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How to Become a Project Manager

What Does a Project Manager Do?

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Project Managers are responsible for planning, organizing, executing, monitoring, and directing complete projects for an organization while ensuring these projects are delivered on schedule, on budget, within scope, and with the promised level of quality.

What Are Project Manager Responsibilities?

A Project Manager’s responsibilities span almost every part of the initiating, planning, executing, and closing phases of a project.

Let’s break a Project Manager’s responsibilities down further:

Planning

A Project Manager is responsible for creating a plan to meet the objectives of the project while adhering to an approved budget and schedule. This roadmap will guide the entire project from initiation to completion and will include the scope of the project, resources needed, anticipated schedule and budgetary requirements, communication strategy for relevant stakeholders, plan for execution, and proposal for follow-up and maintenance.

If the project has not yet gained approval, this plan will serve as a critical part of the pitch to key decision makers.

Leadership

A crucial and time-consuming part of a Project Manager’s role is to assemble, monitor and lead the project team. This requires excellent communication skills. You also have to be good at reading people and detecting others’ strengths and weaknesses.

Once the team has been created, the Project Manager assigns tasks, sets deadlines, provides resources, and communicates regularly with team members.

Execution

The Project Manager will supervise the successful execution of each stage of the project. Once again, communication is key.

Time Management

Great Project Managers stay on schedule. When issues arise, Project Managers are responsible for finding solutions and communicating effectively with team members and other stakeholders to steer the project back on track.

Project Managers should be experts at risk management and contingency planning so that these roadblocks are quickly circumvented.

Budget

It’s a Project Manager’s responsibility to create a budget figure and then ensure that the project sticks as closely as possible to the number predicted. If certain pieces of the project end up being more expensive than expected, Project Managers will be responsible for scaling back spending and re-allocating funds when necessary.

Documentation

A Project Manager must know how to measure and analyze the progress of the project to ensure it is proceeding as planned. Data collection and verbal and written status reports are some of the methods for doing this. It is also a Project Manager’s job to make sure that all relevant actions have approval and sign-off.

What Is a Day in the Life of a Project Manager?

Project Managers wear many hats and perform a wide variety of tasks, so it’s the type of job where two days rarely look the same.

To start the day, a lot of Project Managers use a trick called “eat that frog.” What that means is that whatever task or issue is looming the largest in your head, you should get it out of the way first thing. Whether that’s writing a tricky email to a stakeholder or sitting down with an employee to discuss why a recently completed task was not completed adequately, “eating that frog” will keep you from having to worry about those chores for the rest of the day and free you up for other tasks.

A day in the life of a Project Manager is also rarely without a meeting. With so many people potentially reporting to you, and so many potential stakeholders, it’s crucial that you keep in constant communication with your team in order to stay on top of your project and whether it’s on the right track or some course correction is in order.

Outside of those formal meetings, Project Managers spend another large part of their day managing people. Project Managers are responsible for hiring more people, providing feedback on recently submitted work, and probing whether team members are on track to complete their tasks on time. Doing this requires a degree of tact and persuasion that not a lot of people necessarily have.

And in the early stages of a project, Project Managers spend significant time planning. They craft program plans that include expected budget, schedule, resource needs, potential risks, and a plan for executing the project. If the project has already been approved, this project plan acts as a roadmap for all team members and stakeholders so they know exactly what to expect as they move through the following phases of completing the project. If it’s a project that has not been approved, consider the project plan your “pitch” for how it could be.

What Are Project Management Processes?

Project Management processes underpin the life cycle and help to lead you through that life cycle until the project is complete.

Five key project management processes include:

1. Risk Management

The risk management process helps you pinpoint any potential issues that could derail your project, and then subsequently define how you would respond to successfully mitigate that issue. This is usually done on larger projects, but even for small teams, working together to identify possible issues on the horizon and discussing how you would respond is definitely worthwhile.

2. Issue Management

As opposed to risk management where you’re trying to look to the future, issue management refers to the way you deal with problems when they inevitably pop up in your project. The process will cover which stakeholders need to be notified in case of a problem, how you decide how to handle that problem, and who has authority to take action to solve the problem.

3. Change Management

No project is ever executed exactly to plan. Inevitably, something will change – either because an objective wasn’t properly defined at the beginning, or because your business strategy has shifted and stakeholders therefore need the project to be adjusted too. The change process helps you make these adjustments with as little pain as possible.

4. Procurement Management

Many projects involve working with suppliers or outside vendors. Procurement management is the process around how you engage with them and how you approach contracts and financial arrangements. That way there are no surprises later.

5.Communications

Aside from simply being a huge part of a Project Manager’s job, communication is also a process. You have to ascertain who needs to get which message when and how your team and stakeholders will communicate. Drafting a communication plan will help you do this.

What Is the Difference Between Project Management and Product Management?

Project management is the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills, and experience to complete a specific project with the right cost, timeline and quality level, while product management is an organizational function within a company dealing with the creation, forecasting, production and marketing of a product through all stages of the product life cycle.

How Do You Create an Effective Project Plan?

To create an effective project plan, you must be thorough in your research, you must have a strong understanding of your stakeholders’ expectations, and you must be realistic in considering budgets and deadlines.

Here are the steps to creating an effective project plan:

Meet With Stakeholders and Define Deliverables

Defining a stakeholder as anyone who will be affected by the results of your project plan, you need to identify everyone who might have a vested interest in your project and always keep what they want top of mind. That includes your customers and end users. Make sure you identify all stakeholders and keep their interests in mind when creating your project plan.

Meet with stakeholders and at least establish baseline values for project budget, schedule and scope. A Scope Statement should be part of your program plan and ultimately signed off on by stakeholders to ensure everyone’s on the same page. And it’s not just their stated needs and expectations that you need to figure out, but what value they’re truly trying to derive from this project. That’s the real way to guarantee your project is a hit.

After you’ve got a good sense of what stakeholders want, you can begin to set specific project goals that will help everyone on your team understand why they’re working on this project. And you can define which deliverables your project is ultimately going to yield.

Create a Schedule

Now it’s time to think about, well, time. Go through each deliverable and identify every single task that must be completed to accomplish it. Identify how much time will be needed to complete each one, along with who will carry out that task and how many resources they’ll need.

An important part of this stage is considering dependencies – in other words, steps that must be completed before you can start on others. Deliverables, dependencies, and milestones should all be added to your Gantt chart.

It’s important not to do this step in isolation. Your team members will actually be completing many of these tasks so they’ll be able to give you a sense of how long they might take and which employee might be best-suited to carry each task out. Involving them in the process will help encourage buy-in and you’ll feel justified later when you insist that they stick to the schedule.

Conduct a Risk Assessment

This is the time to ask yourself a simple question: what could go wrong? Every project carries risk and looking the other way and hoping things work out isn’t what a good Project Manager does.

So start scanning the horizon for potential issues – backordered parts, or a holiday season, for instance.

And a risk assessment isn’t simply about pointing to possible problems, but also considering how you’ll solve them. A solid risk management strategy will let your stakeholders rest easy that they’re in good hands when issues do inevitably arise.

Bring the Plan to Stakeholders

Now it’s time to show your stakeholders or sponsors how you’re going to steer this project from ideation right through to completion. They will likely have valuable feedback that you can incorporate into your project plan to make it even stronger.

Your project plan should be accessible to all stakeholders so you don’t have to be personally bothered every time they need to review a specific detail of the plan. If you can post your plan to a collaboration tool, it will make tracking progress, updating your team, and making edits a breeze.

Communicate in such a way that stakeholders and team members know exactly what's expected of them.

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