved with leadership and stakeholder-management tasks. This is where project management qualifications, training and mentoring become important.

Read more about APM’s qualifications and how you can benefit from formal training.

6. Project management vs project leadership? 

Typically, we ask our project managers to deliver specifically what we have asked them for and to develop their ability to do so, we teach them to understand and follow a process.

Consequently, they value steps and stages, clear roles and responsibilities, comprehensive risk logs, regular and accurate reporting against KPIs and hierarchical structures for controlling progress, change and tolerance. In short they value project management over project leadership. A strong project management plan is the bedrock of success, but let’s not forget that processes are designed for the inexperienced to give them structure.

However, true project leadership requires an acceptance that some of what we do will be achieved through trial and error. It becomes important to increase our focus on building high performing project teams and leading them really well. So here are six reflections on how to switch to project leadership.