Project Management

Most people think of management in the meaning of project management. Managing projects is an art that comes quite handy in businesses these days and if you are good, you are guaranteed to get a decent job. However, projects work is stressful and might be unknown to students and graduates.  

Project management definitions and valuable vocabulary

A project is a process that has a beginning and an end. This process is extraordinary: It is not part of day-to-day business but something that happens one time. At the end of the project, there is a certain desired work result. This definition is in line with DIN 69901 which is the German standard for project management in industry.

Between the start and the end of the projects, there are milestones. These milestones are certain levels or delivery gates in which the project members need to provide defined work results. On these points, harmonization and synchronisation happen and people are tracked towards their achievements.

The pros and cons of working in project management

While people see a lot of prestige and honour working in “management”, it comes with a lot of stress. Project managers have to ensure timing with a certain amount of people, in a distinct amount of time. They have to track the progress of a project regularly. Close to milestones, it can happen that progress status is tracked multiple times daily. The job can be very stressful.

Also, project managers are legaly reliable for the project results and their implementation. The danger can be small if it is a game for Android but can be really big if you support a software for aviation purposes.

Depending on the organisational structure, the project manager gets power and influence. To ensure a leverage against hierarchical managers, project managers have their own branch within a company. They are sometimes even totally removed from all other company branches and report then directly to the board of executives. However, by their skillset they need to learn some leading of teams and groups because they will need to work on low-level and lead multi-team task forces on higher grades.

Levels of project managers

Depending on the type of project, there might different levels of project managers, as well. The lowest level of project managers are those that check against certain tasks. They are often called technical project managers (TPM), functional project managers (FPM) or software project managers (SPM). In some companies this level is called “project leads” but it confuses with the term “project leader” which is much higher.

A project lead’s purpose is to ensure deadlines and ressources for a certain function within the project and distributes the tasks accordingly. He escalates fitting necessities to superior management. There can be several levels of TPMs but in the end, the highest person in the project is the project leader which is usually just called “project manager”. He can distribute tasks as well but has to have an integrated view on the matter, so his planning should be more long term oriented.

He can be supported by lower tier project managers which are called associates. The superior to the project leaders is called senior project manager or portfolio project manager. He has to support the project leaders on a process level and has to train and adjust the processes to the need of the company. 

Qualifications for project managers

It is not hard to participate and learn the basics and even some advanced levels of project management. There are many certifications out there. In the United Kingdom, Prince is the de-facto standard. In Germany, the German Chamber of Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer) offers project manager courses in their regional centers and in distance learning courses.

For general international purpose, the International Project Management Association (IPMA) and their national counterparts give out certifications which unfortunally have to be renewed from time to time. There are other associations that do not have the concept of renewal of certifications. For example, the International Association of Project Managers (IAPM) can be stated here.

How to become a project manager?

It is unlikely to become directly involved in project management because it is a difficult task which usually given to experienced employees. However, while participating in projects and receiving trainings, you can achieve knowledge to let you promote to low-level project manager position. This can either be a technical project lead or a project associate.  Just after some years of training and certifications to get more credibility, you will have your chance to get a project leader position.

Tools for project managers

One of the most important tasks of project managers is to track tasks and show the status of working packages. It is natural to them to observe that the flow of the project is in order and parts of the project are timed efficiently. The standard software used here is Microsoft Project. It lets you manage the working packages, connect dependencies, bind ressources and time them. The standard method is a Gantt-Chart in which horizontal bars show effort, the other attributes can be related to these.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Project is very expensive. A open-software alternative is ProjectLibre. It is free and supports most of the basic functions of Microsoft Project.