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15 Essential Skills Every Project Manager Needs

I’ve made a list of the 15 core skills that I think project managers need. These are the things that should be part of your skillset because they will help you get the job done more effectively. And for the avoidance of doubt, ‘effectively’ means faster and with less effort. I certainly want that for my projects!

Here is the list of skills project managers need. As you read through, think about which ones should be your focus areas for the coming year and how you are going to take your skills to the next level.

1. Leadership

Project leadership was a hot topic this year. Being able to lead your team as well as manage them is a trend that shows no sign of abating (and that’s a good thing). It’s really important to be able to inspire others, set the vision and lead effectively, so if that’s not your strong point resolve to work on it now.

2. Negotiation

It would be lovely if everyone did what was best for the greater good at all times, but projects don’t work like that in real life, do they? Project managers with good negotiation skills will be an asset to their teams as they seek to resolve conflicts by finding the win-win scenarios for everyone.

3. Scheduling

It should go without saying that project scheduling is a core project management skill. However, speaking to people who manage project managers during end-of-year review time I have heard that some of them aren’t up to scratch in this area.

Get to grips with project scheduling because a) it’s your job and b) it will help you deliver things more successfully for others (which is also your job).

4. Cost Control

Budget management is bizarrely one of my favourite topics. I am not a natural maths whizz but I do like a well put together spreadsheet. If I understand the numbers and create my own tracking mechanism I can tell you to the penny how much my project is spending.

Cost management is a critical topic for project managers. Those without this skill will be at a disadvantage because budgets are tight. You need to show that you can deliver your project within the cost constraints and by managing the project finances intelligently.

5. Risk Management

The more mature project management gets as a profession, the more we find ourselves doing projects that are unique. The more ‘routine’ the project, the more it is likely to get outsourced or given to a functional manager who shows an aptitude for getting things done. Project managers will work on the more complex, transformative, unique endeavours that require decent risk management.

Being able to control risk (as far as you can) is a sign that you are on top of your project. Project sponsors hate surprises and good risk management is one way that you can manage that.

6. Contract Management

Part of managing your project involves managing suppliers. The vast majority of projects will have an element of supply, whether that is something as simple as the outside caterers who bring in cakes for your launch event or a full-on off-shoring system development firm.

Contract management is about being able to actively manage those procurements. Previously many project managers have been able to rely on their Finance departments to get this sort of work done (and Legal teams for managing the terms of the deal). Today, with everyone under pressure to do more with less, it’s falling to project managers to pick up the slack when it comes to procurement.

critical thinking

7. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is core to being able to make good decisions. You have to weigh up the pros and cons of solutions to problems before choosing the right way forward. This is what distinguishes a project manager who is good at managing issues to someone who blows issues out of the water every time.

You can build your critical thinking skills through practice and by equipping yourself with tools and approaches to help you structure arguments logically and see things from all angles before making the final decision.

8. Communication

If I had to pick one skill on this list to focus on this year it would be communication. We don’t do enough of it. Our stakeholders demand more of it. We fail time and time again to meet expectations largely because we failed to communicate effectively and often.

Think creatively about the communication channels you have got available to you including:

  • Intranet
  • Newsletters
  • Emails
  • Collaboration and social media tools
  • Team meetings/face-to-face
  • Web and online conferencing.

Then think about how you can apply each of these to actively serve your project next year.

9. Project Recovery

I hope you don’t have to do project recovery next year but if you are looking for a boost to your career then showing you know how to turn around a poorly performing team and project will certainly set you aside from your peers.

10. Coaching

Most of the people on your project team won’t work for you (if, indeed, any of them do). That makes it really important that you are good at managing in a matrixed environment but also that you are good at coaching. Why? Because they may not have much project experience and you’ll have to coach them to top performance.

If you are worried about not being a good coach you might be surprised to learn that coaching skills are something that might be closer in reach than you expect. If you sit with a child during homework and help them come to the right answers then you are doing a form of coaching. Some training in this area will help you apply those skills in the workplace to help your team perform their best.

11. Task Management

This is another bread and butter task for project managers. You should be able to create a task list, delegate work to others and keep on top of progress. I found this was the easiest part of project management when I started because I was naturally a list-maker. If it doesn’t come easy to you you’ll have to develop strategies to ensure you are always on top of your To Do list.

When you have cracked managing your own work you can help others manage theirs. This is the best way in my experience to make sure that projects come in on time and others take responsibility for their deliverables.

12. Quality Management

Quality management ensures that you deliver a product that is fit for purpose. What project sponsor doesn’t want that? Unfortunately project managers often don’t spend enough time on the quality angle of their projects – it’s one of those processes and set of tasks that are overlooked as an administrative overhead.

