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Keeping things on track

Why project management is like a train journey.

"First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end." Aristotle

Have you ever been on a train and the driver or crew doesn’t know where they are going? No, me neither…or at least I’m hoping that was the case and not just blind luck that I ended up where the information board said that the train was going. In order to get to the correct destination a train driver (and the entire crew) needs a plan in order to keep people on track (pun intended). And let’s not forget that a single train journey is part of a much bigger network.  Welcome to the world of project management!

In this short article I am going to briefly touch on the world of project management. It is clearly a big topic so the intention here is to simply give you a few ideas and to generate thinking. Perhaps even a few practical tools and techniques to use that actually work in the real world.  It is not intended to be an overly complicated load of business speak, unlike many of the ridiculously complicated books out there on this subject!

What is project management? Perhaps take some time yourself now to give that some thought.

Did you stop reading, make a brew or grab a wine and actually think about the question?

In the real world a project manager wears many hats but in essence their job is to align things that people are doing to the company strategy, on time and within a budget. Of course there is much more to it than that – it’s not just about tasks and doing ‘stuff’. What about the people, the human factor? What about the team that is put together to complete the project? What about the resources needed?

Many projects (if not all) deal with implementing change and for me project management broadly falls under the following sub role headings:

·        Team builder.

·        People manager.

·        Resource manager.

·        Change manager.

·        Time manager.

·        Risk manager.

·        Problem solver and planner.

·        Financial controller.

·        Quality controller.

·        Stakeholder relationship manager (actually talks to people on a human level and builds a network of people who work towards a shared goal).

·        Conflict manager (for when the above breaks down).

·        Reporter/communicator (lets people know what is going on).

Top Challenges for Project Managers

Having facilitated many sessions with project teams I have had the opportunity to speak to many project managers and get a feel for their real-life challenges. Below is a condensed version of my findings:

  1. Managing projects and tasks without knowing the answers (and feeling like they actually should know them all).
  2. Not really knowing what the actual problems are. Both of these first two fall under what we a Successfactory call 'working in the fog'.
  3. Increased time pressures.
  4. Too many things going on at once (too many train journeys trying to take place on the same stretch of track at the same time).
  5. People not doing what they have been instructed/asked to do.
  6. Poor selection of project team members.
  7. Poor communication between teams and departments.
  8. Too much red tape and barriers put in the way of success.

Tools that can help

1.      Graham Wilson’s ChangePro™ -


2.      4 Change situational model


3.      Action planning business model canvas - 


Top Tips

Learn to be agile and ‘go with flow’ more. It’s great to plan but gone are the days of long-term planning in paint by numbers format – things change too quickly these days. A great saying from the military is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Be prepared to plan well but change quickly.

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About the author

Dave Dayman

Dave Dayman

I'm passionate about leadership. I believe that thinking is not only the most powerful tool that we own but is also the one thing we have total control over. Sometimes we just need a little help to change the way we in which we choose to think!