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Arkansas State University

Project Management: Getting It Right

Managing a project from concept to completion is, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), part science and part art.

The science or technical part involves expertise in using project management tools, setting performance metrics and status reporting and understanding the analytics of earned value, s-curves, risk management and resource allocation.

The art part involves a “soft” skill set that includes communicating effectively, developing and leading staff, thinking critically and creatively, negotiating with sound business judgement and managing change and expectations.

“The role of the project manager has expanded in both directions: becoming both more business- and leadership-oriented on one hand, while growing in technical complexity on the other,” PMI says.

The organization notes that one Gartner Group study found that 60% of business project failures were due to poor project management. The PMI article also notes that “a project manager for a mission-critical project should be hired as carefully as a key executive.”

To acquire skills for this high-demand role, business professionals are earning Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees that explore project management best practices that include:

Identifying and Selecting Projects: Effective selection assigns highest priority to projects that best meet overall business goals. Considerations include validating the business need within the scope of financial, personnel and technical resources, coordinating with ongoing projects and identifying potential risks and exposures. “It is critical that this process be well-defined … [and] that its value is understood and supported by corporate leaders,” according to Project Management, an online resource center.

Developing Project Proposals: Using inputs from departments and operations involved in the project, the project manager (PM) directs the development of a proposal to senior management. Generally, the proposal addresses the Iron Triangle (or triple constraint) of project management: costs, time and scope. Other elements include descriptions of the projects’ strategic value, business benefits, deliverables and metrics for success. It is time-consuming, but “the time spent is worth it, however, when you win that next big project,” notes Project Manager, a services provider.

Sequencing Workflows: Detailing the expectations for each phase of the project, ways to accomplish them, dependencies, potential exposures, deliverables and metrics for success are the project manager’s game plan. Quickbase, a digital resources provider, says once the plan is adopted, stick with it, manage exceptions as they arise and document them. A well-defined workflow ensures effective collaboration and communication that “reduce inefficiencies, improve communication, and even provide better outcomes,” it predicts.

Estimating Project Duration: Project duration is the sum of the time it takes to complete each activity within the scope. There are several methods for determining activity duration, depending on the required degree of accuracy. “If you underestimate the duration, you can cause yourself a substantial headache later on when the project goes behind schedule,” PM Study Circle warns.

Budgeting: Related to estimating activity duration, PMs use several methods to determine the cost of each activity. Because budgeting, proposal development and workflow planning often happen on parallel tracks, effective PMs allow for contingency spending in their estimates. Moreover, they keep their eye on the dollar sign: “Project managers at times get distracted and focus more on completing the projects on time instead of focusing on meeting the deadline while remaining within the budgetary limits,” according to CFA Journal, a finance, accounting and audit resource.

How Do Business Professionals Prepare for Careers as Project Managers?

The Master of Business Administration general program offered online by Arkansas State University provides an exploration into those best practices, as well as courses that support effective project management by helping students:

  • Hone strategic and analytic skills
  • Develop communication and decision-making skills
  • Manage organizational change in dynamic business environments

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online MBA – General program.

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