The “Dummies Series” book, Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny (Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2001), is, in my opinion, a relatively easy-to-read (although also somewhat structurally fragmented in places), step-by-step “how-to” book, for either current or prospective project managers, with or without experience. In life, every individual has projects to complete – usually a never-ending series of them, in fact, and often more than one project to complete simultaneously. One’s projects may be personal or professional; voluntary or required. They may be for our selves alone; for friends or family; for churches, clubs, or communities; special events; or for colleagues; companies, or employers.
As the author concurs, in his “Introduction” to the text:
Projects have been around since ancient times. Noah
built the ark, Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona
Lisa, Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine – all
projects. . . . Why then, is the topic of project
management suddenly of such great interest today? The
answer is simple. The audience has changed and the
Management projects in particular, however, as Portny also points out, within Chapter 1, must meet three key criteria; they must have (1) “Specific outcomes”;(2) “Definite start and end dates”, and (3) Established budgets” (p. 10). Further, as that chapter mentions, project management “includes three basic operations” (p. 12), which are: (1)planning; (2)organizing; and (3) control (Portny).
In management today, for managers at all levels, completing projects; meeting project goals; and meeting project deadlines, are more important, as skills, aptitudes, and professional achievements, than ever before, especially within today’s super competitive business environment. As Portny also states at the outset: “Successful organizations create projects that produce desired results in established timeframes with assigned resources” (p. 9). Clearly, those who can successfully, skillfully, and within budgets and deadlines complete projects have an advantage over those who cannot.
Many suddenly find themselves project managers, not by choice, but due to either changed or expanded job descriptions or expectations, or just plain company need. Increasingly, project management has increasingly become a ticket to job promotion and career advancement (or not).
Moreover, if one has no previous formal training in project management, one may need to simply learn such skills on the job, and quickly. Project Management for Dummies is written for such individuals: those who would like to develop new project management skills (but also for those who desire to increase their current ones). The book is, I believe, potentially very useful for readers within either group.
This book guides one through the beginning, middle, and ending project stages. It offers guidelines and tips on planning; navigating through ambiguities and uncertainties; teamwork; time management, organizational strategies; handling paperwork; staying on track; meeting deadlines, and bringing projects to a successful, satisfactory, and timely conclusion.
Topics Project Management for Dummies covers include: making project schedules; building teams and sustaining teamwork; budgeting; coping with risks and surprises; optimally integrating technology into project management; and keeping team members motivated, on task, and within budgets and deadlines. Structurally, the book is divided into five parts (I-V). Each part consists of between three and six chapters, with 20 chapters in all.
Chapter headings and topics covered include (to name but a few) “What is Project Management (And How Do I Get Paid Extra to Do It?)” (Chapter 1); “Estimating Resource Requirements” (Chapter 5); “Tracking Progress and Maintaining Control” (Chapter 10); “Dealing With Risk and Uncertainty” (Chapter 15); and “Ten Tips for Being a Better Project Manager” (Chapter 20). There are also two appendices (A and B) and an index.
Chapter 2 covers defining and understanding what one is trying to accomplish with a project, knowing who and what one is doing a project for, and why that person or entity needs the project completed. This chapter also offers ways to avoid others’ having unrealistic expectations of the project or oneself as manager. “Looking at the big picture” includes “figuring out why you’re doing
This project”; “identifying the initiator”; “identifying others who may benefit from your project” and “defining needs to be addressed” (pp. 29-32). In short, Chapter two focuses on defining the rationale(s) and parameters of the project; clarifying those for oneself and for all others involved; and laying the initial groundwork toward project completion.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 focus on “Getting from Here to There”; “You Want This Done When”; and “Estimating Resource Requirements”. Key ideas contained within these chapters, include knowing and planning all steps of a project, including making a “work breakdown structure”; “knowing how much detail is enough” (p. 49); “developing and analyzing a network diagram” (p. 71) and “assign your project’s personnel needs” (p. 105).
Chapter 5 in particular also stresses the importance of finding the right people to assist with the project. Portny observes “Your project’s success rests on your ability to enlist the help of the right people to perform the necessary work” (p. 106). Portny also stresses that, toward that same end, “identifying skills and knowledge needed to perform your project’s activities” (Project Management for Dummies) and Finding people who in fact possess all of those required skills will either make or break a project.
One of the chapters I found most personally useful was Chapter 6, on “The Who and How of Project Management”. Here, Portny covers three main topics: (1) “Distinguishing the project organization from the traditional organization”; (2) “Clarifying the roles of different people in the matrix organization”; and (3) “Recognizing key tips for increasing the chances of success” (p. 137). As Portny also notes in this chapter, project management structure and atmosphere may be, and very often is, much different than overall company structure and atmosphere, and one is wise to be clear at the outset on the differences between the two.
While projects are company activities, they nevertheless typically take on atmospheres, conflicts, and lives of their own. For example, one operates within both a centralized company structure and a functional departmental or area structure in most parts of one’s job. However, project management may send one outside one’s own functional structure into various other functional structures within the centralized one.
Those areas outside one’s usual functional structure become the unique “matrix structure” (p. 141) of the project. Understandably, the matrix structure of an individual project will spawn (and necessitate) much different communications; alliances; interrelationships; interactions, and interdependencies than will usual, more typical work activities. Key players in a project matrix environment, which obviously differs from one’s overall work environment, will typically include the “project manager; project team members; functional managers; and upper management” (p. 143).
Chapter 7 covers choosing and involving the “Right People” (p. 149) in one’s project. Supporting ideas covered in this chapter include the importance of understanding one’s project’s audience (“any person or group that supports, is affected by, or is interested in your project” (p. 150). Each project also has “drivers”; “supporters”; and “observers” (p. 158) and it is equally important, Portny suggests, for project managers to identify and know each of them, and their respective roles. Of crucial importance to project success, also, is “Finding a project champion” (p. 159) or someone high up in one’s organization that will support and encourages the project.
Teamwork is crucial to successful project completion. Chapter 8 explains the importance of “defining team members roles and responsibilities” (p. 166), and making sure all team members are aware of their own and each others’ roles and responsibilities. Therefore, lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability must be clearly established at the outset, and sustained throughout the project. This chapter also discusses strategies project managers can use should they have to deal with micromanagement from above, such as “setting up times to discuss interesting technical [or other] issues with the person” (p. 181).
The book also covers ways of tracking progress and maintaining control (Chapter 10); ways of keeping everyone informed (Chapter 11), including sharing information both in writing and at meetings; and ways of encouraging peak performance in team players (Chapter 12), including providing rewards and helping players maintain motivation.
Chapter 14 focused on handling risk or uncertainty, including ways of identifying possible risk factors; assessing risk impact, and preparing a risk management plan. Key advice of this chapter is to realistically assess risks to the project, and to have a risk management plan for handling them.
Later chapters included advice on how to hold people accountable (Chapter 18); getting a project back on track (Chapter 19)and tips for optimal project management (Chapter 20).
All in all, I benefited from reading and reflecting on the guidelines, strategies, and tips plentifully contained within Stanley E. Portny’s Project Management for Dummies. The only aspect of this book that I found disappointing was that of that it had far fewer specific examples, of actual project management situations to illustrate major points and concepts, than I would have liked. I learn best and most easily from examples and discussion of how those examples illustrate theoretical concepts. I would have liked for Portny to do more of that in this book than he did. Major strengths of the book include its being thorough; comprehensive; well organized, and practical.
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