Training in Managing Small to Medium Sized Projects

Project management skills are increasingly being applied in organizations to the management of small to medium size projects, carried out over a period of weeks or months, and involving people from all functions. In matrix organizations, where functional boundaries are crossed routinely, project management has replaced traditional management methods as the day-to-day modus operandi. If you recognize either of these scenarios in your organization, then the following ideas about training will be particularly relevant to you. Incidentally, one useful definition of a project is "a piece of work which has a discrete start and finish, an expected outcome or result and a specific budget of cash or resources".

Pitching the training at the right level

For professional or full-time project managers, for example in IT and construction-related areas of work, project management is a complex discipline for which quite specific knowledge and training is required and this is often supported by sophisticated computer programmes.

For the occasional project manager who has management responsibility for a small or medium sized project, the level and detail of training required is less exhaustive. In this context, taking too complex an approach in project management training can be detrimental and can terrify participants to the point of inertia.

Training in project management can be kept simple, and probably needs to those who be so for are new to the discipline. A good aim for the training would be to enable participants to:

  • plan and manage the scope of the work effectively
  • identify, negotiate and manage the resources required
  • build an effective project team
  • communicate effectively and appropriately about project needs and project progress
  • monitor and evaluate the work achieved against the work planned
  • identify critical problems and issues, implementing timely solutions accordingly.

To achieve this, and depending on the past experience of participants, it may be appropriate to divide the training content into several separate elements:

  • planning the project
  • building the project team
  • managing project communication processes
  • managing the project through to completion.

Participants could attend all or any of these elements, depending on individual need.

For example, a seasoned team leader may be very experienced at team building, but less familiar with budgetary concepts and the need to negotiate resources with other departments. They would therefore find the first and last programmes most useful and relevant.

Training in basic project management concepts

A vital factor in any project management training is to ensure that there is clear understanding of what project management entails and the key factors which will need to planned for and managed throughout the project’s lifecycle.

The cost-quality-time triangle is a well known model which can be used in this respect:

Project Factor

What needs to be planned/managed

cost

budget

expenditure

quality

specifications

results

time

schedule

deadlines

 

People being trained will need to know about the tried and tested project management tools which are available to them, in planning and managing these aspects of their projects. In addition, it is advisable to build into the training a number of opportunities to practice using some of these tools.

For the purposes of small to medium sized projects a relatively limited range of tools is required, and these may include:

  • work breakdown structure
  • Gantt chart
  • PERT diagram
  • cost control sheet.

Controlled practice in the use of relevant project management tools can be provided by prepared project examples which participants can work through as part of a group training exercise, applying project management tools as appropriate.

In addition, for groups involving participants whose functional roles do not include budgetary responsibilities, some further explanation of budgeting and accounting principles is likely to be needed, this could include:

  • production and use of monthly management reports
  • use of spreadsheets and simple formulae to calculate actual versus projected costs
  • verifying and explaining the causes of variances between actual and projected costs.

‘Soft’ skills training needs for project managers

In addition to the hard skills of planning, organizing, monitoring and measuring, project managers need some soft skills also to help them in establishing and managing relationships, both within the project team and with others outside it. This is particularly true of small to medium sized projects, which often require only a part-time commitment, with project team members remaining ultimately answerable to their full-time line managers. This can lead to a number of problems:

  • conflict of interest
  • difficulties in gaining access to high caliber people with the right skills
  • project manager having to manage more senior staff
  • low morale as team members feel ‘pulled’ from one place to another.

Soft skills training can usefully be focused on the following areas:

  • negotiating/persuasion:
    to win support for the project, and access to the resources required
  • team building/team working:
    to ensure a shared sense of purpose and direction, with clearly defined goals, roles and methods of working
  • motivating:
    to maintain high levels of enthusiasm for and commitment to the project.

Training in problem analysis and problem solving

In reality, very few projects are likely to run their full course without some problems occurring. Project managers may therefore need additional training in the problem solving tools available to them and how to use them.

The list below suggests some basic problem solving techniques which can be introduced to project managers as part of their project management training:

Problem-solving technique

Appropriate uses

Brainstorming

  • identifying as many potential problems as possible
  • collecting and evaluating ideas for possible solutions

Forcefield analysis

  • identifying and weighting the forces for an against achievement of project goals
  • identifying the most critical factors affecting project success and project failure

Process flowcharting

  • sequencing the actions required
  • identifying the interdependencies between actions
  • identifying potential crisis points

Pareto analysis

  • prioritizing the problems which have most impact and which therefore most need to be solved
  • identifying the critical few preventative measures which need to be in place, to prevent critical problems from occurring.

  © DBA 1998