How Do I Manage Projects Better

Efficient project management is an ace in the executive card deck. That’s because everything you do is a project. Maybe you’ve never thought about it that way before. Let’s say you operate a shipping terminal for Con-Way Central Express and you need the place cleaned up. It's a project. Your reasons: a dirty dock is a potential OSHA nightmare and proper order brings better profits. If you turn to your staff and say clean it, they will do it their way. Good or bad, the results are unpredictable. If you attack the cleanup as a project, you may find operational efficiencies that will get everyone home for dinner or keep the place clean enough that you don’t have to do the overhaul again in the future. The same could be said for putting on a conference, implementing new hardware, running a new product development group (NPDG), or developing a new marketing video.
Many of today’s successful leaders recognize how project-management methods and software keep them ahead of the competition by shortening work time, eliminating errors, coordinating staff, and achieving predictable reliable results. That’s why the project-management industry has exploded in recent years. What automation was to the manufacturing floor is what project management is to the managerial office. Yet most companies are still behind the times in this area, handling projects as linear events. Whether you want to keep pace, work in a group environment, or rocket past your competition, project management tools help it happen.
Massachusetts research firm, The Standish Group, found that in 1994 the overall project success rate was 16.7% and by 1998 that rose to 26%. (Fortune 500 companies only came in at 24%.) Not so good, but illustrates how project-management has improved success rates. How does your company measure up?
Project management is now addressed and taught as a specialized business tool. Project-management software is also gaining popularity, just as PowerPoint did to presentation development. When projects are successfully completed, the company can move forward into other profitable areas. On the other hand, when projects must be scrapped, the time, money, and human resources that were invested to date are also scrapped. The costs of unsuccessful projects can’t be measured properly, because no one can accurately calculate the costs of lost opportunities.
One advantage is that computer technology and software prevent elements from falling through the cracks. They enhance the tracking of plans and improve the communication among people working on projects. In the past, one change in a project meant that all other areas had to be manually changed and everyone notified. Not anymore. Quite often manual systems also missed elements due to human error, causing snags in the project. Current technology will automatically send a change in one area to other areas for automatic adjustments. For example, when engineers make a change to a product feature that affects how the packaging must be designed, the industrial designers know immediately and can begin making adjustments to packaging design. If one arm of the project needs an additional week to complete a task, other arms of the project are automatically adjusted and due dates are changed accordingly.
Want to bring your company up to speed? For starters:
§ Spread it around. Recognize that project management is used in every area of your business, from how the exterior grounds are maintained to how the phones are answered. Don’t limit project management to specific departments or programs.
§ Morph. Instead of being a task “doer,” become a project manager. Change how you look at activities like purchasing new equipment, building new offices, expanding product lines, creating media campaigns, putting on trade shows, or developing new manuals.
§ Take charge. Ask yourself whether you manage projects or if projects manage you? Do projects end on time, on budget, and with the results you expect? If not, it’s time to execute the right way, and that comes with educating yourself.
§ Map out a plan. Successful projects require good planning. Planning allows you to think the process through and to cover all bases before you move money and people.
The Project Management Institute ( is one of the fastest growing associations in the country. PMI is ideal for project managers, but executives can find useful learning material here, as well. Decision makers, get your education from taking the time to read two types of books. Awareness books, such as The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt (very good read), teach project-management concepts and ideas minus the how-to lesson. To learn the gritty facts, try how-to books such as The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management or Operations Management for Competitive Advantage Richard B. Chase, Nicholas J. Aquilano and F. Robert Jacobs. (It's an 800-page textbook, so be ready.)
The key here is to avoid getting bogged down with too much of the "process." You want to use the tools and the concepts that the tools exploit. Project-management courses are also available at local colleges. Do your homework before buying to make sure you’re getting more information than you would have gleaned from reading a couple of books on your own. Some institutions offer certification as well, like Villanova University ’s four PM-certified courses. Work at your own pace and never leave your desk.
Also, here are three tools you might consider for managing projects better:
1. Limited budget solution. CPM (Critical Path Method) Charts that can be built on any spreadsheet program such as Excel. By using your drawing tools, you can create a plan that allows others to know the direction in which you're building the project.
2. Packaged inexpensive software solutions. Microsoft Project: The number-one, most-used project-management tool in the world with several million copies sold. It is primarily a Gantt Chart builder, but one that can be used in teams. (A Gantt Chart is a mechanism that organizes and tracks a project’s progress, including dates, resources, and accountabilities.) One change in a project will alter everything and unfortunately the "best laid plans" change. The program, like so many software programs, automatically makes adjustments of single changes by carrying them throughout the plan so that you don't have to go back and make all the adjustments manually. This is a great low-end-collaboration software program. To supplement its use, pick up Ron Black’s book, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Project Management with Microsoft Project 2000.
3. More extensive alternatives. Primavera: Another widely used software program that enables you to easily manage multiple projects in much the same way you would manage individual projects. HP and Compaq use this software to manage many of the IT projects they coordinate and develop. Big teams, big projects, big results.
When you recognize that every function in your business is a project to be managed, you see how important it is to be a strong project manager. Give yourself a new homework assignment, and learn a new project-management tool. It should save you time and money, because good planning helps avoid crises early. Your employees will like knowing what’s expected of them now and in the future. Any you’ll all be happy to have a good road map to find your destination. Although it sounds too good to be true, it can become a reality. Just stack the deck in your favor by improving your project management skills.

About the author
David and Lorrie Goldsmith are managing partners of a firm that offers consulting and speaking services internationally. David was named by Successful Meetings Magazine as one of the “26 Hottest Speakers in the Industry.” A best selling author characterized David in this manner; "David Goldsmith is unique in that he can see a 30,000 feet view of business and then delivers the hand-to-hand tools for combat. Few people can do what he does." More information at

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