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The Four Cornerstones of Project Management
By Elrich Linde

What will happen when someone asks you to be the “Project Manager” or to step in to do some do “Project Management” on a project?

If you have been around projects a while you might be thinking Gantt Charts, Microsoft Project, PRINCE2, PMBOK or some other tools or methodology. If not, you probably burst into cold sweat and Google “Project Management” to find out what is expected of you!

In my opinion Project Management has four basic cornerstones. These cornerstones are what project management is about. The rest are tools and like a hammer or chainsaw tools can end up doing you more harm than good if you don’t know what you should be using them for. I have seen many people, including myself, wasting valuable time being preoccupied with a tool, rather than focusing on what was actually required of them. When you realize that you have done just that, come back to the cornerstones of project management as a sanity check to ensure you are doing what you should be doing.

One: Planning

You will probably end up doing more planning than you ever thought you needed to. However, remember that a good project plan can be summarized into a couple of bullet points, steps or Milestones.

Ask yourself “Where are you now, where do you want to be? How do you get there?” Put down bullets that will illustrate on a high level how you will get to where you want to be and you have a high-level plan. Sometimes we forget that a couple of bullet points jotted down in order to achieve a goal are a plan. We also forget that we would have to give feedback about the project to people that don’t have the time to focus on more than a couple of bullet points. It is further very unlikely that your project plan will stay exactly the same throughout the project, though at a high-level bullet point level your plan should stay fixed. Therefore, even if the milestones are made up of a thousand tasks, try to roll it into milestones that can fit in bullet point format into one slide.

Two: Accountability

The reason “Manager” or “Management” is attached to project management is because of accountability. A project manager has to ensure that the people involved are aware of what they should be doing, when they should be doing it and when they should be done with it. Therefore, start allocating your team members to tasks that fall in their specialty with timelines of when they should start and be completed by. If they know what they are doing they will be able to tell you if it is doable or not. It will help you a lot if you realize that you don’t know everything about the project and often know only very little. Don’t be shy to ask for specialists to give input for your plan. But, remember once they commit to it, they are accountable to achieve it. You need to hold them to that commitment.

Three: Delivery

The end result of the project is not the only deliverable of the project. Every action, task, step or milestone achieved throughout the project is a deliverable. Your client or boss is paying for each of those tasks and it’s your responsibility to keep them informed of your progress. Try and do it in such a way that you get the message across without boring them with too much detail. This is normally achieved with status reports, whichever form that might take. A “black box” project is every client’s worst nightmare. Nobody likes pouring money into something hoping all the while that at the end you will get what you paid for. Human nature is to try and hide when the project falls behind. Don’t. Be open and transparent throughout the project and you will spend less time trying to justify what you are doing or why you should get paid. At the end, by ticking off every task you’ve delivered, you end up delivering the project.

Four: Risk

So you have your plan on how you are going to deliver your project, now ask yourself “What might stop all of this from happening? How likely is it that it might happen?” The answers are your risks. It is important that you don’t go into a project blind to the risks the project might face. Identify risks that have a high likelihood to occur or that will have a big impact on the project should they happen. Make sure that you have some form of mitigation for these risks. In other words, have a Plan B or emergency plan, should a risk like this actually materialize. Keep your eyes and ears open throughout the project and make sure that you highlight any risk that might pop-up to disrupt your project throughout the project life.

Naturally there are much more to a project, but by keeping these cornerstones in mind you really can’t go that wrong. Next time we will look at the components of a simple Status Report.

Elrich Linde is a PRINCE2 Certified Project Manager with nine years worth of consulting experience. Elrich has been working with 8th Man Consulting since 2007, managing and leading Hyperion|Oracle BPM implementations. Elrich has a passion for simplifying life. He believes that humans have a tendency to unnecessarily complicate things, often to their own detriment. Elrich uses this passion to streamline complex processes and systems. Elrich runs professional blog, Simplying Systems and Projects.

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