If you are a quality expert, then good for you. But if you aren’t, seriously consider upping this on the priority list for 2015. The better the quality of your deliverables, the better value you are offering stakeholders and the more satisfied they will be.

13. Meetings Management

How many of your meetings this year have overrun or finished without any clear action being agreed? How much time have you sat in meetings wondering why you were there and what time you can leave without it looking too bad? Or worse, how much time have you spent on conference calls only half listening while doing your emails or playing Candy Crush?

Being able to sense when a meeting is going off the rails and people aren’t paying attention is a key skill for project managers. It’s helped by sticking to the agenda but it’s also about being able to read the body language of people in the room to check that you are getting through the material quickly and comprehensively. Don’t let 2015 become another year of wasted time in meeting rooms.

14. Business Case Writing

With the ongoing focus on delivering business value, being able to write a business case (or at least contribute one) will be a good skill to have. Get hold of some templates so that when you are asked to finalise a business case or review one you know what should be included.

Find some business cases from past projects and evaluate what you would do differently. And make sure that your next project actually has a business case – that’s a good start!

15. A Sense of Humour

Getting through your projects largely relies on a good sense of humour and the goodwill of colleagues prepared to pick up the slack or wait another 24 hours.

An ability to see the funny side of project management will keep you on an even keel during the next 12 months.

Now you have read the list which of these skills will you work on as a priority this year? Let us know in the comments and good luck in your project management career this year.

Source: 15 Essential Skills Every Project Manager Needs

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Difference Between PERT and CPM (with Comparison Chart) – Key Differences

Eleven important differences betweeb PERT and CPM are discussed in this article. One such difference is PERT is a technique of planning and control of time. Unlike CPM, which is a method to control costs and time.

Source: Difference Between PERT and CPM (with Comparison Chart) – Key Differences

Difference Between PERT and CPM

CPM vs PERTProject management can be understood as a systematic way of planning, scheduling, executing, monitoring, controlling the different aspects of the project, so as to attain the goal made at the time of project formulation. PERT and CPM are the two network-based project management techniques, which exhibit the flow and sequence of the activities and events. Program (Project) Management and Review Technique (PERT) is appropriate for the projects where the time needed to complete different activities are not known.

On the other hand, the Critical Path Method or CPM is apt for the projects which are recurring in nature.

The two scheduling methods use a common approach for designing the network and for ascertaining its critical path. They are used in the successful completion of a project and hence used in conjunction with each other. Nevertheless, the truth is that CPM is different from PERT in a way that the latter concentrates on time while the former stresses on the time-cost trade-off. In the same manner, there are many differences between PERT and CPM, which we are going to discuss in this article.

Content: PERT Vs CPM

  1. Comparison Chart
  2. Definition
  3. Key Differences
  4. Video
  5. Conclusion

Comparison Chart

Meaning PERT is a project management technique, used to manage uncertain activities of a project. CPM is a statistical technique of project management that manages well defined activities of a project.
What is it? A technique of planning and control of time. A method to control cost and time.
Orientation Event-oriented Activity-oriented
Evolution Evolved as Research & Development project Evolved as Construction project
Model Probabilistic Model Deterministic Model
Focuses on Time Time-cost trade-off
Estimates Three time estimates One time estimate
Appropriate for High precision time estimate Reasonable time estimate
Management of Unpredictable Activities Predictable activities
Nature of jobs Non-repetitive nature Repetitive nature
Critical and Non-critical activities No differentiation Differentiated
Suitable for Research and Development Project Non-research projects like civil construction, ship building etc.
Crashing concept Not Applicable Applicable

Definition of PERT

PERT is an acronym for Program (Project) Evaluation and Review Technique, in which planning, scheduling, organizing, coordinating and controlling uncertain activities take place. The technique studies and represents the tasks undertaken to complete a project, to identify the least time for completing a task and the minimum time required to complete the whole project. It was developed in the late 1950s. It is aimed to reduce the time and cost of the project.

PERT uses time as a variable which represents the planned resource application along with performance specification. In this technique, first of all, the project is divided into activities and events. After that proper sequence is ascertained, and a network is constructed. After that time needed in each activity is calculated and the critical path (longest path connecting all the events) is determined.

Definition of CPM

Developed in the late 1950s, Critical Path Method or CPM is an algorithm used for planning, scheduling, coordination and control of activities in a project. Here, it is assumed that the activity duration is fixed and certain. CPM is used to compute the earliest and latest possible start time for each activity.

The process differentiates the critical and non-critical activities to reduce the time and avoid the queue generation in the process. The reason for the identification of critical activities is that, if any activity is delayed, it will cause the whole process to suffer. That is why it is named as Critical Path Method.

