John Milburn: Project management essentials

More and more companies are turning what used to be routine tasks into projects. With increased global competition, customers are demanding to have their products and services delivered faster, cheaper and better. Since project management techniques are designed to manage scope, quality, cost and schedule, they are ideally suited to this purpose.

Effective project managers

The project manager is responsible for all aspects of the project, including the work, human resources, communications, quality, time and costs of the project.

Effective project managers must:

* get the job done on time,

* get the job done within budget,

* get the job done according to the desired standards,

* take the time necessary to plan their projects

* take the time necessary to manage their plans.

Effective project managers must also:

* manage through influence,

* inspire a shared vision,

* develop visibility

* empower people.

I recently asked a colleague for some insight about her experience in managing large projects for the government and military.

“Projects break down because of a lack of communication. Even well-planned projects break down and have problems when information about the various aspects of the project are not communicated well,” she replied.

This caught my attention because we usually think of project management as a set of technical skills and tasks around initiating, planning, controlling and closing out projects.

Interpersonal skills are needed to successfully manage effective communication with project partners, customers, vendors and others. These skills are crucial for achieving buy-in, project support, resource commitment and other valuable assets. Sharpening our interpersonal skills will help us communicate critical aspects of the project with stakeholders avoiding the all-too-common cause of project failure: poor communication.

Management tools

In addition to interpersonal skills, a successful project manager uses several tools to ensure projects are completed on time, on budget and achieve the desired results.

A PERT diagram is a program evaluation review technique. It is a diagram that represents an added degree of sophistication in the planning process.

To draw one, list the steps required to finish a project and estimate the time required to finish each step. Steps that must be completed first are shown in order to clarify proper sequencing. Steps that can be under way at the same time are shown on different paths.

A PERT diagram not only shows the relationship among various steps in a project, it also serves as an easy way to calculate the critical path.

The PERT diagram and the CPM (critical path method) are very similar, and they are the most common forms of showing networks or interrelationships among tasks. They just display information differently. They are sometimes called the PERT/CPM activities.

The critical path shows the minimum amount of time needed to complete a project.

Gantt charts are bar charts that show activities as blocks of time and are extremely useful. Just calculate the estimated duration for each project task to create a Gantt chart, Microsoft Excel has templates and is an easy way to do it.

There are many more tools available to project managers to plan, direct and control resources and activities. As we continue to increase the number and types of projects we work on, many of us need updated and continuing education in project management principles and methodologies. That is why the College of the Canyons is offering two new courses:

* Project Management Essentials, beginning March 20th and

* Project Management Professional test preparation course, beginning in June 2012

For more information about these and other professional development courses, contact the College of the Canyons at (661) 362-3245.

John Milburn is the Director of the Employee Training Institute at College of the Canyons. Milburn’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. For more information about ETI please call (661) 362-3245 or visit


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