Project Management Navigation Expert, Kelly Schactler discusses key components to successful project management

You can imagine, there are many misconceptions around project management. What I often see are smaller businesses and organizations feeling repelled by the thought of getting project management practices in place because there’s a perception that project management is some kind of technical monster that they have to subdue before they can use it. This goes hand in hand with a fear around the confusing jargon and complexity often wrapped around project management. It makes it seem daunting and unattainable.

For example, there is a term in the industry called RACI which is an acronym derived from the four key responsibilities most typically used in creating project roles and responsibilities. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed and going through the RACI process is part of project planning. Those new to project management can feel overwhelmed by the thought of implementing these practices. They hear other terms like WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) or Agile, which is a project management framework, backlog, iterations, scrum. Maybe they’ve cracked open the 900-page PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). I could go on. Who wouldn’t shut down? That stuff can be intimidating.

There’s also a belief that it’s expensive to train staff sufficiently and that’s not always true. The trick is getting the right training based on an assessment of the organization’s needs and capabilities, and then helping the staff to understand the value of adding project management practices into the mix. It’s important to have employee buy-in. Like all of us, when something new is being introduced, we want to know what’s in it for us so we can be on board with it and adapt to the changes that come with that new thing. Sharing the value of the project management skill set with the individual employee is often missed which then affects how the new tools and processes are adopted; it’s all part of change management. When the value and impact of learning the project management skillset is communicated and understood by both employees and leadership, that’s when there’s a huge return on the investment. 

Sometimes staff will hear that their leaders are bringing in a project management education consultant to discuss ways to implement a more formal project management practice in the organization which can produce anxiety and resistance right off the bat. Employees may think, “Oh my goodness! This project management stuff is going to put me out of a job. I’m not cut for this.” or “Oh no! This sounds like there’s going to be a boat-load of extra work for me.” 

The truth is, employees who operate in this fixed mindset of not wanting change, avoiding learning something new or not wanting to do the work in the first place, will be threatened anyway because it could expose them. My perspective on this is that if they’re not willing to participate, even after leadership has invited them to the table and it’s been clearly shared what’s in it for them, hard decisions may need to be made. Usually, we don’t get to that point, because I do everything I can to assist in coaching leadership to approach the changes by providing all the training, comfort and reassurance that might be needed.  Once the employee realizes they’re getting free project management training and that the project management skillset is highly valuable in the workplace today, they usually start feeling more comfortable with the idea. 

When organizations find themselves in this situation, we come up with a little proactive change management planning during the engagement to encourage staff to participate in the process. This means including them in discussions around the project management assessment, ensuring they know the what and why behind all of it. Also important is providing an understanding of the negative impacts of not having a simple formal project plan or schedule to help guide the project execution. Many times we aren’t aware of the negative impacts that occur when we try to keep all of the project plans, schedules, and tasks in our head. Most of us know, it’s impossible to keep track of all the project pieces in our heads and still keep our projects moving forward successfully without a documented plan. And yet I see those “managing” projects doing this all the time.  

Another key factor in the discussion with staff on the “why project management?” question is the huge downstream impact that occurs when a project lead or project manager leaves the organization.  If nothing or very little is documented, that person is essentially taking all the information with them when they move on from the organization. The incoming person has nothing to refer to, no context for the project, nothing to pick up and run with. This is not only a barrier for the organization, but also for the colleagues and teammates who are left holding the “project bag”, trying to figure out what to do without any documented direction. This is why it’s so important to bring this up in the conversation and spell things out to help bring folks along in the adoption process.

There is also this misconception that in order to have a successful project management structure, the organization or individual needs to get expensive project management-intensive training or certifications for their staff and employees. Nothing could be further from the truth. A project management professional credential called the PMP can be nice to have but I have also seen countless people with their PMPs not be able to run a project effectively. It’s all about learning basic project management tools and concepts, getting the experience with the tools and moving through what I like to call “learning opportunities through adverse project work”; when you go through failures and missteps in your projects, you’re getting invaluable experience that serves to mature your project management skillset. All projects have some degree of failure along the way. It’s how it’s handled that leads to success or not.

The last misconception I want to mention is that many organizations and employees think they don’t have the time for formal project management.  And meanwhile, those running the projects are missing deadlines with funders and customers; they’re unable to prioritize their time and their project deliverables. This tanks the project lead’s organizational street cred and sabotages the organization’s future funding sources, including the health of customer relationships. 

Jeremy Baker

Jeremy Baker has a passion for helping his clients get recognition as the expert in their field. His approach to interviewing helps his clients tell their stories and talk about their unique set of experiences and background.