Getting Started with Project Management


Even if you don’t consider yourself a project manager, you’ve likely managed a few projects. If you’ve organized a family reunion, an office move, or rebuilt your deck, then you’ve managed a project. For some reason, however, a big work project can seem much more daunting than the projects we’ve managed at home. If you’d like to boost your project management confidence and start taking on more work projects, here are some tips to get you headed in the right direction. 

1. Remember that you have already managed projects 

In addition to the projects mentioned above, you have likely already managed projects at your work. You just may not have used some of the organizing and tracking tools that are available to project managers, and you may have just jotted down notes along the way or made lists of tasks and suppliesProject management does these things more formally so that, especially with larger projects that include various subprojects, you can keep track of everything and everybody involved in the project. 

2. Take a continuing education course in project management 

Most colleges and universities offer continuing education courses in project management, which do not require you to register in a degree or certificate program and often do not have prerequisite courses. They can usually be completed in a day or two, and if you take one of these courses before starting on your project, you can quickly get a crash course in project management basics. Some basic techniques include the phases of a project’s life cycle (and what to do in each phase), identifying stakeholders, putting together a project’s vision/goals, tasks, resources, risks, and so forth, along with how to use scheduling tools, Gantt charts, and tracking tools.  

3. Decide whether a project is worth doing 

If you have a couple of projects you could work on or more than one direction you could take, you should first decide whether you should do the project at all. Some people like to make a pros/cons chart, which is similar to a cost-benefit analysis. Then you can figure out what need, problem, or opportunity your project is addressing, and how you will measure whether your project has successfully addressed this. What are the anticipated benefits of doing the project? If it doesn’t seem like one project will be worth the time and effort after weighing the pros and cons and assessing the project benefits, then perhaps it shouldn’t move past the conceptualization or planning phase.  

4. Figure out your management style 

While you're managing a project, even if it might seem to involve a lot of equipment, data, infrastructure, or “things”, you’re really managing people. It is important to hold status meetings, but they’re only effective if structured appropriately (check out our blog post on Conducting Meaningful Meetings). You can sketch out a project team development plan with ideas for interpersonal techniques you’ll use, training opportunities you’ll provide, team-building activities, ground rules, and any recognition/awards you will use. Your management style will also affect how you communicate to team members of your project. You can come up with a communications management plan that addresses each stakeholder in your project and determines the purpose, method, and frequency of each communication, along with who is responsible. 

5. Enlist the help of a professional project manager 

Having your own sense of what your project is and the direction it should go in is useful even if you also use the services of a professional project manager. They can help you define your schedule, any budget constraints, what is in-scope and out-of-scope in your project, and so forth, but if you already have thought about some of these things, you’ll be able to work better as a team with the project manager and ensure the project accomplishes everything you or your company hoped it would. They can also advise on any port-mortem analyses you have from previous projects, such as through evaluations of what went well/did not go well in previous projects, opportunities for improvement to implement in new projects, etc. 

If you aren’t a project manager, hopefully the above tips help show that you have probably managed projects already in your day-to-day life (although you likely did this informally), and you could do the same (in a more structured, formal way) for any projects in your work. Even if the project you’re working on has a project manager, you can be a better team member by knowing a few basics about project management and becoming more confident in doing this important line of work