Have you always wanted to get into project management, but weren’t sure where to start? Or maybe you’re finding yourself responsible for projects and project teams— even though that’s not on your business card. One Month Project Management will help you save time and money and successfully take your projects from ideation to reality.
You’ll get a great overview of the practicalities of Project Management and putting what you’ve learned to work right away, regardless of what field you’re in. This course is designed to give you hands-on, immediately applicable knowledge including email optimizations, schedule planning, work breakdown structures, and more.
Taught by Alex Bisker, Project Manager at 18F.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Project Management. Is this course right for you? If you ever need to manage a project, probably.
If you are interested in PMI (Project Management Institute) Certifications, that falls outside the purview of this course. But you can go here for more information about it.
What's the difference between launching a manned mission to Mars and running NASA?
One's a project, and the other's a profession.
Projects are finite, achievable goals that you, as a project manager, will facilitate. Whatever techniques and methodologies you work use, be they emails, meetings, or emojis, you'll apply them to a concrete end.
And don't worry. How you do it is what we're about to focus on. ;)
Project management fits neatly into 5 Phases.
Initiation - Pre-planning phase conceptual phase: Should we do this? Can we do this? Is it possible?
Planning - Putting together the logistics of actually carrying out a feasible project.
Execution - The "doing" part of doing a project.
Control - Also known as monitoring, in this part you as a PM make sure everything goes according to your cunning plan.
Closure - Exactly what it sounds like and exactly as necessary as you think.
The Initiation Phase - Brought to you by Sponsorship.
Sponsors and Stakeholder(s) are related entities, but slightly different. Sponsors ask for projects to be initiated and stakeholders benefit from a project's completion.
The Sponsor Interview is crucial to build context for the project, to understand its intention, and to decide how the project can be accomplished as efficiently as possible. Ask all the questions!
The unique position of the project manager allows you to see potential conflicts and support different teams of people on your project. That vision is not a responsibility that comes with red spandex, necessarily, but it is one that allows you to facilitate solutions.
Planning is the largest part of project management.
The first step of planning is to understand the requirements of your project and its specifications. A great tool is the WBS - Work Breakdown Structure. Take a complex idea and break it down into all the deliverables that make up the whole of the project. If it works for the Navy, it can work for you.
Keep it simple. If you can break down a car into systems, you can breakdown pretty much anything else.
The constraints you have to work within are as simple as three sides of a triangle:
Time, Cost, and Scope are what determine how you design any project. You can also factor in some of issues in accomplishing your project:
Risk, Resources, and Quality concern what the project you're going to produce is actually going to look like and who's going to contribute to it.
These are your map-posts your guide-rails, and your bear X-ing signs: everything you have to keep in mind in order to actually accomplish the project you're setting out to do.
Tip: It's important to communicate changes not just to your team, but to sponsors and stakeholders.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline wikipedia article - It cost $8B to complete between 1974-77, which is $32B in today's money!
There are two steps to master the time constraints on your project: developing estimates and using those estimates to develop a schedule.
Ask for percentage of certainty on time estimates. That will give you more confidence working with estimates and may help you uncover issues
PERT - Program Evaluation And Review Technique; a formula to average all your estimates to come up with the most realistic idea of how long something will take.
A schedule allows everyone to see how they fit into the project, what tasks are interdependent on each other, and how every team fits into a cohesive whole.
Tip: Eat your frogs first - do the hard part and find answers for the fuzzy question marks and uncertainties.
The next big factor in organizing a project is cost - which means the salaries of the people working on your project and the resources available to them to do their work.
Is time or budget more important to your sponsor and stakeholders? Something can (and probably should) give based on the specific needs of your project.
Gantt Charts illustrate activities and time so that you can have a global view of all the tasks that make up a project and when those tasks ought to occur.
But the most useful aspect of a Gantt Chart is that it shows dependencies, or tasks that require other tasks to be completed before they begin.
With a Gantt Chart, it's very easy to determine what needs to happen when, and how to move everything around when you need to.
Time and cost affect our third constraint - Scope. It's the difference between a Fiat and a Corvette. Understanding the scope helps you understand the priorities of your project and helps you plan its execution accordingly.
The scope of your project is, in many ways, the project itself. So it's important to control it before it controls you. You should confirm the baseline of the scope and question the assumptions of your team and sponsor. It's how you'll be able to find creative solutions.
A sponsor with a very Southern accent has a project she'd like you to manage.
What Alice Needs: A cake for 75 people a week from today for her wedding. She needs it delivered. She needs it for, she thinks, about $150. She also needs a gluten-free option for three members of her family. She prefers Almond cake, but her husband likes chocolate. Alice can do a taste-test on Sunday, but her hubby is ONLY available on Monday. Cupcakes are an acceptable alternative.
In this next phase of the challenge, the sponsor gives you all the context and requirements for her project. Listen closely.
