Getting your start in project management doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need a clear strategy to get started. Learning your way around project management is like any other business skill. You simply need to train your mind to identify opportunities. Once you implement this article’s ideas, your project management creativity will skyrocket.
Are You An Aspiring Project Manager?
Imagine you are an aspiring project manager called Tom. Imagine you are 28 years old and work as an analyst in the technology division of a large financial company. Since graduating college, you’ve learned many skills. You’ve become the Excel wizard of his department, a resource that everyone has come to depend on. Even better, you are sometimes asked to join special project teams.
Shortly after finishing his last project, you realize your passion is project management. The momentum, resources and deadlines of projects are too exciting to resist. So, you decide to study for the PMP certification. Ah, then you hit an obstacle – the Project Management Institute’s PMP experience requirements. Don’t become discouraged. You simply need to find projects to work on.
You can break through the “must have project management experience” with the right creativity. Read on to learn what Tom could do to get started.
Identifying Project Opportunities In Your Daily Work
“The world is changing too fast. Without the spark of initiative, you have no choice but to simply react to the world. Without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved.” – Poke The Box by Seth Godin
Most professionals in large organizations work according to set processes. It’s the organizational equivalent of habits. As Charles Duhigg showed in The Power of Habit, habits are an effective tool to increase productivity. What happens when the world changes? When about when your workload increases? It’s time to increase your productivity by making a project out of a process.
How To Choose A Process To Improve
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What process takes the most time for me to complete?
- Which process costs the organization the most money to complete?
- Which process is the most frustrating?
Once you identify the process, you’re ready to turn it into a project. When you’re first starting out, I suggest choosing a smaller process that can manage on your own. If you spend five hours a week processing vendor invoices, that is a good candidate for an initial project. In contrast, a process involving ten different departments would be much more challenging to improve.
Starting with a smaller project makes it easy to tinker and experiment. You may have to try a few process improvements before you find one that works. If you’re starting out in project management, tackling smaller projects also gives you confidence.
Implementing Your Project In 5 Steps
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
Follow this procedure once you have identified your target. Remember to carefully measure your efforts as you go. Creating excellent documentation is a fundamental project management skill.
Step 1 – Map out the process:
Using Microsoft Word (or Visio), write down all the steps of the process. Take no more than one hour on this step. Estimate the time that each step of the process takes – you will need this information in step five.
Step 2 – Eliminate one step of the process:
Implement Peter Drucker’s advice next – what steps can simply be eliminated? Do you really need to photocopy or scan the documents? Can you eliminate the monthly report? Even if you do nothing else, cutting the fat from the process will yield major improvements.
In a few instances, I have eliminated entire processes. Until I analyzed the process, nobody had ever questioned the necessity for the process.
Step 3 – Automate one step of the process:
Once upon a time, I came across a spreadsheet where staff were manually adjusting rows. Every week, they would have to spend about five to ten minutes performing this recurring task. In that case, using Excel’s capabilities (e.g. Remove Duplicates) automated that step of the process.
Step 4: Test your new process for quality assurance and speed improvement.
By now, you will have eliminated a step and automated one step. It’s time to put your new process to the test. First, determine whether your new process still generates valid results and accurate data. Second, measure how long the new process took.
Step 5: Write a short report explaining your project for your manager.
Write a report explaining your process improvement. In 1-2 pages, start by summarizing the impact of your project (e.g. “this project saves 2 hours of employee time per week. $5000 in staff time is saved per year due to this project.”). You can also briefly describe how what you achieved these improvements (e.g. what step was eliminated, what step was automated).
Four Suggestions for Process Improvement In Any Organization
To help ignite your creativity, here are six suggestions for processes you can improve. I am assuming an intermediate level of skill with the Microsoft Office suite (especially Access and Excel). Go to Lynda.com to get more detailed technical training if you need it.
1. Eliminate Paper Mail.
Handling mail takes time and effort. Seek to eliminate reports and other material sent by mail.
2. Produce Recurring Reports Faster.
Does your department issue a monthly report? Find a way to produce the data faster for the report.
3. Ask your vendors for process improvement ideas.
Most large organizations work with vendors to supply goods, services, and technology. Contact them to ask what they suggest for process improvements.
4. Ask a colleague about what process bothers them the most.
Delivering a process improvement that helps a colleague is excellent. The organization benefits from increased productivity. You also relieve a colleague from the pain of an unpleasant task.
Now is the time to act. When you come into the office tomorrow, go hunting for a process to improve! Project management opportunities are all around you once you start to look for them.
About the Author:
Bruce Harpham is the author of Project Management Hacks, a website that provides productivity and project management strategies that make your life better. Bruce’s project management experience includes large universities and financial institutions.