Project management is a step by step method used in business to get things done and realize projects successfully. Anyone can apply this technique to reach goals and work more effectively. In the classroom, you can teach the fundamentals of project management to your students to guide them with the small or larger projects you assign.
A word of warning if you are a project management purist. This is not meant as a summary of a specific methodology although there are many PMBOK, PRINCE2, COBIT, Agile… Instead the purpose of this overview is to distill the essence of project management with the hope that these steps will prepare anyone, including faculty and students to start, lead and accomplish future projects in a satisfactory manner.
These are the main steps of all project management approaches:
Let’s look at each project management stage in detail.
What is the problem to solve?
A project needs a beginning and ideally, but sometimes not obviously this is where you begin. The most important question you should ask at this stage is “What is the problem to solve?“. How you phrase this question will define the boundaries of your project. How you answer this question will define the goals you are trying to achieve.
In the classroom, the teacher will often but not always provide the problem and the goals to reach to answer that problem.
What will be a successful end product?
Once your goals are set, you need to determine the measure by which you know that you have reached them. Fundamentally, to successfully complete a project is to deliver a quality product on time and within established resources. The four connected constraints you need to incorporate in your success criteria are identified as
- Resources (aka cost)
How will you do it?
This is the million dollar question: “how will you do it?” and the one that you should spend the most time pondering. The short answer is known: break your project down into small, tangible, measurable tasks. What these tasks are will vary greatly based on the project.
There are a few key ideas to keep in mind when listing those tasks (and you should list them).
First, it is very important to realize that the way you break down and define a task will greatly affect your success rate. If you leave a task too general (e.g.: write paper), you are much likely to complete it properly or on time. The best tasks are defined so they are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.
Second, you should estimate the time and resources needed for each task. Establish a schedule of what needs to be done, and when you will do it.
Third, understand that the process is not necessarily linear. Students tend to stall when an expected milestone is not met. But you do not always have to wait for one specific task to be completed in order to begin working on another. Working on parallel to-dos can be a lot more productive (and fun). Of this requires you to be organized.
Fourth, identify the risks, what could likely go wrong and prevent these events from happening.
What do you have to do next?
This is do time. In case you’ve skipped reading everything up until this point and you are randomly landing here, the most important thing to know about the execute stage is: this is NOT where you start. And yet surprisingly this is exactly where most people, including 99% of our students begin. Before you execute, you must spend time defining and planning (see step 2.) to get things done well during this stage.
Is the quality good?
Besides actually doing the things you carefully planned to do, you should also monitor the quality of the execution and of the product. Ask yourself and your team (in case of a group project) the following questions:
- Is the project going according to plan?
- Do I need to make any changes to the plan?
- What do I have to do next for this project?
- What have I learned from doing this project?
The final stage is more straightforward but should never be skipped. It can be broken down into 3 steps:
- The results of the projects are submitted.
- Feedback is gathered.
- The lessons learned during the process are reviewed.
Tailor Project Management To Your Needs
This approach is not a one-size fits all solution. Instead you should be prepared to customize these steps depending on the type of project you are facing. Providing desirable flexibility, the Agile project management methodology has gained a lot of traction as a useful framework to facilitate the execution of a project.
How will you respond to change?
By prioritizing your response to change over sticking to your original plan, you will be able to avoid dead-ends.
Can you produce a working prototype early on?
Agile also focuses on people and communication instead of the processes and tools. This too ensures greater adaptation for your project. Ideally, your conversation should revolve around a draft of prototype of your final product. You should prepare yourself for multiple iterations as feedback you gather allow you to improve over time.
The project management framework has made its mark as an efficient tool in real-life situations. This overview will have hopefully introduced you to its concepts and allow you to establish a sane base with your students at the start of their next assignments.
Before you launch your students into a project, do you give them the proper tools to succeed? Please share your feedback with us by writing a comment below!