5 project management skills every business leader needs

07 June 2017 -

“ProjectManagement"

Every business leader will have to undertake projects, but what are the skills needed to be a successful project leader?

Peter Taylor

Every business leader will be overseeing change within their organisation, so it is vital to make sure projects are delivered effectively.

While implementing change is risky if not managed correctly, if a business continues to stand still, this can lead to stagnation, and it can start to sink. 

This is why it's crucial that every business leader should understand the nature of projects.

Business leaders don’t have to have been practising project managers, trained to the ‘nth’ degree in project leadership competencies. At the very least, they need to be aware that the project world, the world that brings about a positive changed outcome, is different from the ‘business as usual’ world. 

With this in mind, here are 5 project management skills that every business leader should have:

Communication

  • Right information delivered in the right way at the right time to the right person (the four ‘R’s). It should be simple, but in the complicated project world it is so easy to forget this. Since communication is by far the biggest task of any project leader the consequences of getting it wrong can prove costly
  • Example: reporting is not communicating. Producing the most wonderful 16-page report, full of data and with a wonderful layout, graphs, diagrams, images etc and emailing it to everyone is not effective communication. It is a waste of time and breaks the 4 R’s rule. A recent project needed a fast decision to be made, but this was communicated as only a line in the weekly report. Everyone ignored this, which led to the wrong decision being taken by a few, and which had to be corrected

Risks

  • Understanding the likely risks any project might face, having a plan in place to deal with the ones you can, and perhaps can't anticipate, are all part of the key project management skillset 
  • Example: a simple risk exercise can save hours of ‘recovery’ time in a project, by anticipating what might go wrong and what might be done to rectify this. A recent project assumed that all users of a system could be trained together in one place, which at the time was reasonable, but the risk turned issue was a cut in travel budget. If virtual training had initially been considered as a plan B, this may have been a better solution

Assumptions

  • There is a saying that ‘Assumptions are the mother of all ….’ I’ll leave you to complete it yourself, but suffice to say that blindly assuming that things can deliver a project leader creates problems, very quickly – challenging each and every assumption is a much wiser approach 
  • At the start of any project you cannot know everything, but you should at least understand what you do and don’t know. A recent project began with the assumption that a piece of equipment already in place would work with the new solution, but it didn’t. While at least one person was aware of this, the business case creators just made an assumption without checking

Changes

  • Projects are about delivering change, so it is necessary to keep an open, yet critical, mindset when assessing ideas - runaway ‘yeses’ only lead to project overruns 
  • Change gets more costly throughout the project lifecycle, so changes need to be controlled early on.  A recent project took an alternative view on this and allowed the business representatives to submit changes on mass at the end of the testing phase. This made for a lot of expensive rework and many disappointed people!

Sponsors

  • The combination of an engaged, influential project sponsor and a skilled project leader is key to delivering effective change
  • Both partners in this need to know what they are supposed to be doing and what the other is supposed to be doing, otherwise there can be something between chaos and a vacuum – a recent project had a sponsor who spent all of their time replicating what the project leader was doing which led to conflict and a very bad project outcome!

I believe that there are two ‘models’ of project leadership possible in an organisation these days:

  • PAP: ‘Projects as Projects’ - challenging changes hence the need for a dedicated ‘pure’ full time project manager 
  • PAU: ‘Projects as Usual’ – where each business manager needs to understand and acquire effective project management skills in order to run projects as part of their BAU: Business as Usual

Peter Taylor is the author of How to get fired at C-level: Why mismanaging change is the biggest risk of all, and is a project management office (PMO) expert. 

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