Like a well-written story, a successful project has a beginning, middle, and end. It all starts with the so-called idea phase, when someone or several people decide to begin a project. The middle phase is that lengthy stretch beginning with lists, plans, and strategies and ending with the completion of the plan. Hopefully, the plan leads to a completed project that all team members can take pride in having accomplished.
Some people are not even aware that they are project managers. Picking up eight ten-year-old children, getting them into your car, and driving them to soccer practice is a project. Pulling together 200 volunteers and cleaning up the neighborhood is a project. Setting up a new branch office for your company is a project.
What these examples have in common is the planning, scheduling, budgeting, problem solving, and time constraints that go into it. Those are the common denominators; there is also a separate goal for each and every project.
How can project management skills help you? Would you like to accomplish your project goals within the time frame and budget allotted? How often have we seen the old black-and-white film clips of early airplane prototypes falling apart upon take off or going in circles and never leaving the ground? The good project manager gets the plane in the air safely, without spending excessive time or money.
A computer is a tremendous asset to managing projects. Software programs, discussed later in the book, can help organize and facilitate even the most complex projects and make project management that much easier. Technology and modern corporate project managers go hand in hand (literally), as their laptop and cell phone are rarely far from their grasp.
That said, software and technology cannot replace learning, planning, proper execution, people skills, decision making, and hard work. As the old saying goes, “If it came in a box, everyone would have one.”
There have always been successful projects without technology. The Wright Brothers did get that plane to fly, Lindbergh landed safely after crossing the ocean, and despite the Depression, the Empire State Building rose to great heights. Let's not forget the Egyptian Pyramids, which were built with no Gantt charts, no flowcharts, and probably no online brainstorming sessions. Ancient structures around the world and inventions throughout the centuries are the result of completed projects, all managed in some manner and most fraught with setbacks and rethinking along the way. Even unsuccessful projects have had positive outcomes. After all, Columbus didn't set out to discover America, did he?
Everyone is involved in projects at many levels, from school projects to personal projects to business projects. At some point, everyone also becomes a project manager. Did you schedule and lead a scout troop on a hike? Organize the company picnic? There is no set budget, time frame, or number of people involved that constitutes a project.
As you're reading this book, look for projects all around you. You'll probably be able to write down about five you've been involved in, if you sit back and think about it for a while. As you read, think back on those projects that you've taken part in. Did they go wrong for one of several reasons mentioned in the book? What you learn in these pages will help you stay on track with your future projects — whatever forms they may take. Good luck!