How Good Are Your Project Management Skills?

Project managers need a broad range of skills.

© iStockphoto/ez_thug

Whether or not you hold the official title of project manager, chances are you'll be called upon to lead some sort of project at some time.

From initiating a procedural change in your department to opening a branch office in a different city, projects come in all shapes and sizes.

As the complexity of your projects increases, the number of details you have to monitor also increases.

However, the fundamentals of managing a project from start to finish are usually very similar.

This short quiz helps you determine how well you perform in the eight key areas that are important to a successful project. The quiz is aimed at people who manage projects of a significant size, but who are not full-time project managers. However, everyone can use their answers to make sure they're applying best practices.

How Good Are Your Project Management Skills?

Instructions:

For each statement, click the button in the column that best describes you. Please answer questions as you actually are (rather than how you think you should be), and don't worry if some questions seem to score in the 'wrong direction'. When you are finished, please click the 'Calculate My Total' button at the bottom of the test.

   20 Statements to Answer

Not
at All
Rarely Some
times
Often Very
Often
1 I communicate what needs to be done by what deadline, and expect the people to whom I assign the work to be responsible for breaking down the work packages into smaller and more manageable pieces.
2 When I choose suppliers, I base my decision on their ability to deliver on time as well as on price.
3 I prepare a specific timeline and sequence of activities, and I use this schedule to manage the overall project to ensure its timely completion.
4 When a project begins, I work with its sponsor to negotiate and agree specific deliverables.
5 Project teams are only temporary, so I don’t worry too much about personalities. I select team members based on the technical skills I need.
6 At the start of a project, I formally outline what, why, who, how, and when with a Project Initiation Document – so everyone can understand how the elements of the project fit together.
7 I consider a variety of cost alternatives when developing my original project budget plan.
8 I outline clear expectations for the project team, and I manage their individual and collective performance as part of the overall project evaluation process.
9 When a project gets behind schedule, I work with my team to find a solution rather than assign blame.
10 I identify as many potential project risks as I can, and I develop a plan to manage or minimize each one of them, large or small.
11 Because projects involve so many variables that change so often, I let the plan develop on its own, as time passes, for maximum flexibility.
12 I use customer/stakeholder requirements as the main measure of quality for the projects I manage.
13 I routinely monitor and reevaluate significant risks as the project continues.
14 I give people a deadline to complete their project work, and then I expect them to coordinate with others if and when they need to.
15 I keep all project stakeholders informed and up-to-date with regular meetings and distribution of all performance reports, status changes, and other project documents.
16 I define specifically what the stakeholders need and expect from the project, and I use these expectations to define and manage the project's scope.
17 Forecasting costs is more art than science, so I include extra funds in the budget and hope that I’m under cost at the end.
18 I present project status information in an easy-to-use and easy-to-access format to meet stakeholders' information needs.
19 Delivering on time and on budget are the most important things for me.
20 When I contract for goods or services, I often choose suppliers based on familiarity and the past relationship with my organization.
Calculate My Total
Total = 0

Score Interpretation

Score Comment
20-46 Oh dear. Right now, you may be focusing mostly on day-to-day activities rather than the bigger picture. If you spend more time on planning and preparation, you'll see a big improvement in your project outcomes. And you'll have more time to spend on productive work rather than dealing with last-minute surprises. As part of planning more for your projects, take time to create a development plan for the specific skills on which you scored lowest. (Read below to start.)
47-74 Your project management skills are OK, and when projects are relatively simple, your outcomes are often good. However, the more complex the projects you manage, the less control you will have and the more likely you are to deliver below expectations. Take time to improve your planning skills and prepare for the unexpected. The more time you spend on your up-front planning, the better your project outcomes will be. (Read below to start.)
75-100 You are an accomplished project manager. Few things that happen will upset you, or hurt your confidence in your ability to lead the project to a successful end. Use your mastery to help others on your team develop their project management skills. Lead by example, and provide opportunities for other team members to manage parts of the project. Also, be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Just as you review a project at its completion, make sure that you review your own performance, and identify what you can do better next time. (Read below to start.)

Project Integration

(Statements 6, 11)

At the beginning of a project, it's important to develop a solid understanding of the project's goals, and how the various elements will fit together for a successful outcome.

Start by producing a Business Requirements Analysis  , and then develop a comprehensive Project Initiation Document  , which covers the basic project needs and outcomes, so that everyone can understand the project's goals.

To prepare this critical, high-level document, you need to understand the phases and processes of project management  . This overview will help you become better prepared for what's ahead. Understanding the planning cycle   is also important, because it helps you appreciate how important your project plan is to a successful outcome.

