What do project managers do, anyway? For any professional, your job might look very different depending on whether you’re explaining it to a colleague, your boss, or someone you meet socially. My work as a project manager in digital transformation and workforce wellbeing tends to involve a lot of meetings and multitasking. But others may see it differently.
Managing scope means being clear on what your project management will and won’t include
Scope describes everything that you plan to deliver through your project. Managing scope is particularly important for public servants, because our projects often involve a wide variety of people, all with different needs and expectations. This can lead to scope creep: the gradual expansion of expectations which project managers struggle to meet and which often have implications on cost, quality, and time.
To keep project scope reasonable, you should make sure that you understand everyone’s expectations of the project at the start. Check in with everyone as the project progresses, and make sure that there’s a proper process for making changes to the project scope if expectations change. These steps will ensure you have a clear understanding of what’s expected of your project at all times.
Sometimes scope creep can be gradual and relatively minor. But if it’s consistent and over a prolonged period of time, this can result in significant change to the project or programme. This means it’s important that you regularly refer back to the original scope and check that it hasn’t changed without you noticing.
Good quality project management creates products that are fit for their purpose
What you deliver through your project should meet the expectations agreed upon at the beginning of the project. This is particularly important for public servants, who have a commitment to deliver the best possible results for the public.
You should plan for quality once you have defined the scope of your project with everyone you’re working with. This means agreeing what standards the project should meet to be acceptable to your partners. Once you’ve agreed on these standards, project managers should control quality by regularly reviewing it together with their team.
Scheduling helps you understand what’s happening when
A schedule shows project managers when you plan to start and finish each activity that makes up your project. When scheduling, project managers often look for the longest stretch of connected tasks. These tasks are known as the critical path, because any changes to the time required to complete these tasks will impact your entire project. Often, we’ll use Gantt charts to visualise progress and check for any overlap between different tasks. This gives us a good understanding of the order in which we’ll need to complete tasks and a sense of how long each task will take.
Planning and controlling finances
Managing project finance involves two activities. It includes planning before beginning a project, by estimating expected costs and agreeing on a budget. It also implies controlling costs while delivering your project, by comparing accumulating costs against your budget. Finance is almost always a difficult subject for public servants, as we’re seeking to innovate despite decreasing funds. In the public sector, best practices to achieve the best outcomes for the public.
Managing your resources helps you find out what you’ll need when
Project finance will help you determine the resources available to your project. For project management, the resources you’ll need are generally people, materials, equipment, and facilities (such as project sites). By combining your knowledge of schedules and finances, you will be able to ensure that the right resources are available at the right time.
Managing your risks before they become project management issues
Project managers should be analysing and managing risks throughout their projects. Ideally, you should work with your team and your partners to understand where the project might be vulnerable to change. By analysing risks in such a way, you can focus on the parts of your work where the project is most likely to not go as expected, and take measures to prepare. But focusing too much on risks can prevent you from being innovative. It’s important to remember that changes to projects can result from negative threats or positive opportunities. Project managers need to manage opportunities as well as risks.
Now about those people skills…
Ultimately, project management is a structured approach to delivering projects.
Notice that each of the aspects of project management we’ve discussed require people skills. Managing scope and quality requires careful communication, emotional intelligence, and, above all, listening. Risk management requires resilience and adaptability when you’re operating in uncertain environments. Using your interpersonal skills when working with a team will help you manage schedules, finances, and resources better.
Some project managers deliver projects full time, building on knowledge they’ve gained through professional qualifications or years of experience. But I believe there is a much larger group of public servants who may not have the job title, but who use interpersonal skills to manage projects day-to-day in their work serving the public.