Project Management 101

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Project Management 101

By: Dennis Chen
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Project management is a vast growing field in today’s world. It is the management of activities such as planning, organizing and using resources to acquire or achieve certain goals and objectives within given time periods. As a current undergraduate student, to prepare for the increasingly competitive world beyond the Ivory tower, you may want to develop as many transferable skills as you can before graduation.

But why project management? First of all, we all need to build up a comprehensive set of professional skills sooner or later, this including highly transferable skills such as project management. We all need something to write on our resumes that we can offer to employers, and have interesting and relevant stories and experiences that we can talk about in interviews to differentiate ourselves from our competition.

You want to expose yourself to project management as soon as possible because it is not a skill that can be obtained overnight. It takes a lot of time, resources and, often, a lot of emotional fatigue and stress to gain these experiences. Traditionally, we are expected to finish our undergraduate degree and move on to the next chapters of our lives in exactly 4 years. But from my personal experience, many talented students, due to lack of vision and focus, realize this skill gap when they enter their 3rd year, where they are “forced” with the reality that they will graduate soon and start competing with more qualified and accomplished graduates for the same positions. So they live in a lot of stress multitasking to learn these skills, while trying hard to maintain decent grades and getting involved in other extracurricular activities in their final year. It is in your best interest then to start planning for your career early on, so you have less to worry about as your graduation date approaches.

So what is project management about? Project management can be roughly divided into three major components:

Scale

  • How big is the event
  • Location – i.e. free school lecture hall vs. a fancy conference room in a renowned hotel

Time

  • When will it take place
  •  Duration – i.e. project planning, team recruitment, promotion, actual project, etc.
  • The earlier stages of a project may take longer than the expected periods, especially team recruitment if it is for a student club recruiting volunteers. Give or take, allocate at least 2 weeks for sending out the recruitment announcement to interviewing and finalizing the team
  • Try avoiding conflicts with other major events, exam periods, special events, etc. because you do not necessarily want to “compete” with other activities

Resources

  • What help we can get and need – be it people, monetary or intellectual resources
  • Advisors/experienced students, if applicable
  • External sponsorship
  • Information

Now that you know why project management skills and experiences are important, where do you begin? You may join a student club or union and help out with their project management activities. Didn’t find a club that interests you? Got a great idea of a club you want to start at SFU? From a student club executive’s perspective, the following will, hopefully, help you get started:

  • There is an amount of up to $500 per semester per student club sponsored by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) every semester. So do take advantage of it if you have an idea for a club, or it goes wasted.
  • Additional sponsorship/ways of generating income
    • One thing to keep in mind is that, if the event is charging its attendants for admission fee, the SFSS expects those income generated to be returned to them
  • Never underestimate one’s potential and determination -  there are many hidden resources available, such as faculty members, professors, friends and acquaintances, as well as the Internet and social media sites
  • Always ASK around for help whenever you encounter a problem. Support from an experienced mentor will help you save time, frustration and make sound decisions
  • Do your RESEARCH – each student club has different things to offer, and there are different associated requirements. For instance, some clubs seek specialized talents, such as webmasters and tax preparers, whereas some other clubs just want the extra manpower for basic tasks that do not necessarily require any specific skills
  • Always remember that, although team recognition is important, we all know that there are free-riders. So always keep things transparent and ask for physical records, whether it is electronic files or paper work. At the end of the day, you want to get the most out of your time and effort
  • If you are a business student, or interested in getting involved in business clubs, I would recommend you to start with Business Administration Student Society (BASS), the student organization that “governs” all business clubs, or the Accounting Student Association (ASA), which is what I consider to be the most structural and supported business club

Project management is not a discipline that can be simply taught and learned in the classroom, it is learned by doing. Many employers look for grades, interpersonal skills, volunteer involvement, etc., however, they value one attribute in particular – the ability to get things done on time! If you can have solid proof to show them that, with your project management skills, you have the drive and ability to convert ideas into actions and make things happen, then you are one step ahead of your competition already. 

Posted on November 14, 2011