Which Project Management Course to Take?

27 July, 2015

In many companies, projects are unheard of. These organizations revolve around operations and this work is often termed “execution”. When a time comes to institute a change – replace a manual process with a machine, for instance – the change is termed a strategic execution and put in place using whatever processes the organization has under this heading.

Anyone with any sort of experience or certificate in project management will recognize this strategic execution as project management. So there are whole industries out there that would benefit from at least an understanding of the project management principles, laid down in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

It would seem that a degree of training would be appropriate for anyone engaged in strategic execution tasks (or projects as we call them). But how much project management do you need? In these days of cost cutting, few managers will give approval for their team leads to attend a full Project Management Professional (PMP)® course. But they might be willing to dip their toes in the water with a one-day Introduction to Project Management

Velopi’s introductory course focuses on three areas only: scope, scheduling and communications. The reason for this is to ensure that the basics are done correctly. If you have good requirements – and by “good” we mean testable and measureable ones – and a clear picture of the work needed to meet those requirements – as illustrated by the Work Breakdown Structure – you will avoid most of the pitfalls encountered in projects.

How often have you embarked on a piece of work based only on a verbal request from the boss? How often has the boss expressed disappointment at the end of the day because s/he had assumed this work would include more than you did? Clearly defining what is and what is not in the scope of the project exposes these assumptions and ensures that both you and your manager have the same picture of the end goal in your heads.

Knowing what work needs to be done is critical. A Work Breakdown Structure will provide the large divisions, but the Work Packages at the lowest levels need further breaking down into schedule activities.

These schedule activities are now sequenced in the order they need to be done in. For instance, the foundations must be laid before the walls are built. This can be an interesting exercise, because the only constraints we are initially concerned with are mandatory ones – those dictated by physics or regulation. We are not concerned with resource limitations yet. This allows us to identify activities that could be done simultaneously, if we had the people available to do the work. This analysis really helps if the boss demands that the work be done quickly. If the boss is willing to provide more resources, we know where to deploy them.

A well-defined schedule activity is something that uses resources to complete a task in an estimated time. Estimating the resources and durations for schedule activities is not easy. However, estimating is something that has been done since the Pharaohs were drawing their pyramids and the PMBOK® Guide provides a wide choice of well-proven ways of estimating both quantities and likely time spans.

Having duration estimates allows us to prepare a schedule. This will be more realistic than our initial sequence diagram, because we now have to cut our cloth according to its measure and schedule activities in sequence rather than in parallel because we do not have infinite resources on hand.

The real value of project management is improved communications. We have seen that scope definition involves returning to the boss with your understanding of the scope. However, we never mentioned the conversations with team members and stakeholders that clarified the scope for you. Similarly, there will be much discussion within the team and with others who have done this sort of thing before in order to estimate what is required for each schedule activity. Obviously, the schedule then has to be explained to the boss, justifying the time and resource requirements. In the end, it is little use doing scope and schedule planning if you do not share your outputs with the people who need to know.

PMPs® reading this will be upset. They will recite the ten knowledge areas and complain that we do not cover the execution and monitoring of scope and schedule. Similarly, they will not be happy that we do not get around to closing either. But most projects get into trouble because of poorly understood scope, inadequate resources, unrealistic schedules and general bad planning. For someone tasked with a particular strategic execution, knowing the importance of getting the scope and the schedule right will ensure the work is built on a solid foundation at least.

Our one-day Introduction to Project Management is further explained on our web-site.  Our hope is that these basic planning steps will create an appetite for more advanced topics, such as those covered in our two-day Project Management Essentials courses. Who knows, you could become so enthusiastic about project management that you will, down the line, sign on for our 4-day PMP® exam preparation course. These are held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway regularly. Please visit our course list or contact us directly for more information.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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