Project Management: What you need to be able to do

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.

Managament model

"The Five essential Stages of Management Control" Mullins L.J. Management and Organisational Behaviour London 1993

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).


My TV debut

I was on live TV this morning at Harrogate IATEFL, and now my performance is available in recorded form. Talking about the Leadership and Management SIG, challenges for new managers, and professional development

What is the IDLTM?

Over the course of the last two weeks in Barcelona, I´ve been training on the IDLTM.  But, what is the IDLTM?  Other than being an extremely cumbersome acronym, that is.

[Disclaimer:  I´m about to explain what the course and certificate are.  While I do not directly profit from the success of the course, as one of the regular trainers on the course, I do have a vested interest in it being successful.  I was also one of the team that developed the curriculum, so I am quite personally attached to it, too.]

The International Diploma in Language Teaching Management is a course and qualification for managers of language teaching organisations.  The three organisations behind the course/certificate are Cambridge ESOL (like CELTA, DELTA etc), the University of Queensland, and the School for International Training (USA).  All three organisations are well known for their work in ELT and so the diploma itself is widely recognised, and very globally portable.  In addition the IDLTM is the sole  ELT management qualification recommended by NEAS (the Australian language teaching accreditation body).

Content and delivery

The course covers 8 modules: Managing Organisations; Human Resource Management; Managing Financial Resources; Marketing; Customer and Client Services; Project Management; Managing Change; and Academic Management, all of which are specifically tailored to the language teaching organisation context. [A full syllabus can found in this PDF document]

It is a blended learning course involving (usually) 2 weeks face to face at the beginning, in which typically all the 8 modules are begun.  Subsequently, in a 7-8 month period, the modules are extended and gone into in greater depth in an online format.  This is also the period in which the assessment takes place.  Assessment is by way of an assignment for each module, which are designed, as much as possible, to be practical tasks which are (it is hoped) of value to the person taking the course (and his/her organisation), as well as being an assessment tool for the diploma itself.  To give an example, the marketing assignment is to create a marketing plan for a new course, while the financial management assignment involves creating a fully costed proposal for some development of the organisation.

The course is designed to be at a post-graduate level, and indeed within the University of Queensland system, it can be applied towards their MA in Educational Leadership degree (it counts as 1/3 of that MA).


UCLES (as it was then – now Cambridge ESOL), developed a course in the early 90s called the Advanced Diploma in Language Teaching Management.  This was piloted in a number of countries and contexts.  Based on this original course, at the turn of the century, the three institutions which now “own” the diploma came together and decided to revise and redevelop the course and relaunch it as the IDLTM.  The first IDLTM course began in the USA on October 1st, 2001  (I vividly remember this date as I was the course coordinator and three weeks before the course was due to start, there was a fairly major world event, which we thought would force us to cancel the course as all the participants in that particular group came from outside the US, and not ony did some need visas, but all, of course, needed to fly in.  Fortunately, we pulled it off).  Since then there have been a number of courses run around the world – in Brattleboro (VT, USA), Brisbane, Brazil, and Barcelona.  There is no actual requirement that courses must be held in places beginning with B, just in case you wondered.  This year aside from the the Barcelona course I´m working on at the moment there was one which started in Brisbane in April, one which will be in Brisbane at the end of October and one which will be held in DaNang, Vietnam in November (see, I told you it didn’t have to be a place that starts with B)

The online segment of the course nowadays takes place on Moodle.  So, far the course has had an extremely good record of student retention, with fewer than 5% dropping out (which as I understand it for blended or online learning is a very good rate).

Why take it?

Other than the fact that you might get me as a tutor, you mean?   Well, obviously I’m biased, but I reckon it’s a great course for managers of language teaching organisations, many of whom have come into management positions through teaching and have had very little (if any) actual management training.  This course meets the needs of such people, and provides both a hands-on and an in-depth theoretical grounding in management principles and practices.  It offers a portable qualification and certification by three of the (arguably) biggest names in ELT.  However, I do need to point out that it is not the only course in existence.  I’ll write another post in the next few weeks listing some of the other qualifications, to provide a modicum of balance (though only a modicum, you understand).  I also hope some people who’ve taken the course come across this page and add their feedback on the course as comments so you know there are people who have real participant-eye experience of the course who can give a different view.

And finally…

The most important question of all. How the hell do you pronounce “IDLTM”? Assuming you don’t want to refer to it as The International Diploma in Language Teaching Management all the time that is, obviously. Well, opinions differ. There are some who pronounce a short I, with a schwa between the T and M. Something like Idyll-Tm. Others go for a longer I (Idle-Tm) though some dislike the whole “Idle” bit, while some participants have played fast and loose and gone with Ideal-Team. I’m an idle man, myself, but then if you’ve been following this blog and it’s very slow post-growth, you’ll probably have guessed that already.