In this example, time is a fixed variable and your plan has to accommodate it. But based on the rush factor involved in the project, you can push back on Alice's unrealistic cost estimate. This is how the project manager helps shape the project based on how its constraints interact with each other.
Sample Gantt Chart:
###a href="https://teamgantt.com/" target="_blank" data-mce-href="https://teamgantt.com/">You can check out the Team Gantt software here.
In the execution phase, we translate goals and deliverables into tasks to achieve them. Or, in our example project management challenge, to achieve tasty, tasty cake.
What's important to bear in mind about task managers is that there is no one perfect, magical platform. We'll go through several and you should choose the one that resonates the most with your team and best supports all the pre-work you've done.
Trello is a free, open platform that caters both to professional and non-professional projects.
Boards: These feature projects.
Lists: These house all your deliverables for a given project.
Cards: These detail the tasks needed to complete a given deliverable.
Check out Trello's inspiring boards here.
Basecamp's structure is slightly different and more professional-oriented than Trello. You can add clients, view tasks in calendar format, and top-level context like visions and goals for given projects.
Projects: Allows for discussion and easy updates.
To-Do Lists: Where most of the tasks live. Task-Specific Comments: Basecamp allows you to communicate specific information about given tasks among team members.
Calendar: have drag-and-drop functionality. It's a different way of looking at your project
Welcome to the third task manager on our tour: Asana. It has similar functionality to Trello and Basecamp, but a lot of customization, and circle icons, all its own.
Screen sharing is perfect for working remote teams and doing the most important thing during the execution phase - communication with all the teams on your project.
You can find appear.in here.
Team Gantt allows you to allocate resources and tasks, and schedule based on dependencies. It also includes milestones, which can help you track the progression and keep the project anchored as it rolls on. It's a great way of looking at and adjusting especially large projects.
Find it here.
Other, unexpected, and obvious tools are often the top tools you have. Phones, water cooler conversations and Excel are all incredibly valuable.
Remember, project communication is like a toilet: above all else, you want it to keep flowing.
In our continuing project management challenge, this next step is to take everything you've planned and input it into a task management system.
An example of how Alice's Cake project could look on Trello:
Notice the addition of reference photos and color-coding so that each member of the team knows their specific tasks, and how each task fits into the whole project.
The monitoring or control phase is all about relationships. Your goal is to make sure the reality of any team's execution matches the plan you've set up - and if it stops matching, to take action to steer things back on course.
This is a function of leadership. You need to make sure you're following through on your promises, being a person your team trusts, and a securing them the best possible conditions to do their work. Be honest. Be transparent.
You can find Making Things Happen here.
There are tons of fancy (and analog) tools to help facilitate communication. But it can be a challenge. What's more important than the platform you're communicating on is that you're heard, understood, and that any call to action is clear.
Tip: It can be useful to have a couple metaphors, analogies, or stories in your pocket to help explain technical concepts and dispel confusion.
The pitfalls of effective communication are assumption and ambiguity.
With assumptions, small misunderstandings can lead to bigger ones down the line. And with any ambiguity, not understanding the specifics of what's going on can lead you or someone else very far afield, wasting time and resources you need to stay on schedule.
The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to practice and encourage Active Listening. Make sure you're focused on the speaker, subtly restate or reinforce their points, and phrase problems and action steps in ways that keep the conversation going. Ask, don't tell.
A method to help ensure your emails are clear, readable, and ready to be responded to is ONA - Optimize, Name, Action.
Optimize - This means concise, clear communication. The context for whatever information you're conveying should only be necessary for the task that needs to be undertaken.
Names are important! Not only so that people can immediately understand what you're talking about, but also that the information is easy to find later.
A good naming protocol is: Date_Client_Issue or Date_Client_Project.
But the most important pieces of information is the action your team needs to take and the timeline for that action step.
Tip: Fewer emails elicit better responses. FYI info can be communicated in other ways.
You've probably heard about a meeting agenda before, but what that really means is that you need a plan - a list of items not just to cover but conquer.
Make sure you're using yours (and everyone else's) time most effectively. Imagine condensing the time of your meeting by half. This helps you see what you could get done outside of a meeting, and what's absolutely essential to discuss in a meeting setting.
Once you're in a meeting, you need to make sure it's the environment that's most effective for you to convey your information. So step up and lead it! Cultivate respect and facilitate active listening.
If people are usually on their phones or laptops, don't allow laptops or phones. You set the terms.
The most important thing to keep in mind about making meetings productive is that they should end with action. Go over steps in the room and make sure your team are all on the same page.
Stay calm. It's more important to appear calm and solution-oriented than anything else.
The big step is to assess and define the problem. How is it going to affect your constraints? How can you work within your framework to solve the issues? What are you options? Is it time for the blame game? No. No it isn’t.
Keep your team in the loop. Communication doesn't stop because something went wrong. Put all possible solutions out on the table, and hone in on the best ones which will keep the project on its feet. Always move forward until the problem is solved.
Scope Creep: when a project slowly gets bigger or more ambiguous. Prevent it with pre-plan and call it out to your team and your sponsors when you see it.
