Perfecting project management

If you are taking on a new contract or have an ambitious plan for growth, it might be handy to learn from project managers.

If you’re taking on a new contract or have an ambitious plan for growth, it might be handy to learn from project managers.

If you’re taking on a new contract or have an ambitious plan for growth, it might be handy to learn from project managers.

According to Charles O’Neil, production director at creative digital agency TwentySix, project management is ‘incredibly logical’. So why do so many large projects fail or end up over budget?

The answer is fairly straightforward. The one major sticking point is a lack of planning. ‘It sounds simple but thinking the thing through in advance is pivotal to its success,’ explains O’Neil. ‘You need to know exactly what the project involves and avoid rushing in. One criticism of project managers is that expectations haven’t been met and this happens because people rush in without understanding the requirements.’

Richard Jones, author of Project Management Survival, agrees: ‘If there’s no plan, you’re in trouble. If there is one but it’s not up to date or the project isn’t being managed by it, you’re equally stuck. Analysing how well the planning has been done is a quick way to find out if things are going well or very badly.’

Yet as Mark Stratford, managing director of Project First, a refrigeration, project management and contracting specialist, observes, ‘you can’t put a contingency plan in for every eventuality as there are always issues that arise that are very difficult to plan for’.

Stratford notes this is particularly true for the sector in which operates, which serves the major supermarkets and stores: ‘In retail, clients are notorious for changing their mind and that can have a knock-on effect in terms of budget or the timescale for delivery.’

O’Neil observes: ‘Expectations need to be set and met and, as with any working relationship, communication will be needed between those working on the project and those for whom the project is being carried out. One of the biggest problems in project management is when a client is expecting one thing and gets something different.’

Fully understanding the initial proposal helps avoid important information being overlooked. Yet each project will bring different challenges, many of them new.

‘We are working on two very difficult projects at the moment, both of which have distinct hurdles to overcome,’ says Stratford. ‘One is a busy Marks and Spencers store on Oxford Street, which needs to continue trading as we work. That means having 24-hour labour available to us so we can minimise the disruption.’

He continues: ‘Another is a Waitrose store that has a car park on top of it, making it very difficult to get the equipment in. Even if you’re experienced, you’ll always come across problems you haven’t encountered before. The way to overcome them is to sit down with your team and work through it in an internal workshop.’

Project management, explains Jones, is about setting clear targets, managing the risk and, importantly, setting and reaching milestones. He says: ‘There are a lot of bad project managers out there who really just hassle people for updates, rather than steering the team.

‘Setting realistic goals allows you to check on progress, and when you hit one there’s a sense of achievement. You need to be constantly thinking about what could go wrong, monitoring how you’re doing and managing the process.’

See also: Top 5 project management software providers for UK small businesses

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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