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Hatching plans: the key to project management

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When it comes to being a successful project manager, it all comes down to thinking ahead, says Iain Snelling

Project management is often seen as a distinct management discipline. A project usually involves a major change at which specific resources are directed.

The objectives of a project are defined in advance, in terms of cost, quality and timescale. For example, if you plan to refurbish your department to detailed requirements by the end of April and within a set budget, a project should be set up and a project manager identified. A project contrasts with day-to-day management, where there will be multiple objectives to achieve within an overall budget, and where change is more incremental.

The key to managing a project is planning. The work required can usually be broken down into tasks, each with an individual responsible for it, a budget and a timescale. The project manager will coordinate the tasks and make sure they are all completed.

Five tips for successful project management

  1. Make sure the resources you need are protected, otherwise they may be used elsewhere. If you or a colleague needs time, make sure you have it, by providing cover if necessary
  2. When planning, work out which tasks must be scheduled for when another has finished (dependent) and which are independent and can done at the same time (concurrent)
  3. Make sure people who are responsible for specific tasks are involved in the estimation - they will know more than you. It may take longer than you think to do a specific task
  4. Address problems as soon as they arise. If something will not be achieved as planned, determine what the options are and change the plan accordingly. Make sure everyone knows about the changes
  5. Have a contingency plan in terms of time, money or both. Reducing quality may be necessary if you don’t

If the planning is well done monitoring may be all that is needed. However, if things don’t go well - for example, a task is likely to go over budget or take longer than planned - further decisions will be needed. If a delay in completing one task is critical because other things depend on it - for example, the builder is coming on Monday, but the removals firm have just cancelled and can’t come until Tuesday - you may have to put more resource into that task (such as paying extra for another removals firm to work at the weekend).

The risk of delay may have been identified and a few days left between the date the removals firm is due to finish and the date the builder is due to arrive. However, if the timescales were tight at the beginning and can’t be moved, you may not have time to cope with a delay.

Iain Snelling is a senior fellow at the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham. He was an NHS manager for 13 years, before leaving in 2002.

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