Project Management Institute unveils free, 45-minute course for teams

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PMI’s COO also offers tips for ensuring projects are successfully executed in a remote world.

Image: iStock/Wanlee Prachyapanaprai

Teams are working remotely more than ever and that can certainly create added stress.

A new, free course developed by the Project Management Institute called Kickoff is designed to help ease that stress.

The 45-minute course is the first free digital learning tool the PMI is making available to individuals who may not be project managers, to outline how and where to start their projects and provides downloadable templates.

There is a greater need for projects and more individuals are being tasked to lead and drive projects without formal training, according to PMI Chief Operating Officer Mike DePrisco.

“More and more organizations are relying on getting projects done,” and it’s more important than ever that project managers or people assigned to be a project leader, “have a place to go to get easy accessible tools and support,” DePrisco said.

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The PMI sees a “significant number of projects fail” because of a lack of formalized practices and principles applied. The goal of Kickoff is to help individuals learn best practices quickly in an interactive way, he said.

“We also know seasoned project managers and business owners are having to spend more time helping these newer team members … get up to speed,” DePrisco added. “It’s an opportunity to bring a resource to their organization to jumpstart teams and projects and ensure effective outcomes.”

Kickoff contains two modules, one that is focused on traditional project management principles and the other on agile methodologies. Users will be directed to the appropriate model based on how they answer a few questions.

Individuals who complete the course can earn a badge they can display “to demonstrate you have familiarity with the basic language and terminology of project management,” DePrisco said.

“The beauty of the tool is we recognize no two projects are the same,” he said. Kickoff, “right out of the gate,” asks the user a series of questions about the type of project they’re working on and the industry they’re in, and the learning is tailored to that particular individual’s experience, he said.

The PMI is not collecting any personally identifiable information, he noted.

Warding off red flags

When a project begins, first and foremost, team members need to recognize there is a problem that needs to be solved and ask whether the approach they decide to take aligns with the company’s business goals, DePrisco said.

“You do projects to deliver value and outcome to a stakeholder and it starts with understanding the problem,” he explained. “So you identify the problem and make sure [the project] aligns with the company’s goals.”

Then the team also needs to think about what the potential risks might be with the project and what issues they might encounter.

“That forces you to think through various scenarios to be forward-thinking, and we have tools and templates they can download to help them evaluate and assess risk,” DePrisco said. 

For example, a risk might be delivering a piece of software that doesn’t work because it has a great deal of complexity. Or the feature developed in the software system might not be the feature the customer is looking for.

Other risks include cost or schedule overruns, or stakeholder communications, he said. “Understanding [how to communicate with] various stakeholders invested in the outcome is critical for new project professionals to think about” at the beginning of a project.

Another tip is for teams to think about the outcome they are driving toward and what metrics they will put in place to indicate a project’s success.

“It’s not just about driving outputs but what is it your stakeholder can see, touch and feel at the end of a project,” he said. Further, “what are the metrics you’ll identify upfront to say ‘Hey, we were successful at delivering this outcome to the customer?'” DePrisco said.

How to bring together a team

The person responsible for kicking off a project needs to identify individuals with the capabilities they need to execute the project effectively. If the project is to develop a new web page, besides needing a web designer, you’ll also want someone with very strong quality assurance skills, “who can test that user journey to make sure there are no glitches or bugs in the solution.”

It’s also important to bring in someone who understands what the stakeholders want and can work with the team to deliver the requirements, DePrisco said.

“One person critical to this journey is the executive sponsor—the person who provides oversight but isn’t managing” the project, he said. “They can help the project professional get resources,” as well as help remove blocks and attain funding. “You want to lean on that person. They’re ultimately responsible for making sure the project is delivered.”

Structuring meetings and dealing with issues

For now, it is not feasible for people to be together in person, but there are a number of collaboration platforms and tools a team leader/project manager can rely on for interacting, ideating and setting expectations in a virtual environment.

At the outset, the leader should set a vision and goals for the project and create expectations for regular meetings and cadences, daily standups and scrum reviews with the project sponsor, DePrisco said.

Communication is the most common issue that arises that teams struggle with during a project, he observed.

“Oftentimes, teams get so busy with their work that critical pieces of communication that need to occur with members or other areas of the business fall through cracks,” DePrisco said. It is usually not intentional and mostly the result of the fact that some project teams “can isolate themselves and unintentionally create a silo. So it’s very important that teams collaborate across the organization and use the daily standup meeting to identify blockers and areas that need to be addressed from a communication perspective.”

Lack of effective communication will trip up a team and slow them down in getting a project delivered, he stressed.

“The other thing is [team members] focus too much on activities and not enough on outcomes, so defining outcomes is critically important at the outset to show everyone what you’re driving toward,” he said.

DePrisco’s final tip for ensuring projects run smoothly and are successful is for any project manager–new or seasoned–to make sure every project starts with the end goal in mind.

“Implementation, delivery execution, is critically important, and you want to strive for delivery excellence,” he said. “You always need to keep in mind that the focus should be on delivering value. You can complete a project and say it’s done, but if it doesn’t deliver value for the stakeholder, there aren’t any benefits and you haven’t met your objective.”

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