Project Management in a Nutshell

It's a nutshell
Acorn in a nutshell

Last week I ran a 3 hour workshop for researchers entitled “Project Management in a Nutshell”. This is a variation of a workshop that I have delivered to a number of different audiences. The problem for me is that project management is littered with jargon that makes it seem very daunting to the uninitiated. Add to this you have very complicated-sounding schemes like PRINCE2 which just fuel the mystique!

The reality is that PRINCE2 is a methodology, a process-driven mechanism which does little to inform anyone of the basic principles of good project management, it’s a bit like trying to follow a recipe from a gourmet chef without any basic cooking skills. So my focus for this workshop was to de-mystify some of the language and to concentrate on the important fundamental elements.

The slides I used are embedded below.

Some basic hints and tips then:

  1. Know who your stakeholders are, what they want and how to manage them. Unless you meet their needs and expectations, the project won’t be successful.
  2. Define the scope and get it agreed up front. This sets the boundaries of the project, what you will do and (more importantly) what you will NOT do. The most common reason for projects to be late, over budget or below par on quality is because someone changes the scope part way through.
  3. Once you have a scope, you have to break down what needs to be done into small enough chunks so that it can be monitored – need to be thorough here, no room for being vague
  4. When all the tasks are worked out then it’s time to take stock and ask the question, what could possibly go wrong? In other words conduct a risk assessment on your project, how likely is it to go wrong and what impact will it have. If both likely to go wrong and completely de-rail things, then it’s time for a plan B!
  5. Having said that, it’s perfectly acceptable to entertain some risk in a project – without risk there is no innovation
  6. A plan is a plan, it is not a fixed thing but it helps you to keep on top of where things are. Important as the project manager to have the oversight, don’t let others change the plan without discussion.
  7. Plans can and do change, it is almost a certainty in research that things will deviate from the original course in some way or other but this means you have to be alive to when things aren’t going well at the earliest opportunity so you have the opportunity to do something about it before it gets too late or just darn stressful!
  8. The type of planning/monitoring tool is not really important as long as you have a robust method, it’s the principle that matters more.

So there’s a few snippets to be going on with, what are your experiences of managing projects? Do they fit the above principles?

To close the session I showed the participants this simple tale about getting things done… works well for the PhD process I think!

Researcher Development Folks Researcher Skills

Paul Spencer View All →

I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Hi Paul –
    Very useful workshop this morning. Some of it I felt knew already but it helped to remind me of what I DO know, and also to put it in context and fill the gaps.
    I hope you will keep all this stuff up on your blog for at least another year, until I have finally registered for a PhD (some advice I was given was not to register too early!). As you know I’ve been to some of the other workshops and now I do feel ready to hit the ground running!
    Thanks.

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