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5 Essential Building Blocks for Project Managers
By Michelle Symonds

It would be good to think that there is a formula for projects that would guarantee their success. Sadly this is never the case, partly because a project consists of such a broad spectrum of activities so if projects are often very dissimilar, then project management is generally tough to get right. Yes, of course there are methodologies to follow and best practices but when you are embarking on something entirely new for your organization, these will only help you so much. In addition to the well-recognized methods of managing projects for success there are some basic building blocks that are always an important foundation and that will help you when your project does not quite fit a standard mold.

If you focus your efforts on getting these building blocks right then you will have a greater chance of delivering a successful project that will contribute real business benefits to your organization.

But just what are these essential components? Broadly speaking they can be divided into 10 areas.

  1. Strategy

    The overall business objectives and goals need to be clearly defined, documented and communicated to all interested parties, both external to your organization and internally. This will ensure that everyone is aware of what the project is aiming to achieve and if the benefits are clear it will be simpler to secure the budget, the right people and the commitment of those people.

  2. Processes

    Best Practices and Lessons Learned from previous projects should all be captured into well-documented processes with standard templates for documenting, planning and reporting every aspect of the project. Where a Project Office team exists, it would normally be their responsibility to ensure that project management follows a common approach across all parts of an organization, whilst, as the same time, recognizing the need for flexibility within the standards when required.

  3. People

    The commitment and motivation of the people involved at all levels with the project is a key factor in delivering successfully. There also needs to be a good balance of skill levels (just as you would not expect a team to consist entirely of junior staff, neither should it be composed entirely of highly-experienced staff) and all of these people need to be managed effectively.

  4. Decisions

    It is important that the decision-making process for all the critical elements within a project combine logical thinking with creative thinking in order to make the best possible decision. For this reason no critical decision should be taken by a single individual without consultation.

  5. Risks

    Actively manage potential risks by predicting them before they occur, where possible, assigning responsibility for certain risks to experienced individuals or teams and taking immediate action to mitigate a risk when it does occur. Although, obviously, not all risks can be anticipated by being prepared for the risks you can anticipate will make it easier to deal with the unexpected.

Using these building blocks does not obviate the need for those working in project management to have the appropriate experience and training such as a PRINCE2 qualification, a PMP Certification or one of the professional APMP accreditations. But they will provide a focus and a reminder that if the foundations of a project are strong then the chances of success are higher.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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