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Project Management in the Real World

Creator - May 17, 2021

I have been involved with IT projects since I served as the Regulating Petty Officer at a naval establishment in Canberra in the 1990’s.  I proposed that the cumbersome paper-based system for managing the duty watch bill for naval personnel in the Canberra area be replaced with a Microsoft Access database.  I’m not sure (as it was so long ago) but I think that may have been Access version 1.0 or 1.1.

I had no formal project management experience at the time and all my computer knowledge was pretty much self-taught.  I first used a personal computer around 1980-81.  My high school had a single Tandy TRS-80 and we programmed this symbol   <-O-> to fly around the screen.  It was meant to be a Star Wars Tie Fighter. I was hooked on technology the minute that Tie Fighter flew. I was hooked on technology the minute that Tie Fighter flew.

After leaving high school and joining the Navy, I graduated from that TRS-80 to a Commodore Vic-20, then to a Commodore 64 and finally to a Commodore Amiga 500 with a whopping 20-megabyte hard disk drive!  I finally bit the bullet and bought a PC in the early 90’s just in time for Windows 3.1.  I stayed with PC/Windows until Windows 7 when I transferred over to the Apple Mac world.  Happy with Mac.  Never going back to Windows thank you very much!

Like most Non-Commissioned Officers, I was expected to project manage various activities - including organizing recreational expeditions.  It might not be called "Project Management" - but you use the same skills.  Although my job in intelligence and electronic warfare was very high tech and used cutting-edge technology, none of it was PC based at that time.  We mainly used US equipment that ran SCO Unix/Xenix, and they didn’t have colour screens, a mouse or even a graphical user interface.  Designing Microsoft Access databases – or any database for that matter – was also not part of my job.

That first foray into project management in the Navy occurred because I could see a better way of doing a cumbersome task that had to be repeated 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  At the time, the Junior and Senior Sailors Messes in the area had a rather unpleasant duty called Scullery Galley - washing dirty pots and pans and all the dishes for both the Junior and Senior Sailors Messes - 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It was an afterhours duty at the Navy base and mistakes in scheduling - double duties, late notice call ins and mistakes with people unavailable for duty were common.  Personnel availability for scheduling this unpleasant task was basically held in the Regulating Petty Officer's brain or on paper. I took on the project of fixing this substandard process.

So, I knew from my own knowledge of databases that there was a better way.  I made a proposal to the command team that we look at establishing and using a database for the duty watch bills.  I built a prototype in my spare time after work, populated it with dummy data and designed some rudimentary reports. I demonstrated the capabilities of the database to the command team in person.  I think we were still using overhead projectors at that stage and laptops weren’t really a thing yet.  I had to drag my old 486DX2 tower up into the admin building for the presentation.  Oh, how things have changed!

The demonstration and presentation were a resounding success.  The command team gave me the go-ahead to design and build the database. I also got the go-ahead to carry out a full audit of all naval personnel in the Canberra region that were either eligible for after-hours duties or who were exempt.

So using that example from my time with the Navy, when I look back at it, I was thrown headfirst
into project management –like it or not. I didn't know it at the time, but that little project taught me
a lot about project management. It taught me how to:

  • Plan
  • Consult
  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Design
  • Test
  • Review

It solved a business problem in making the process easier to manage and also made it fairer in that
personnel did not get slogged with the same duty they did the week before. It also helped to
identify skulkers. A skulker is a navy slang term for someone who avoids work. I think the army calls
them malingerers.

Most people (especially ex-military Non Commissioned Officers) have experience in project
management in one form or another – even though you may not have had any formal project
management training. In my many civilian jobs after leaving the navy I have experienced this all too
often, whether they were large corporations or small business.

In my experience - very few companies follow a formal project management process. They appoint
someone to manage a project based on whether they have a good grasp of the particular business
problem they are trying to enhance or solve – not for their project management knowledge or
experience. Some of the other problems I’ve seen are:

  • Training people in the use of Microsoft Project and then using a spreadsheet to track the
    project
  • Not using project plans
  • Not using statements of work
  • Not using stakeholder engagement plans
  • Not using stakeholder or project communication plans
  • Not conducting stakeholder engagement meetings regularly, or at all

The project management pathway available to WithYouWithMe students aims to teach you the
theory behind project management and its component disciplines and processes. It aims to prepare
you to use all of that theory or some of that theory, and we hope to prepare you for the inevitable
circumstance of the real world – that some companies just don’t do project management properly.

I encourage you to enroll in one of the project management courses we run, attend some of the
project management boot camps and to join the project management discord channel if you wish to
speak to any of the instructors about project management topics in general or if you have specific
questions you’d like answered.

By Andy Blazer – Associate Instructor, WithYouWithMe

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