In this method, first of all, a list is prepared consisting of all the activities needed to complete a project, followed by the computation of time required to complete each activity. After that, the dependency between the activities is determined. Here, ‘path’ is defined as a sequence of activities in a network. The critical path is the path with the highest length.

Key Differences Between PERT and CPM

The most important differences between PERT and CPM are provided below:

    1. PERT is a project management technique, whereby planning, scheduling, organising, coordinating and controlling uncertain activities are done. CPM is a statistical technique of project management in which planning, scheduling, organising, coordination and control of well-defined activities take place.
    2. PERT is a technique of planning and control of time. Unlike CPM, which is a method to control costs and time.
    3. While PERT is evolved as a research and development project, CPM evolved as a construction project.
    4. PERT is set according to events while CPM is aligned towards activities.
    5. A deterministic model is used in CPM. Conversely, PERT uses a probabilistic model.
    6. There are three times estimates in PERT, i.e. optimistic time (to), most likely time ™, pessimistic time (tp). On the other hand, there is only one estimate in CPM.
    7. PERT technique is best suited for a high precision time estimate, whereas CPM is appropriate for a reasonable time estimate.
    8. PERT deals with unpredictable activities, but CPM deals with predictable activities.
  1. PERT is used where the nature of the job is non-repetitive. In contrast to, CPM involves the job of repetitive nature.
  2. There is a demarcation between critical and non-critical activities in CPM, which is not in the case of PERT.
  3. PERT is best for research and development projects, but CPM is for non-research projects like construction projects.
  4. Crashing is a compression technique applied to CPM, to shorten the project duration, along with the least additional cost. The crashing concept is not applicable to PERT.

Video: PERT Vs CPM


The difference between these two project management tools is getting blurred as the techniques are merged with the passage of time. That is why, in most projects, they are being used as a single project. The primary point that distinguishes PERT from CPM is that the former gives the extreme importance of time, i.e. if the time is minimized, consequently the cost will also be reduced. However, cost optimization is the basic element, in the latter.

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Understand the difference between Lead-Lag, Float/Slack and Buffer Management

Over many years of my training experience, I have found that people are confused with the following project management terminologies. I have put my best effort to clarify these terms.

Source: Understand the difference between Lead-Lag, Float/Slack and Buffer Management

Over many years of my training experience, I have found that people are confused with the following project management terminologies. I have put my best effort to clarify these terms. Please do share your feedback and comments for the benefits of the others.

1.      Lead and Lag are the duration unit of tasks. Lead is portrayed by negative (-) sign whereas Lag is by positive (+) sign. A lead is the amount of time whereby a successor activity can be advanced with respect to a predecessor activity whereas A lag is the amount of time whereby a successor activity will be delayed with respect to a predecessor activity.

Lead and Lag are decided by the Project manager based on the logical relationship between two tasks. For example, Hang a photo frame on the wall. In this case, consider you have the following tasks…

a.      Task A – Construct a wall

b.     Task B – Paint a Wall

c.      Task C – Hang a photo frame

Here, Task B is a predecessor to Task C and it also required waiting time (Lag) before the successor task can start. Now the lag will be decided by the project manager based on expert judgment and other facilitation techniques in this case.

Hence, Lead and Lag are always imposed by the project managers on a critical or non-critical path based on task logical relationship.

2.      Float or Slack is again an activity duration unit where a task can be delayed without having impact on early start date of successor task (free float) or project duration (Total Float) or customer constraints date (Project float) but the difference here, it is not imposed by project manager manually rather they exist in network diagram because of the sequencing of the tasks.

Float or Slack can only exist on the non-critical path.

Formula: Float = LS-ES or LF – EF

3.      Buffer or Reserve Or Padding are used in project management as a risk response strategy. They are again manually decided by project managers based on expert judgment or other facilitation techniques with the team and other stakeholders.

In the Project network diagram on the critical path, when we put buffer (Project Buffer) at the end of the network, it is for the purpose of mitigating the unknown-unknown risk and hence to protect the project schedule for delay from unidentified risk.

When we put Buffer on a non-critical path (Feeding Buffer) it is again for risk of delay to task on the non-critical path which has an impact on the task on the critical path because of their relationship/constraints.

To summarize, Float, Lead/Lag and Buffer are not the same. Float for the task cannot be decided by project manager whereas Lead/Lag and Buffer can be decided by him with other’s help.

Lead/Lag can exist on both critical or non-critical paths the same as Buffer but the difference is Buffer can also exist at the end of the critical path as oppose to Lead/Lag.