An Introduction to Project Management

Let’s start at the very beginning…

What’s a project?

How about ‘a unique venture, with a start and an end, and its own budget, perhaps intended to create something new, to meet established goals within parameters of cost, time and quality’. Like most things in life, a good start works wonders. So how, as project managers, can we make sure this happens, particularly when we are given the what, but not the how?

Let’s talk about the what – the end goal, or deliverable of the project. What exactly, in terms of product or service, is the project supposed to churn out after 6 months, or whatever the deadline is? Too many project managers having being told of the end goal tend to work steadily towards its achievement. Then, as deadline day approaches, they have proudly handed over the deliverable, only to be told by the customer that ‘it’s not really what we wanted’. Cue gasps of exasperation!

To avoid this scenario, we need to be absolutely clear what the goal of the project is, and responsibility lies on both sides here. The customer needs to be crystal clear regarding their requirements (what does good look like?), and the project manager needs to confirm their understanding, asking questions where necessary. A SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound) would not be a bad idea here.

Let’s bridge that gap!

Now we know what we need to achieve, it’s time to plan how we get there. Using knowledge, skills and experience, a project manager will consider the end goal, and then identify a series of tasks and activities which must be completed in a particular sequence in order to achieve it. A variety of planning tools (Gantt charts, milestone charts, network diagrams etc) exist to assist you here – find the one that works for you and stick with it! Don’t forget the critical path – the straight line that runs through the heart of every project. It works on the principle that some tasks cannot begin until the previous one has been completed. These tasks lie on the critical path and must be worked on sequentially. Other tasks can be worked on concurrently, as long as they are ready at a certain point to feed back into the project. They do not lie on the critical path.

Resources, resources, RESOURCES

So, you’ve created the project plan and identified all the tasks and activities to be completed – they’re not going to do themselves! Now it’s time for the project manager to allocate the necessary resources to each task, for example, people, tools, equipment, materials and time. Don’t forget the resources we carry around in our heads! The project team may have the will to get the jobs done, but have they got the skill? It may be necessary to provide training so they are fully equipped to work effectively on the project.

Conclusion

At the start of any project, the project manager is often given the what, but not the how. Both elements deserve your attention if the project is to succeed. First, let’s make sure we know exactly what the project needs to achieve by the required deadline. Having established the goal, now let’s identify how we get there. Create your plan using a suitable planning tool, incorporating all the tasks to be completed. Finally, allocate the required resources to each task. What are we all waiting for – let’s get to work!

4 Cross-Cultural Communication Mistakes to Avoid

We are increasingly working in a globalised world with colleagues, clients and suppliers from different countries. According to research from the law firm Baker McKenzie, Chinese companies invested 3.84 billion pounds in the UK in 2018. Furthermore, British companies are increasingly competing with global companies for contracts and employees are working as part of global teams with numerous different nationalities.

Chinese market

Avoid making damaging communication mistakesThis article will explore five cross-cultural mistakes to avoid when working with people from other cultures:

1) Not understanding different communication styles

In different countries people communicate in different ways. For example generally German and Dutch people are very direct in their communication style – what they say is what they mean. On the other hand, Japanese people often communicate in an indirect manner. This means that you will frequently have to read between the lines if you want to understand their meaning.

Furthermore, in some countries simple words such as “yes” can have different meanings. In most western countries when people reply “yes” it usually means they understand what was said and agree to do something. On the other hand, in several Asian cultures when someone uses the word “yes” it simply confirms that someone is listening to you. Someone might say “yes” and then later on say “no”, or you might find out that they didn’t understand what you said.

In this case it is important to double check if the other person understands your point by looking at their facial expressions, asking them to summarise what you said or sending them a summary of what was agreed in writing.

2) Comparing other cultures to your own

Some expatriates working overseas sometimes struggle to get used to different cultural habits. For example, this could be French people kissing on the cheeks in greeting or Japanese bowing. If you keep comparing a different culture with your own in a negative way you might offend people from that culture, and it could lead to conflict. This can affect your ability to build strong relationships.

3) Being negative or critical

 Some people complain a lot about working with clients or colleagues from other cultures. If you are negative about other nationalities or cultures and criticise the way they behave, this will have a very negative impact on your ability to work together.

4) Not adapting to the other culture

 Some expatriates work in other countries but do not adapt at all to the local culture. They live in a compound with other expatriates, they don’t eat the local food and they don’t mix with the local people. These same people often do not adapt their style of communication and way of conducting business, then are surprised when they struggle to be successful.

When working with clients or colleagues from another culture it is important to read up on the cultural differences and common cross-cultural misunderstandings. This could be something as simple as giving and receiving a business card with two hands in China.

Cross-cultural differences are important to consider when working with clients and colleagues from other countries to ensure your staff work efficiently and productively. If you would like to improve the ability of your staff to work more effectively with clients or colleagues from other cultures, read about our Cross-Cultural Communication Training.