Simple Tools, Advanced Users

When you first start out as a professional project manager, you typically have had some informal project management experience as part of your other professional responsibilities. Then you take a serious PM course or two, maybe get a PMP and suddenly you find yourself equipped with a giant tool chest full of powerful and complex tools.

via Flickr by Kimmo Palosaari

It can be overwhelming. You’ve now signed yourself up as a professional, possibly even as a Certified Project Management Professional, to Do It Right. But out of this giant toolbox, what do you use when things are blowing up? Which tools do experienced project managers actually use to stay focused and manage their projects successfully, day-to-day, without drowning?

In my series this week I am going to talk about a few of the tools I have observed that my expert colleagues keep in their pockets and pull out most often as they do their work: the Project Manager’s Multitool (status report), Risk Contingency Plan, and Stakeholder Management Plan.

To be sure you need to have more than a few tools at your disposal. I’m not going to go through PMBOK, or building a project plan step-by-step. Instead, I want to show how a few simple, essential tools in expert hands play a major role in keeping large, complex, troublesome projects on track.

via Flickr by William Warby

The good news here for the new project manager is that becoming an expert does not mean you forgo simple tools for more complex tools and more byzantine management techniques. On the contrary, expertise means using the simple tools you got started with early in your career in more virtuosic ways. Think about a master carpenter and a wood chisel – the wood chisel is a simple tool that the master carpenter has learned to use to carve sculptures in woodworking.

Growing expertise also means adding more tools to your toolbox, but not necessarily pulling them all out for every job; rather, the expert knows which to apply in appropriate situations.

In addition, as you become more versatile you will find that simple management tools can actually serve multiple functions, covering multiple PMBOK requirements, enabling management efficiencies that let you go home a little earlier every day.

In the comments to this week’s entries, I welcome your observations about the simple tools you like to keep handy and find most useful, and simple tools prescribed by your particular methodological school (PMBOK, Agile, etc) function in multiple, perhaps unexpected, ways.

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