Tech Skills

10 Essential Project Manager Skills

Joseph Phillips

Udemy for Business instructor on project management

February 7, 2018

Over the past 20 years, project management has grown from an afterthought to become a central part of every business. Today, project manager skills are in high-demand as companies recognize its importance to their success and bottom line. On Udemy, we saw a 42% uptick in learners taking Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) courses—making it one of the top 5 in-demand skills in 2018. But what are the key skills your project managers should master to effectively bring your projects to the finish line?

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Project management involves the coordination of resources to complete the project scope in a set amount of time with a limited amount of funds. Industries from software development to construction and manufacturing rely on project managers to build and deliver final products that are within budget and on time. Project management is a tricky endeavor because there are so many moving parts to track, control, and monitor. When we consider that most projects fail, it’s no wonder that project management is one of the fastest growing careers in the world.

As companies recognize the importance of project management to their bottom line, it has become a critical talent. 87.7 million project managers will be needed by 2027 and qualified talent is in huge demand, according to the Project Management Institute. Failure to anticipate this projected demand could result in a loss of $207.9 billion in gross domestic product through 2027.

So how can your company address this talent shortage and train effective project managers to shepherd your company’s projects to success? There are many certifications in project management, such as the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), the PMP, Agile project management certifications, and more. For example, my Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) course teaches the essentials of effective project management. It is a critical first stepping-stone for entry-level project manager roles. As you hone project manager skills at your organization, here are the key skills to keep in mind.

The Iron Triangle: Understanding what success looks like

What does it mean for a project to be successful? Successful projects maintain the Iron Triangle of Project Management. The Iron Triangle is an equilateral triangle, where each side is of the same length. One side represents the project scope, another side represents the project budget, and the third side represents the project schedule. When one of these sides isn’t in balance with the others, your project is not doing well.

The balance of the Iron Triangle begins with having a clear vision of what the project will create – we call this the Predictive Life Cycle because we’re predicting what the project will do. The project scope is everything the project will create, and identification of what the project won’t create. For example, it might involve developing the software, but not distributing it to the 1,000 users. The distribution is out of scope. In developing the software, project managers (PM) should define specifically what success looks like – so everyone agrees what the project will deliver.

Going back to our Iron Triangle, PMs then estimate how much the project will cost and how long the work should take with the resources available. But what happens if your PMs don’t have enough money or enough labor to complete the project? Well, they’ll need to either get more money, more time, or trim the scope to be in balance with what they have. And that’s just for starters. So many organizations miss this first, vital step. Many projects get started with unrealistic schedules and budgets that just don’t fit. Stakeholders, such as the customer, may have assumptions that the project will be delivered on time.

Projects fail at the beginning, not the end

Planning is paramount in project management. PMs will often spend days and weeks dedicated to planning. Why so long? It’s more cost effective to get the requirements, the execution plan, and the project strategy correct in the beginning rather than jumping into the work and then later blowing the budget and schedule. Planning helps PMs better understand what it will take to complete the project. As a result, teams can go into execution with confidence in what it takes to reach key performance indicators.

Planning is not a one-and-done activity. Your PMs must plan throughout the project. When things go awry in a project (and things will go awry), your PMs must return to planning to identify the best actions to fix the problem, recoup any time or financial losses, and then get back to work on execution. The project plan is more than just your PMs firing up their favorite project management software. PMs who say they can manage a project because they are equipped with a management software tool is like saying an employee can write a novel because they own a word processor. It obviously doesn’t work that way.

Mastering the 10 essential project manager skills

Instead, here are the 10 knowledge areas that your project managers must understand and master:

1. Project integration management – these are the gears of project management, and it coordinates the other nine knowledge areas.

2. Scope management – defining the project scope statement, creating a work breakdown structure, and controlling the project scope all happen in this knowledge area.

3. Schedule management – stakeholders want to know when the project will be done, when key milestones are scheduled for delivery, and how long each task will take. This knowledge area is all about scheduling.

4. Cost management – people want to know how much the project will cost, when expenditures will happen, and how the project manager will control costs.

5. Quality management – quality is meeting the exact requirements, confirming that the deliverables are useful, accurate, and precise. Quality assurance programs and quality control policies fit into this knowledge area.

6. Resource management – people, materials, equipment, and facilities are resources the project manager must plan for and manage throughout the project.

7. Communications management – this knowledge area is probably the most important of all. Poor communication affects all areas of the project and can wreck the project objectives.

8. Risk management – risks are uncertain events and conditions that can have a negative, or positive effect on the project. The project manager must identify, analyze, and prepare responses for risk events.

9. Procurement management – projects often require purchasing, dealing with vendors, and managing the terms of the contract to keep the project moving.

10. Stakeholder management – stakeholders are the people that can affect the project and the people most impacted by the project. Stakeholder management is linked closely with project communications management.

If your projects are struggling, train your project manager

Project management is complicated. A good project manager makes it look easy, but a new project manager can waste time, lose money, cause frustration, and create all sorts of problems if they lack good project management skills. My Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) course, a credential from the Project Management Institute, is a fantastic foundation that addresses all of these key skills. My course ensures that project managers are well trained, exhibit project management knowledge, and prepares them for the stringent certification exam. If your projects are struggling, it’s time to train your project manager.

Joseph Phillips is an Udemy for Business instructor and the Director of Education for Instructing.com, LLC a PMI Registered Education Provider. He has managed and consulted on projects for industries including technical, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, and architectural, among others. Joseph has taught organizations how to successfully implement project management methodologies, including corporate clients like IU Health, Mercedes-Benz, and Berkeley Laboratories. A Certified Technical Trainer, Joseph has instructed more than 50,000 professionals and is the best-selling author of seven books on project management from McGraw-Hill and the American Management Association. His Certified Associate Project Management (CAPM) course is featured on Udemy and Udemy for Business.

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in the digital transformation of the workplace by offering fresh, relevant, and personalized on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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