Schedules: are the most likely thing to break down, so have some flexibility built into them when planning. You need to assess changes and honestly put it out there if you need help.
Lack Of Resources/Change In Resources: this is especially a risk for long term projects. It'll be your job to come up with contingencies when this happens.
Disagreements: whether they're between sponsors, stakeholders, or members of your team, it's your job to help smooth these out and find the compromises that will keep everyone on track. Always project the integrity of the project.
Stupid Or Impossible Demands: these happen. And while you can't fix stupid, you at least have to do your best to find a sensical solution.
The best way to deal with change is to plan for it. When it's unexpected, assess what the change is and how it will go into effect, taking constraints into consideration.
CRs - Change Requests. Can be more or less formal. But it's important before the project begins your team understands how the change process will work. Before a change is implemented, always double-check its feasibility with your team.
Keep the project’s lifespan in mind. Change is always harder the closer you are to completion.
Make sure you review the final deliverables, as these may have changed from your original conception. A close-out WBS is helpful. Look for gaps or entities that have been overlooked, especially in a more long-term process. Also make sure you keep a list of later features which might need to be added.
Do post-mortem reviews of the project: with your team, with your sponsors, and with yourself. This is a huge learning opportunity. Find what how whatever went wrong happened, but also find successes as well. This process is valuable to your team - to know that they have the opportunity to affect the process for the next project.
The first email is far too long and nonspecific. The process breakdown of how these conclusions were arrived at isn't appropriate, and there's no clear action step.
The second example is a great email. Clear, concise, with obvious action steps. But because of the time-sensitive nature of the information, it probably shouldn't have been conveyed via email.
As you decide on what sort of project you want to manage this week, keep a few things in mind.
Try to define the beginning, middle, and end of your project. Going to Mars is a finite goal, but running NASA is an ongoing job.
Try to have separate sponsors and stakeholders for you project. You want to practice working with other people if you can.
Remember the tools you have at your disposal - the iron triangle, Gantt charts, and task management systems - are there to make your project clearer to understand and more manageable to achieve. They're not substitutes for actually stepping in and leading your team.
First, check out our Sample Sponsor Interview.
Your sponsor interview is the time to ask anything and everything, and to really help the sponsor articulate what they actually want the project to achieve. That will, in turn, help you craft the most successful project you can.
Remember the difference between goals and solutions. Thinking about or tackling a project from a different perspective may help you stay within your constraints and achieve the success your sponsor really wants.
If you're working as both the sponsor and the project manager, try to compartmentalize those positions and really think like a project manager when you need to start planning out your project. Maybe buy some hats, so that you can take them on and off. We hear fezzes are cool.
You can also always run potential sponsor questions and project goals by the community. Check out the forums.
Remember the WBS - the Work Breakdown Structure? This guy:
Make sure you're keeping it deliverable-based. Don't focus on the tasks you need to perform to reach your goal. Focus on the specific things that need to be achieved in order for your project to succeed. A car needs an engine, an interior, controls, and a chassis.
As you analyze your iron triangle, keep all your limitations in mind.
Make sure you're asking thorough questions about the constraints of your project. What is fixed and can't be changed? What are the limitations of your budget and your resources? What’s within and what’s beyond the project's scope? How does the time/cost you have to work with affect the project's scope?
Once you understand exactly what has to happen in order to complete your project and exactly how you can go about achieving those deliverables, you'll be able to actually get to work!
Check out our video on Risk Management.
Understanding all your possible risks is an essential part of pre-planning. It's useful to write them all out in a risk tree and categorize their likelihood. Some risks - like challenging a mysterious man in black with an iocane powder immunity to a duel of wits - are unlikely to materialize. Not having enough coat racks or food, though? Those are problems you definitely want to be aware of from the start.
For a refresher on Gantt Charts, check out our Week 1 video here.
###a href="https://teamgantt.com/" target="_blank" data-mce-href="https://teamgantt.com/">Team Gantt is a great online resource for Gantt Chart creation, as well.
Now that you've done all your scheduling and pre-planning, take your project to task. Use a free task manager system to set up all your deliverables and deadlines so your team can get to work!
Everything you've done this week has, hopefully, clarified your project and given you the tools you need to accomplish it. But being a project manager is much more about addressing the challenges that arise, solving problems, and leading your team through a project's completion. You're the most essential tool you've got.
For more tips and tricks, you can check out our video on real world project management here.
If you're feeling especially on top of your project, also check out Alex's Community Challenge and help contribute to the fantastic resources available to test your project management skills.
One Month is an online teaching company started by two Columbia University professors. The platform provides tutorials for entrepreneurs and programmers, including One Month Rails, Project & Product Management, Ruby, Python, HTML, React, Programming for Non-Programmers, and more. The company's name comes from courses that are designed to teach a programming language in 30 days. The company has had over 50,000 users, including employees of Google, Bloomberg L.P., Singularity University and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.