TECHNICAL TOOLS ARE FOUNDATIONAL
"Technical skills are primarily what you learn if you are professionally certified as a project manager. Measuring earned value, templates for a charter, and creating and updating a project schedule are all examples of technical skills. These skills can also be developed without certification. For example, they can be learned through your employer. The organization you work with may have its own set of standards, templates, and tools. Additionally, technical skills can be learned through self-study or through working with experienced project managers." A Sixth Sense for Project Management, Tres Roeder.
There are many ways to increase an organization's overall technical skills. Roeder Consulting, for example, is a member of the Microsoft Partner Network. Our technical project management framework includes Microsoft Project and its Project Web App. All Roeder Consulting employees must be well-versed in the software, as well as our standardized templates and processes for internal use. Your organization, however, may use other software to organize your projects - and that's okay. In our consulting experience, we've found that project success doesn't depend on which process you use, but whether you use a process at all. Our clients use JIRA, OnBase, Confluence, and all sorts of other tools. If your organization uses software it is your responsibility as a project manager to understand it.
Technical skills represent the most ubiquitous form of content covered in the world's project management certification programs. Whether it's the PMP®, CSM, PMI-ACP®, or PRINCE2, most of your time is spent learning vocabulary, formulas, etc. All of these fall under the technical side of project management.
BUT, THESE TOOLS SHOULD COME WITH A WARNING LABEL
As we reiterate to all of our clients, Roeder Consulting has found that a wealth of technical knowledge isn't enough to ensure projects are successful, regardless of which framework you choose. In fact, technical skills should come with a warning label. Over-application of rigorous processes and templates, even if its agile, will slow down projects if not properly integrated into the culture and the training. That's why we make technical skills just one of the three legs of the Balanced Approach, and emphasize the importance of Business Acumen and the Six Interpersonal Disciplines as well.
FLAVORS OF TECHNICAL SKILLS
Agile, Watefall and PRINCE 2 are the most common frameworks for project management.
Waterfall details a standardized process for project management. In it, all project work generally adheres to five phases:
- Initiaiting - creating a charter and deputizing a project manager
- Planning - building more details around the charter. Planning typically includes creating a budget, timeline, scoping document, and stakeholder management plan
- Executing - perform the work the projec calls for. The executing phase often begins before planning is complete so there is some inherent iteration.
- Monitoring and Cotnrolling - tracking project performance and identifying and fixing areas where the project goes off track
- Closing - capturing the lessons learned from the project and making sure all team mebers are thanked, projects contracts are closed out, etc.
Agile touts an approach where project managers work in shorter periods of time, continuously improving on pieces of the project. Agile has a great degree of flexibility, as well as all the pros and cons that come with it. Solutions tend to evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams utilizing the appropriate practices for their context. Instead of following sequential steps, the Agile Manifesto promotes 12 values and principles:
1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
10. Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
PRINCE2 is similar to Waterfall in that steps happen sequentially; however, the number and content of these steps differ slightly.
- Startup: The decision-makers gather and appoint a Project Manager. Together, these people all define the need for the project and outline the processes by which it is to be executed.
- Direction: A Project Board is responsible for the overall success of the project, but an individual called the Project Manager, who reports to the Project Board, is charged with the responsibility of managing the details.
- Initiation: The Project Manager prepares a Project Initiation Document. This document is submitted to the Project Board for approval. If it is not approved, it is returned to the Project Manager for revision.
- Stage control: The project is broken down into manageable stages, the number of which depends on the project size and risk level. Each stage contains plans for the succeeding stage. Before a new stage can be begun, the current stage must be fully executed.
- Stage boundary management: The current stage is reviewed, and the process for the next stage is developed. The project can continue only after the Project Board has approved the execution of the current stage and the plan for the next stage.
- Planning: This includes decisions as to what products will be produced, the activities that will be required to produce the products, estimates of the cost, time, and other resources that will be necessary, risk analysis, activity scheduling, and process streamlining.
- Product delivery management: The Project Manager must make sure that the right products are produced according to the planned schedule.
- Closing: After the project has been completed, the Project Manager conducts a Post Project Review, which is an evaluation of the project's outcome. Once this document has been approved by the Project Board, the project is closed down.
- Source: TechTarget.com
Some project managers might find PRINCE2 to be appealing because of the focus on defining project roles, so that expectations are set from the beginning.
At Roeder Consulting, we've found that most organizations use a hybrid of these or other methodologies. Because of this, it's important to stay knowledgeable on more than one way to do things, and to remain Adaptable. As Tres Roeder highlights in his first book, A Sixth Sense for Project Management, "There is not one best project management framework. It is situational" (p 8). Frameworks vary in complexity, but being able to follow any given framework is a necessary technical skill.
HOW TO LEARN TECHNICAL SKILLS
When attepting to improve yourself, each skillset presents it's own obstacles. Technical skills, however, may have the most straightforward path to mastery. If you would like to become more knowledgeable about any given software, system, programing language, or other related skills, there are various structured ways to start learning. One of the most popular, universally available routes to learning is online coursework. The internet has given rise to the popularity of MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses, where you can learn a surprisingly diverse and specific array of topics at low cost or even for free. Websites such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity are well-known and offer structured coursework (and sometimes certification) in a vast amount of subjects. Technical skills can be learned on your own schedule, in any location with an internet connection.
For some people, though, online learning opportunities aren't enough to develop deep understanding. Because we all have different learning styles, it's normal and expected for us to gravitate toward different opportunities. As with Business Acumen, there are many ways to learn new material. If low-cost options are not sufficient, your organization may sponsor training from certain providers. You may also find that you work best with others, and seek virtual or in-person study groups at your organization. Or, if self-directed learning is difficult to keep up with, look into any opportunities your organization might have for training sessions offered in-house. Spend some time researching opportunities to find the one that is best for you.
Having structured material, a way to ask questions, and a method for learning from your mistakes is essential to long-lasting learning. While learning styles differ from person to person, one of the best, universal ways to solidify new knowledge is to practice it. Practice talking about it, practice teaching it to others, and, of course, practice using it yourself. New technical skills can be like a new language: it won't stick unless you find continuous, reliable ways to practice.
But with so many resources available, there are likely more opportunities for learning than any one person has time for. Figure out which skills are the best fit for your project, and focus on honing those. Instead of training in the first project tracking software you find training for, find out if there is a software the key players on your project prefer or are already using. Be smart and sustainable about how you allocate the limited hours you have in each day. If your team standardizes all of their project progress in Microsoft Project, the best use of your time is likely training or even earning certification in Microsoft Project.
Once you've determined what you need to learn and how you are going to learn it, it takes motivated dedication to get it done. Often, a great deal of Adaptability and Persistence is required to learn quickly and avoid burn out. Check out these and the other Six Interpersonal Disciplines to make sure you are using your time as effectively as possible.
STUDY A SIXTH SENSE FOR PROJECT MANAGEMENT®
As with Business Acumen, Technical Skills becomes easier to learn if you have a strong grasp of the Six Interpersonal Disciplines. Explore more information and ways to improve your other skills.