Project Management for the Rest of Us

We have something in common. I am not a project manager. If you’re reading this, odds are good that you’re not a project manager either. Odds are also good, if you’re reading this, that you have found yourself thrust circumstance into some sort of project management role, the ad hoc project manager, as it were. And maybe you’ve been given a bunch of project management tools, like SharePoint and Microsoft Project but you don’t really know what you should do with them to manage your project effectively. And maybe you know a little bit about how to navigate around SharePoint as a collaborative platform, but maybe the rest of it is Greek to you and you wouldn’t know what to do with a Gantt chart if it was wrapped up in a bow and given to you. Maybe you didn’t even know what a Gantt chart was a year ago. Maybe you don’t even know how to read a Gantt chart. Maybe the only thing you know about project management is that it somehow involves this thing called a Gantt chart, and that, plus knowing that projects are generally managed in some way (without knowing how), is the full extent of your knowledge.

If so, we have something in common.

My name is Pamela Flora, and my official title at Innovative-e (a business and ITconsultancy, as it happens, with whom I’ve worked for about a year) is “Marketing and Administrative Coordinator.” I petitioned for the title “Mistress of Awesomeness,” as that more accurately reflects what I do on a daily basis, but in the end I opted for the more conservative, if somewhat lackluster, title that I now possess. My point is that nothing in either title references anything even remotely attached to projects or the management thereof.

Before I began working with Innovative-e, my background was in technical writing, mostly for government contractors. This means that I was working on projects. Projects that had managers. But I never dealt closely with the managers of the projects I worked on and I certainly never got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what project managers actually DO or how they do it. Before I began working with Innovative-e, I had never really considered what project management actually IS, beyond, you know, “managing a project.” What does that even MEAN, though? How exactly do you go about managing projects?

I had never heard of, much less used, SharePoint before I came to Innovative-e. A couple of months ago, helping my colleague Dux (a certified Project Management Professional, or PMP) revise his book SharePoint for Project Management, was the first time I was exposed to Microsoft Project at all. CCPM, PRINCE2, WBS – these acronyms mean nothing to me. And I STILL don’t really get Gantt charts.

Professionally, I’m accustomed to approaching projects from a low-level POV. The project has already been defined long before my arrival on the scene. Resources have already been determined. I have had nothing to do with the planning of a major project in my working life, much less seeing the execution through and then neatly closing the project. The core concepts of successfully executing a project from start to finish are foreign to me. Project management is way more than setting up SharePoint, Project, Project Server, and getting your PDUs from PMI so you can be a queso grande PMP who generates reams of KPI reports and somehow, nebulously, “manages” a project. 

So when Dux suggested that I start blogging about the marriage of core principles of project management (of which I am entirely ignorant) to the tools that facilitate actual practical approaches (of which I am mostly ignorant), I naturally asked him if he was insane. I am as qualified to discuss the evolutionary specializations of pangolins as I am Microsoft Project and the key concepts of project management. In fact, I might actually be MORE qualified to talk about pangolins than project management, because Wikipedia’s article on project management is pretty weak.

But outside of a professional context, I manage things – projects – all the time. I have five kids. My personal life is nothing BUT project management most of the time. Feeding the kids, selling Girl Scout cookies, planning what to do on the weekend – all of these activities I do on a regular basis in my personal life require me to apply some of the same concepts that project managers use in the course of their work. Of course, there are schools of project management thought that introduce concepts for use specifically in a business environment, so I don’t have any notion that because I manage my family effectively, I’d be able to waltz into any organization and be able to take over the management of their projects and do it seamlessly.

My point is, though, that anyone is capable of being a project manager regardless of whether that is part of his or her job title. Properly equipped with the right tools and a solid understanding of the key principles that drive effective project management in a business context, I could be a project manager. You could be a project manager. We all could be project managers.

The purpose of this blog is to document my journey as I learn about Microsoft Project, SharePoint, and other project management tools, and as I acquaint myself with project management concepts that are, at the moment, entirely foreign to me. For those of you who find project management duties make up a part of your own job, it might be helpful for us to take this journey together. I’m not a project manager. You’re not a project manager. But we are now.

It’s kind of like being Spartacus.

Let’s do it.

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