No one can persuade me that the abilities required to manage projects can be found only among candidates whose academic preparation is in business and engineering. I realize that’s what job postings for these sorts of positions require, but they’re wrong. The only thing that business and engineering students have in their academic bag of tricks that liberal arts students don’t is a class in project management. This teaches them the very basics—what a project is, the terminology, the sequence of events, the goals, maybe some constraints, and who the players are.
That small shortcoming in today’s liberal arts resume is easy enough to overcome because project management is far simpler than literary criticism, historical research, cultural analysis, sociolinguistics, or just about anything else you’ve learned in your undergraduate years. Really, the only difference between you, liberal arts majors, and “them” (business majors) is that they speak a little project management and you don’t. Yet.
Project Management Vocab
I like to approach things by looking at the language, so if you’d like to speak a little project management, let’s start there.
What is a “project” anyway? First of all, it’s a bit of work that is, by definition, temporary. It has a discrete beginning and end. That doesn’t mean it can’t go on awhile. Some projects go on for years. But regardless of duration, projects have start dates and deadlines—which some would argue are often unrealistic.
Besides being temporary, projects create something, like a new product or a service where one didn’t exist before. For example, Facebook didn’t come into being just because someone started banging on a keyboard. It was a project—probably it was split into several projects—and then one day, voila, it was a new product.
Not all projects unveil something brand new. They may be organized and launched to improve an existing product, enhancing software, for example, or making changes to a piece of equipment. I was just notified today of an enhancement to “Constant Contact,” the email marketing product I use. The Constant Contact people packaged together a number of planned improvements to their product and implemented them at one time. And lest you think all projects are tech projects, let me tell you that’s not so. You could organize a project to change “the way we do things around here”—a customer service improvement project, for example.
So the basic definition: projects are temporary, with start and end dates, and they create something new and different. They always introduce change, either by creating something that didn’t exist or by altering something that did.
The Gold Standard
The professional organization that sets the standards for project management is the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI’s official definition of a project is simply this: “A temporary unit of work to create a unique product or service.” If you memorize that, you’ll be ready for at least one of the questions on their rigorous certification test which, if you were to pass it, would be one step towards becoming a “Project Management Professional,” known as a “PMP,” for obvious reasons. There are about 300,000 members of PMI world-wide.
PMI publishes a volume that defines the gold standard of project management. This essential handbook is known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge, usually called simply the PMBOK (pronounced PIM-bock). Anything you’d ever want to know about the formal practice of project management, and some about the informal, is in the PMBOK. It’s an exceptionally well-organized little book, but I warn you it’s no page-turner. In other words, it’s a little drab as literary efforts go.
There’s only a narrow chasm between what students of the humanities and social sciences already know and what they need to be ready for many interesting, lucrative business jobs. Project Management fundamentals is one way to bridge that gap. So, with that in mind… Tomorrow: Project “deliverables.” Yes, I know. I, too, thought it was an ugly word when I first heard it, until I heard worse. Stay tuned, and I’ll explain.