Having established a case for project management as a general skill (I like to think I have made that case), what exactly are the skills that a project manager (or indeed anyone involved in projects) needs to have, and what do you need to be able to do?
Basically you need to be good at planning, good at preparing for as many eventualities as you can think of, and good at being flexible and responding to the eventualities you haven’t thought of. Here’s where I’m going to draw an analogy with teaching.
This picture shows a classic management model, which can illustrate this I think. The manager plans, setting objectives and targets. From these plans we establish standards of performance, what we are expecting to see, and then monitor the actual performance. The difference between the actual performance and the established standards is a form of feedback, which we then use to make decisions over what needs to be adjusted. This might mean making adjustments in the actual performance – working out ways to do things more efficiently or effectively for example; it might mean making adjustments in the standards themselves – if what you are learning is that the standards are too high or too low, say; or might even mean adjusting the original objectives and targets.
As language teachers we tend to do the same – we plan courses and then lessons, we set standards of performance that we expect to see/hear from the students, and then we monitor the actual performance. As a result we can adjust what we are doing in the classroom, so as to attempt to bring the actual performance closer to our expectations; or we can adjust the standards themselves, realising perhaps that we are being unreasonable in our expectations, or that the students are completely comfortable with the target language and so we can move on, and so on; or we can adjust the course itself, inserting extra lessons, or recycling work to make sure it is taken on board or even change the entire curriculum.
Project management is basically management writ small. That is, it’s a finite version of management – managing something (big or small) which has a clear end point and a specific budget and (usually) one specific aim. So, in fact the skills you need for project management are more or less exactly the same as those you would need for management (writ large). Which makes project management not only useful in it’s own right but actually a very useful way of acquiring many of the skills needed for management in general.
In creating a project you are taking a need or a problem, translating that into a future desired state of affairs, turning that into a set of clear and specific objectives, and eventually reducing that to a set of tasks. You’re thinking about who your stakeholders are, how to communicate with them and you’re also thinking about risks, obstacles and constraints (and how to overcome them). And of course you are thinking about how you will monitor and evaluate the work on the project, and keep track of things, as well as making contingency plans. You are budgeting, and team building, and scheduling, and reflecting, and assessing, and collating and storing knowledge.
To give an example of the kinds of topics that we cover on one purely online course I teach, called “Fundamentals of Project Management” you can take a look at this PDF file which outlines the course. This, as it says on the tin, is very much the fundamentals of the subject. There are obviously areas in which one can much deeper (we don’t cover budgeting in much depth on that course for example).
So those are the skills and abilities which a project management course needs to be able to offer. Tomorrow I’ll conclude this mini-series with the ways in which I have tried to adapt face to face training in project management to online training (as in the course linked to above).