Scope Management

(Statements 4, 16)

Projects have a nasty habit of expanding as they go along, making it impossible to hit deadlines. To control this “scope creep,” it's essential to define the scope at the very start of your project based on the Business Requirements Analysis, and then manage it closely against this signed-off definition. For more on how to do this, see our article on scope control  .

Schedule Management

(Statements 1, 3, 9, 14)

A project's scope can easily grow, and so can the time needed to complete it. For a project to be completed successfully, despite all of the unknowns, it's important to clearly define the sequence of activities, estimate the time needed for each one, and build in sufficient contingency time to allow for the unexpected. It's also important to monitor full completion of each activity – it's shocking how long it sometimes takes for an activity to move from “80 percent complete” to 100 percent complete!

With this information, you can develop a Project Schedule   and then begin breaking it down into very specific pieces of work using a Work Breakdown Structure  . A schedule often isn't enough, particularly when different people do different things and their work output becomes the input for another piece of work. To keep track of the various activities, Gantt Charts   and Critical Path Analysis   are often helpful. These tools allow you to prepare and manage your schedule for maximum efficiency.

Cost Management

(Statements 7, 17)

To determine what a project will cost, you must be systematic with your estimating, budgeting, and controlling.

Also, be aware that many project decisions will have an impact on cost. Therefore, it's important to understand what's driving your costs and to develop a system for monitoring the project's financial performance. Managing project finances   requires many tools and strategies, and it's very important to set up a reliable control system to keep track of the costs and required changes.

Quality Management

(Statements 4, 12, 19)

Projects must be delivered not only on time and on budget, but also to specification (this is what “quality” means in project management). As part of this, ensure that you actively manage project benefits  . By continuously referring to the benefits that the project will provide, you keep client quality at the forefront – and you won't waste precious time and resources trying to achieve an inappropriate level of quality.

An effective project manager knows the importance of checking that project outcomes are consistent with needs. The Deming Cycle   (Plan-Do-Check-Act) and Business Testing   are important tools for this, as they both force you to consider the needs of the end users.

People Management

(Statements 5, 8)

The people on your project team can make or break the final outcome. Here, getting the right mix of interpersonal and political skills is just as important as the right technical skills. To help your new team start working together effectively as soon as possible, develop a Team Charter   and outline performance expectations  . Use well-informed task allocation   and appropriate team management skills   to keep the project team on track and working productively. And be prepared to help people through the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing   stages that so many teams go through.

Communication

(Statements 15, 18)

As with most situations, effective project communication means communicating with the right people at the right time and in the right way. To do this, Stakeholder Management   is essential. When you analyze your stakeholders  , you identify who must be kept informed in full, and who needs less intensive communication. This can save you a lot of time, and helps you maintain good relationships with people involved in the project.

Project Dashboards   are great for presenting project updates in a way that people can quickly understand. For longer projects that require periodic status reports, Milestone Reporting   is effective for capturing the essentials of a project's status.

Risk Management

(Statements 10, 13)

Project managers must understand which of the risks to their plans are significant. An Impact/Probability Chart   will help with this.

From there, develop a plan for monitoring and controlling the major risks involved in your project. Using your Risk Analysis  , develop options to reduce risks, prepare Contingency Plans  , and decide who is responsible for which parts of risk response.

Project Procurement

(Statements 2, 20)

Unless your project is in-house, external suppliers will generally have a large impact on your costs. Suppliers will also affect whether the project delivers on time and to specification.

Take the time to define your needs in a Request for Proposal   document, and then use an appropriate Procurement Management   approach to select the best supplier.

Tip:

For more on these project management skills take a look at the Project Management Body of Knowledge   (PMBOK).

General Project Management Skills

(Statements 4, 9)

This quiz also highlights some general skills that you should be aware of while developing your project management skills. Negotiation   – specifically, Integrative Negotiation   – is very important for dealing with suppliers and getting the in-house resources you need, when you need them.

Conflict resolution   is another important general skill. From resolving conflict within your project team to managing conflict that arises during negotiation, this is a fundamental skill for project managers. And, ultimately, your
problem-solving skills are essential. They will not only improve negotiation and conflict resolution skills, but also help with risk management, time management, and quality management.

Key Points

Project management is a complex process that requires a wide range of skills.

Whether you manage projects on a regular basis or only once or twice a year, the skills learned in project management are applicable to many managerial and leadership positions.

Understanding client needs and meeting their expectations in a timely manner are universal requirements. Use the information you gain here to improve specific project management skills – as well as your general workplace skills.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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