Robert Kelly, From contributing writer, Robert Kelly, PMP: It's not uncommon to end up as a project manager through practical experience.  Chances are you're doing the things that have always worked for you, made your teams successful, and earned you promotions - without ever reading a book on project management or completing a certification course.  

What you may not know is that there is some basic project management knowledge and terminology that is very useful when working with other certified Project Management Professionals. Having some basic project management knowledge is worth it. It might even help you become better organized and lead you to yet another promotion.

Basic Blocking and Tackling

Let's cover some basic blocking and tackling of project management. If you read my last post, Winning Takes Care of Everything, you know I am not a fan of process for process sake. I do, however, believe in the necessity for project frameworks and understand there are a few key elements (tools, processes, techniques) that project managers must leverage to repeatedly deliver successful projects.

Specifically, I want to cover the Work Breakdown Structure, the Project Schedule, and the Project Plan. Many project managers use these incorrectly and interchangeably when they should not.

Work Breakdown Structure

Every project has a few core requirements. They are usually expressed as high-level deliverables. The work breakdown structure is a process—an actual form or document—in which the project managers, subject matter experts, and the team break large deliverables into smaller chunks or tasks. This can be somewhat compared to a sprint in the Agile world. Breaking large deliverables into smaller, more addressable parts allows project managers to better organize efforts, align resources more effectively and track progress with greater precision. A lot of project managers skip this because they believe it is tedious and don’t want to feel they are micromanaging. You must fight that impulse and realize it is tremendously effective for developing an accurate project schedule.

Project Schedule

As an output of the work breakdown structure, your team must be able to identify the resources required, dependencies in-place and time needed to complete each task. With this information, the project manager can develop a project schedule the team can review and support.

Your project schedule is basically the list of tasks with a start and end dates, assigned to team members, and any respective dependencies.

A key point to remember is that the project schedule is a living document; it must be reviewed and updated throughout the project. A dependency may get removed, allowing other tasks to start sooner or some team members may become ill, pushing their task finish dates further out. Even with the best planning and collaboration, things happen. Make sure your project schedule reflects the actual and current reality of the project.

Project Plan

The project plan can be likened to an operations manual which describes the execution, management and control of each project aspect. Often confused with the project schedule, the PMBOK Guides and Standards definition of a project plan is,

...a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines.

Here are a few elements a project plan should include:

  • Requirements Management
  • Schedule Management
  • Financial Management
  • Communications Management
  • Change Management
  • Quality Management
  • Procurement Management

Have managers or teams document procedures for their respective areas. Examples might include requesting changes, how funds are approved or released, and how project updates get communicated. Ultimately, should you need to leave, a new project manager ought to be able to read the project plan and pick up where you left.

Learn Project Management Basics

In many offices no one will notice or care if you call the project schedule a project plan. But, as your organization grows or depending on whom you work with, such as formally trained project managers, such gaffes may create confusion. If you work with certified project managers or PMBOK followers, it might even cost you some professional credibility. Learn these basic items and get them down. Leverage them on every project. Think of it as grammar for project management. It may not always seem important, but when you get called on an error it may feel rather awkward.

Author Robert Kelly, PMP is a contributing writer to the Smartsheet blog. He is the managing partner of Kelly Project Solutions and  co-founder of #PMChat, a community of project and program managers.

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Comments

Very interesting piece, Rich; it was written in 2013 but the points are still relevant –thank you for discussing the sanity check. We live in a world and work in an industry enamored with tools and processes, while the most important dynamics of project management are overlooked – like communication skills. It’s interesting to see how we consistently overlook the crucial importance of a manger’s communication skills.

I am a big fan of SmartSheet for PM, it allows the basic Deliverable -> Task -> Action -> Progress to be timelined and constrained where necessary. I cannot wait for them to complete the resource management to cover individual diaries, at the moment it is a pain.

Hi Jim, Glad to hear you're finding value in Smartsheet today! Thanks for your feedback on Resource Management - I've shared it with our product team as they consider future updates to our RM functionality. Thanks much! Kelly

Jodi, I think that you are correct in your statement about those who have made their mark by having practical experience. However, being a person who has been involved in the educational theoretical journey as well as the practical one, I have come to recognize that they both have advantages and disadvantages. While it is easy for each side to advocate for what they are most familiar with I have been standing on the line between both for most of my 30+year career moderating to make sure that one does not over power the other and the client gets the best of both worlds in the economic crisis we might be experiencing at the time. What we all need to understand is that nothing is written in stone. Schedules, as budgets and many other milestones we anticipate in managing projects are only guidelines. Guidelines that can be met or not. This is when communication becomes essential, we need to remember the basic law of physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Nothing is absolute, because no one is willing to pay for it. However, the practical and the educational theorist most reach the realization that they are both necessary in the process and that they are each as important. We most learn to learn from each other, which means that we all most listen and respect each other's strengths and unify with one purpose in mind, getting the job done, on time, and well. tony

Thanks for posting such an wonderful and insightful blog. I really, acknowledge your reflections and its true that project management basics should not be overlooked. If you're involved in a project then the best ever plan is divide and work. This will make your project complete efficiently and fast in an well organized manner. Thanks for the above tips on what a project plan should include. The article is surely beneficial for me. Great blog!!!

This is a very well written article , Following the professional Project Management guidelines may seem unnecessary sometimes but in the long run this will not only make things easier for a Project Manager but also improve the overall experience of the whole project.

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