Sunday, 18 November 2018

For Non-Project Managers, how to run a Project?

I am increasingly seeing that Projects need to be run by individuals without Project Management as their core skill set. So I thought it worthwhile writing a summary of what I believe they need to focus on when taking on such a role with some links for more information if they want it.

Introduction - 3 steps for you to get right

There are 3 steps to running a Project remembering that it is a temporary venture.
  1. DEFINE your project else you may head in the wrong direction!
  2. Only then DO IT!
  3. Finally CLOSE it so everyone knows it is finished


I am keen on analogies and proverbs as a means of getting a message across and the Be a Better Sheepdog site is full of them, so let me explain why a Sheepdog is an analogy for a Project Manager and relate this to the 3 step process.

Be a Better Sheepdog 3 step process for running a Project

  • The Sheepdog brings order to the "team" of sheep and ensures they are heading in the right direction. 
  • But the Sheepdog doesn't make up his/her own mind where to head, the owner decides that and communicates with the Sheepdog. Projects are exactly the same. So always determine who your Project Owner is; we call this role the Project Sponsor. Often a project is started when the owner isn't clear. So your first task is to find your Sponsor!, this person should have the most to gain from the project or we say owns obtaining benefits from the project.
  • Once you have found your Sponsor you can agree what the objectives, scope and success criteria is? 
Great, write this down, agree it with your Sponsor and you have completed step 1

Do it! - Plan

Now you can assemble the team and go DO!! But make sure you have created some form of Plan, remember a number of Proverbs such as
  • If you fail to plan you are planning to fail
  • Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Project Performance
Back to the Sheepdog analogy, to achieve the objective the dog may need to head off behind the sheep and drive them in the right direction; in real projects you should involve your team in your planning, a little breakdown in the analogy!

There is a lot to the topic of Planning and Estimating but however you come up with a plan I would suggest that you record a number of intermediate milestones in date order along the journey which you can use to track your progress including the key one (or several) which represent the measure of success you agreed in step 1:
  • Date - achieve x
  • Date - achieve y
  • Date - GO LIVE

Do it! - Monitor

Once you have a plan you have something to monitor progress against. However, often when I see non-project managers running projects they have another role within the project team. The danger is that you just focus on this "doing role" and forget the Project Management. So I recommend that you block out a couple of hours towards the end of the week say on a Friday morning, please put a reoccurring meeting in your calendar to stop others arranging a meeting and to give yourself a nudge "this is my Project Management time".

In this weekly review session, take a step back from the doing and consider the overall progress
  • ask team mates about progress if you aren't up to date
  • are we are on track for our next milestones?
  • look ahead to up coming activities, is there anything we need to do early next week to prepare?
Make some notes and I suggest that you always have your team meeting on a Monday morning where you can have a discussion about progress but you are prepared to talk about what needs to happen in the forward week from the review you had back on the Friday. 

Going back to the Friday 2 hour review slot, this is a good time to write and send out a status report and keep your Sponsor and any other stakeholders informed, try and be honest with yourself and if you think you are slipping against the milestones you have established say so. I would also organise a regular schedule of meetings with your Sponsor, a minimum of once a month but sometimes more often (agree with your Sponsor).

Hopefully you will achieve your milestones and deliver the Project. 


A Project doesn't last for ever, it just seems like it sometimes! So eventually it is time to close the project down. I would always have a review session with the team looking back, what went well, what could we have done better? We call this Lessons Learnt. You should also reflect on what you have done as a Project Manager, things to repeat next time and maybe things to do differently? The chances are that you will have another opportunity so best that you look to improve your performance and that applies whether that was your first project or your 100th! Hopefully the Sponsor has enough money for the team to have a celebration as well especially if the project is deemed an ultimate success.

Anything else to consider?

Even if you read no further, I think you have a framework above to be a Project Manager. There is actually a lot more to consider to get the best results in projects, I wrote a post on where to spend your time which you might want to take a look at but there are topics such as Risk Management (Attack the risks before the risks attack you!), Issue Management, Change Management - lots to manage! You should never forget that Projects are delivered by a team working together successfully so always remember the human side when working with the team.

Want to progress further?

If I have inspired you to improve your performance as a Project Manager you can always type a topic in the search box at the top of each page on the Be a Better Sheepdog site. Or of you prefer a more structured approach I have built a training package around the site



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