Legal Business

A Simple Example of Project Management

People have sometimes asked me for a simple definition of project management.

The PMI (Project Management Institute) definition pretty much requires you to be a project manager before you can understand it. That's fine; PMI caters to actual and aspiring project managers.

In the real world, project management covers a broad range of ideas and actions. Almost any series of actions that add up to a body of work with at least a sense of a start and an end is a project. Note that in the real world many projects don't have a clear start or end. Even in building construction, what's the start: when the developer first forms the idea of putting up a building, or when the architect comes aboard, or when the general contractor is hired, or when they start clearing the land, or...? In the law, especially at a firm, matters have begun usually long before you first see them, and their ends may drag on - Exxon Valdez is still in the courts 22 years later (the anniversary, in fact, is a week from today). You can sometimes define the start and end of your work on the project, but a project manager cannot be the star in her own play; the world is larger that any one of us.

Oops, see, I'm getting as overcomplicated as the PMI, and I'm just talking about when a project begins and ends.

The real world is messy. And good project managers live within and deal with the real world, not a sterile isolate of it.

So let me try it another way, by offering an example.

I live part time on a small island about 70 miles north of Seattle. It's not necessarily small in size, per se, since it's 1.5 times the size of Manhattan, but it's small in feel - 2000 full-time residents, everyone waves to one another, a village where you can walk from one end to the other in about five minutes, no traffic lights, stores all closed at 6PM in the winter, etc. (At left is a late winter sunset shot from my deck, one of the reasons I love spending time up there.)

However, getting there is a bit of a hassle. I need to take a ferry, which runs infrequently and leaves from a terminal 91 miles from my home in Seattle. So I have to drive to the ferry terminal over roads that are often jammed with traffic, get there early enough to make sure I get a spot on the ferry, and so on. There can be a long wait for the ferry during the summer and on spring and fall weekends. So it's a real project to get to the island.

Of course, I can just get in my car at any time, and wait at the terminal until I can get on a ferry. But the terminal is unexciting to say the least, and I'm not fond of waiting more than necessary. (And if I go too late in the day, I might not get on a ferry until the next day; the last ferry leaves around 9PM during the winter.)

So I project-manage the trip.

In my head, of course! I don't write up a project plan, build a risk matrix, or even consciously think "project management." But project management is what I do.

Read the rest on the Lexician Blog.