Project Managers – especially younger staff – are equipped with education and a few years of experience from which many complex decisions must be derived. It is common for individuals to try to fit a problem to these discrete and often simplified principles – seeing the world as a nail to their project management hammer.
Unfortunately, your employer may not be interested in how your training has prepared you for attacking any management problem under the sun. Every organization has its culture and habits, and even if your skills provide real savings, all of the tools at your disposal really distill down to two significant rules.
In my field of engineering, which really is made up of multiple disciplines, PM is based on the Big 3 of time, money, and performance. However, my particular skills may not serve me or my clients would I be asked to evaluate such things as a manufacturing process or a semiconductor design. While the same fundamentals are there, the complexities of each operation differ greatly. Ethically speaking, it is my responsibility to advise that my skills and tools may be a bad fit for a complete analysis. This doesn’t keep me (or you) from giving some general advice. Any such advice, as well as the adaptation of your skills for any given client, rests on these two “laws”:
- Time is the only finite resource.
- Without customers willing to purchase the product, there is no business.
These are significant, since project management is simply a human construct. Money and the concept of performance are all easily negotiated and are more flexible than you may realize. The first law recognizes that time, as a factor in our projects and lives, is the only real component that is beyond our control. Seconds, days, and years tick by; we can move deadlines and add people, but time marches on.
The second law is more subtle. Is it really a law at all? Probably not in the scientific sense, but definitely it is a concept that has remained without being disproved given our definitions of customers and business. It highlights that whatever your methods, if you are not serving a customer’s needs, you do not have a sustainable business model.
How does this affect your project management role? Whether you are a young manager still learning the ropes or one with thirty years experience and a billion dollars of projects behind you, every new engagement brings its unique challenges. It is foolish to depend completely on what worked before, especially if your knowledge is from the latest book, seminar, or flashy website. Application of theory is the final test of your competence and ability to react to the real world.
Your skills and knowledge are valuable – without a doubt. Confidence is easy to build, trust is more difficult. Be aware that your tools, rather than being tangible and distinct like their real analogues, should be flexible and adaptable to the job at hand.
Image © ToniVC and used with permission from Flickr.
Jason Burke is a Project Manager at Project Management Underground, his experience ranges from engineering design (literally underground) in a California gold mine and a Montana platinum mine to management of a variety of land development projects. He enjoys sharing his experiences and insights with others, especially those in the engineering industries. But anyone can benefit from business management “best practices” as well.