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Project Management for Ordinary People

by Mira Vlach on May 04, 2008:

Summary: Although project management could be very useful for anyone, there is only little effort to revise the theory for common people. There are several possibilities how the theory could be simplified and offered for easy non-professional use.

No "1st Aid course" for the project management

Project manager is a regular profession. It is a specialisation of management in managing unique projects, which are often quite complex. The problem is that most available sources are for professional project managers and therefore too complex for common people. However, almost everyone manages their own personal projects. Because of this, I see a lack of theory for non-professional use which would be similar to 1st aid course in medicine. It should be concise, instantly useful and easy to learn. With this lack of theory, projects of individuals are managed mostly by intuition and thus depend mainly on innate abilities and previous experience of each individual.

What kind of projects do non-professionals manage?

It is said that many people who have their family-house built sue the building contractor. The rest of the investors may have reasons to charge the company as well but they just don't want any trouble. Fortunately, not all projects of common people do end up like this. Compared to professionals, common people are more benevolent when their project is delayed, they may do with lower quality of the result, but they are much more sensitive to increased costs.

According to my recent research, the most common projects of individuals are:

All of these goals fit into a project definition, which is

"a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result".

(Source: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK guide, 2004).

How to improve the management of small projects

Personally, I believe that project manager skills would be useful to almost anyone. Similarly to quick typewriting, which may save you a lot of time and effort, good project management helps you reach your goals more easily. Individuals learn naturally thanks to their gained experience. However, these are often lessons learned by costly mistakes. Appropriate theory could help handle the first more demanding projects and avoid most common mistakes.

Whether you will benefit from learning project management skills and techniques depends on three factors:

  1. How often you manage projects
  2. How difficult and crucial your projects are
  3. How much money, time and energy you have to invest into learning

The third factor depends on the availability and preparation of educational materials from experts and educational institutions. It is this third factor, in which I see the biggest problem and opportunity. From my point of view, there are 3 key ways to improve managements of small projects:

Popularisation of project management

To make project management more familiar, it is necessary to revise the theory which is aimed at medium and big organisations, pick up the most useful skills and make them immediately useful in daily practice. For people to take interest in project management, they need to be aware of the fact as to how they can benefit from it in their everyday life.

On the Internet, I found only few efforts to simplify project management for everyone's use. One of them is my article for Czech freelancers about the basics of project management. When writing for non-professionals, simplification, parables and stress on easy non-bureaucratic use are necessary.

Education at schools

Another way how to increase people's awareness of project management would be education at primary schools. A school subject combining basics of project management, time management and similar life-long skills would positively improve the ability of individuals to achieve even demanding goals. These skills would be applicable in all jobs.

As Jakob Nielsen points out in his articles, schools should teach life-long skills which people are unlikely to pick-up on their own. Though this opinion has been originally meant for the computer skills, I believe it should be applied more broadly to help handle increasing information overload and high rate of change.

Project Bank

A project bank, where people could get simple guides or templates to the most common types of projects, is the last significant way to improve project management of common people. With such a guide, based on previous experience of other people, the management can be much easier. It should contain for example the common work breakdown structure, usual tasks duration, common mistakes, templates of necessary documents etc. Many of this information is already included in books or articles, but often without due relevance to project management.

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