Project Management Concepts – Why Do We Do Projects?

I’ve been giving some thought recently as to what lies behind the work we do as project managers. Too often we get caught up in the tools and techniques, the how of what we do, without looking at the concepts and ideas behind it, the why of what we do.

Let’s go back to the very basics. Why do we do projects? What are they for?

I think this one is simple, but far too often forgotten: The primary aim of every project is to benefit the business.

To begin with, let’s look at the traditional view of business as usual. A company has a particular process it goes through to create its product, to produce as many of it as the company can.

One of the things we can say about this situation is that it is steady-state – the company can continue going through the same process to build ever more of its product. But, of course, the environment that the business operates in is going to change. And that means the company needs to adapt.

This is where projects come in. A project is about change. An individual project in this case could be about improving manufacturing methods, developing a new product to make, finding new markets, and so on. While the details of the project may change, all of them are change, about bringing change into the business.

But why would we want to do this? Why bring change into the business? Well, as I have already suggested, a business cannot stay the same while the environment it is in changes. New competitors may arise, economic conditions may alter, suppliers may go out of business.

A company that doesn’t react to these changing conditions, that doesn’t bring change into itself, will fall behind. It will suffer because other companies are reacting to the changing environment. These companies will take their market share, and eventually drive the first company out of business.

This means that we need to find a way to help the business. We need to deliver a project that benefits the business.

Now, of course, that benefit can make different forms. In general, the output of the project will directly either make, or save, the company some money. For example, the project may develop a new product to be sold, or improve manufacturing processes to reduce costs.

But this is only a generalisation – it may be the project itself only touches on the financial side indirectly. For example, a project may improve brand awareness in the marketplace. While this improved awareness will lead to increased sales, the project itself doesn’t deliver them.

So that’s why we do projects – we bring change into the business, and by doing that, or at least doing it successfully, we benefit the business. And that is one of my project management concepts: The primary aim of every project is to benefit the business.

Change Management Concepts – The Leader As Teacher

This is the first in a series of Change Management Concepts articles.

Change Management is about introducing some combination of new people, new processes and new technology to a business or organization. The organization has a lot to learn, and someone needs to be the teacher.

Often executives will hire consultants to drive their change management initiatives, and the teaching job falls to the consultants almost by default. Save some money. Hire consultants if you need them, but focus their teaching efforts on your leadership team. Then let the leaders (yourself included) teach everyone else.

Leaders Are The Best Teachers
When a management consulting firm conducted a study a few years ago, they formed two groups of people to be trained in new systems and processes. One group was trained by professional trainers. For the second group, the professionals trained the boss and the boss trained the people. Immediately after training, both groups were tested to determine how well they had learned. 

Which group tested higher? Well, um, uh, well, it was the professionally trained group.

Wait a minute, there’s more. The same testing was conducted six months later. Guess what? The retention of the material was much higher for the group trained by their own boss.

If you think about it, neither result should surprise you. Unless a boss is a very gifted teacher, he or she won’t be as effective as a professional trainer. The professional trainer, however, won’t be hanging around when the formal training ends. The boss can reinforce the training materials, and can ensure they are applied on the job.

Teaching, and specifically leader led teaching, is an important and often overlooked change management concept.

You Can Do It
First of all, if you are in a leadership position, you are already a teacher. Every day you’re guiding people in the expectation that they will think for themselves and apply your guidance in their jobs. (If you’re telling them what to do, you’re not a leader — more like a supervisor).
Granted, there’s a difference between day to day guidance and formal teaching. Even if you’re not a great speaker or don’t enjoy the formal classroom setting, just think about some of your qualifications:

You know the subject matter
You know the students
You have a vested interest in their success
You have a passion for what you’re going to teach (hopefully!)
These are advantages that are going to outweigh any limitations you have as a result of not being a trained instructor. 

Some Tips to Help You Succeed as a Teacher
Commit the Time – When you’re teaching your staff, you have the luxury of spreading the training out, perhaps 2 hours per day for a week instead of a dedicated day and a half. Go for it, but whatever time on whatever days you schedule for training, stick to it. Don’t cancel, and don’t allow interruptions to the training schedule.

Teach, Don’t Preach – Your goal is to share information and enable people to apply it. Help people understand what’s in it for them as you address what’s changing.

Ask Questions – It’s a great way to test understanding, for you and your students.

Invite Dialogue – That’s what asking questions will do. Your job gets easier when the students are discussing what’s being taught. You just have to step in when they get stuck.

Repetition – Change management concepts need to be repeated in order to be absorbed. In other words, change management concepts need to be repeated in order to be absorbed. Enough said.

Practice Ego Sacrifice – You are not a professional instructor, and you may find you’re struggling with teaching certain things like technical concepts. Remember that it’s the long term results that make you the right choice for this particular job, and be willing to let your students know that you need their help at times.

Project Management Concepts – The Project Manager Manages

Today I want to look at how the project work gets done. We already know we need to protect the team, and make sure they can get on with the tasks assigned to them. But this also means we need to get on with the tasks assigned to us, the job of project management. The concept I am looking at today is: The project manager doesn’t do the work, he does the managing.

Project management is hard work. On all but very small projects, it is a full-time job. And that means you really shouldn’t be being pulled off to do other work in the project.

I’m not saying that we don’t have the skills to do some of the work. Many of us will have worked our way up through doing project work – we are used to it, and we understand it.

But if we are doing the work, then we aren’t managing the project! We need to remember where our skills lie. Often we will get dragged into doing the some of the tasks, but this is a failure of project management (usually on the organization’s behalf), not an essential part of it.

Make sure you are using appropriate resources to get the work done. The project manager is rarely an appropriate resource! And that gives us a project management concept: The project manager doesn’t do the work, he does the managing.

(Having said that, I have ended up doing project work for the majority of projects I have worked on. This isn’t a good thing, but it is the real world. You should aim to avoid this if at all possible.)