Ideas in Action

December 11, 2015 | Posted by: Christina Arnold

Tips from a self-confessed project management nerd

It is no secret here in the Cube office that I am a card carrying, project management nerd.

There are so many things I love about project management. It provides a way to deeply understand the work you want to deliver. It allows you to clearly communicate the story of your project. It gives you the tools to build a clear map of how you are going to achieve your objectives. It helps you to visualise who you need to talk to and what opportunities or challenges might crop up along the way.

Project management challenges

Project management can get a bad rap, and really, it is no surprise when so many project management approaches have not been designed with policy projects in mind. The principles that apply for engineering projects just don’t fly for most policy and change initiatives! Furthermore, those principles do not always allow for or consider public value outcomes, or common challenges faced by public sector and not for profit organisations.

When I worked in policy development, project management was critical to helping me juggle and deliver a variety of different priorities. I noticed though, that many people working in policy did not view their work as ‘project work’ or felt that project management was an unnecessary overhead.

I found this incredibly interesting, because policy work requires all of the thinking that project management prompts you to do: identify scope, stakeholders, implementation approaches, risk, governance, communication and change management.

I asked some of my policy and community development colleagues in State and Local government about what areas of project management they didn’t like or were unsure about. Here are the top three things they had to say:

  • Too much time is spent in project team meetings
  • Project reporting takes too long and is a burden
  • The project plan gets forgotten during project delivery and there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to keep it up to date or relevant

Can you identify with these experiences?

Project management

Tips and strategies in overcoming challenges

  • A strong team meeting is supported by strong project planning and good project tools. Run your project team meetings to a tight agenda and make a clear distinction between the time needed to talk about management (progress, issues, risk) and the time needed to discuss specific areas of content.
  • Like housework, if you tackle project reporting a little bit every day, you won’t be overwhelmed at the end of the week or month. Try:
    • Documenting your activities as you go to save time trying to recall dates and meetings (you can even do it directly in the reporting template).
    • Document progress, issues and risks during your team meetings and if you have a small project, consider using the status report as your issues and risk register.
    • No one benefits from the project spending time on several different report formats. Establish reporting expectations your governance group and get agreement from the outset on a regular but efficient reporting approach
  • It is very easy to lose track of the project plan during delivery. Some things veer off the plan for good reason while other things might get lost if you don’t regularly review it. The plan is meant to be your guide and anchor, but it is also a live document. Invest 30 minutes alongside monthly status reporting to review the project plan and take stock of what has changed. Keep a short narrative of how the project has changed. You can use a project issues or change log to do this, document it in your status report or make comments and notes in the project plan itself.

For those in policy who are unsure about using project management, consider the following:

  • Project management isn’t just a tool for implementation. Writing a strategy? Need to conduct research, engage stakeholders and develop an action plan? You can use project management to plan, monitor and manage any phase of the policy cycle.
  • You don’t need to commit to everything in the toolkit. Frameworks like PRINCE2 can be overwhelming because the number of processes and tools it contains, but you don’t need to use them all. These frameworks are designed to be tailored to suit your needs.
  • It is a knowledge management tool that will help you trace the history of your policy problem. The tools and resources that project management provides can help you track how a policy issue has changed over time. Risk and issue management, tracking decisions, writing project reflections and documenting lessons are great examples of how this can happen.

We have a little acronym we like to bandy about in Cube when thinking about project management:

are-you-super

These concepts are part and parcel of our broader Project Enablement framework, a project management methodology designed to address some of the challenges faced by public sector organisations. If these resonate with you, get in touch and we can talk about how we can help you with your project management outcomes.

Project Outcomes

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