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Project Management

February 24, 2011

A while back I wrote about my desire to have awesome projects in my classes and life. In my graduate year of school, I’ve been using my “directed” electives (doesn’t that sound a bit like a contradiction?) to gear me toward more awesome projects…or at least, to more things that I can readily apply outside of specific work engagements. (Interestingly, my other classes are really pulling together the financial and accounting sides of things so that I can apply those elsewhere as well. I feel satisfied that, in my final year of school, it really all does fit together.)

One gaping sinkhole weakness I know I have is in executing certain plans. I am GREAT at coming up with plans, and I am great at researching and analyzing and deliberating…but when it comes to carry-out, I have a spottier track record. If I have what I feel is enough information, then I have no problem with doing anything in the world…but as soon as uncertainty creeps in, I am paralyzed by my perfectionism. (This is funny…I actually do a lot of things in a subpar way, but sometimes, it bothers me to even THINK that I’m not doing something to the best of my ability.)

So, I’ve been looking for a class to teach me to DO things. And this list of things includes a lot of things, like reaching out to outside parties for support/commitment, delegating to inside parties, networking through people known to get to people unknown, etc.

In short, I have been looking for a class to teach me  leadership.

…And maybe that describes my entire problem…

I approach this subject, leadership, like I do everything else — as something for which I can gather information until I am satisfied that I know *enough* before engaging. And if I don’t feel I know enough, I won’t move forward.

walking blindfoldedBut maybe leadership is something that you just have to do? That I have to move forward recognizing uncertainty and risk in the first place? And that even though I don’t have confidence in my estimates or my projections or plans, I have to move forward anyway before I can adjust them? (Maybe that’s the point of faith, and what I’m really saying is, “I need to learn how to have faith”?)

This makes sense to me conceptually. Even though I know that I can’t know everything (and I don’t) from a conceptual standpoint, from a practical standpoint, I still feel as if I shouldn’t even try unless I can feel confident of success.

…anyway…in my quest for leadership knowledge, I enrolled in a class devoted to Project Management.

This class has actually become one of my very favorites of all time…and for a quite different reason.

Is it teaching me to lead better? Well, not quite. I figure the only cure here is to just go out, get messy, and make mistakes. I still just have to go out and do stuff to do that.

Gantt ChartBut it’s pointing out all of my other gaping sinkhole weaknesses! Time management? What is that? OH, maybe I should learn that to make a schedule? And maybe I should make a Gantt Chart for a schedule? Find a critical path?

Maybe, instead of flying by the seat of my pants every day (or spending each week with, at best, an idea of what I need to do in my head somewhere), I could plan things out?

Where this project management class — and indeed, the rest of my education — is falling so perfectly into play in my life is with something rather unlikely: Fencing Club.

Recently, I became a member of the Executive Committee for my school’s Sport Club Association. I didn’t really know much about what the Executive Committee did or what I would do as part of the Exec Committee, but the Sport Club advisor for my club suggested that she thought, based on my work with the Fencing Club as treasurer, I would be a good fit for the Exec Comm.

So, today, as part of my role with the Exec Committee, I was drafting a letter soliciting for donations and support from local companies for an event that we want to hold for the Sport Club Association (!). To draft the letter, I thought I would begin by talking about our value as an Exec Committee and as a Sport Club Association. Why should a company want to support us? What do we do that’s worthy of support?

So, I looked in detail at the goals and aims of the Sport Club Association for the first time, and I was surprised to find a couple of parts.

Student organizations…provide a medium for students to enhance the lessons and theories learned in the classroom through real life experiences and responsibilities. The Sport Club Program complements the University’s intercollegiate, intramural, and physical education activity programs, while affording the students opportunities to develop skills that will assist them beyond the years spent at Texas A&M.

…While the Sport Club Staff and the Department of Recreational Sports assist clubs in securing needed funds, facilities, and equipment, the emphasis is on student leadership and development. Students are directly responsible for all aspects of operating and managing a successful and competitive organization. As a result, sport clubs present a unique opportunity for students to develop both athletic and leadership abilities…

In an Exec Committee meeting we had later today, we mused over what the theme for the next meeting should be. One member raised that he wanted to have a meeting to talk about how officers and members can best employ their Rec Sport Club experiences on their resumes.

I thought to myself…Shouldn’t everyone already know to put these things on their resumes?

Then I thought again…I’ve helped a lot of people with resumes, and some people really don’t know how to construct them.

And those two thoughts got me thinking some more. In our own Fencing Club, we are developing a goldmine of marketable skills. I mean, even if I get at the officers for some things…we are about to hold a tournament. This tournament, when all is said and done, is nothing more than a project to be managed. We draft a schedule and a budget, and then seek resources to load to that schedule. But in order to manage time, money, and resources, we must develop so many other skills.

The only thing is…with two days to the tournament, we are really crunching to get all the referees and the strips we need. And we seem to be crunching well (we always crunch well…the week before, things just start getting done.) I just wish that one day, we could plan well enough so that we wouldn’t have to crunch at the last moment. “Crashing a schedule” sounds good, but feels about as good as any crash.

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  1. I once heard the piece of advice “Anything worth doing is worth doing half *ssed”. I thought it was a legitimate piece of wisdom, particularly if someone is concerned about doing something perfectly (and would rather not do it if it’s not perfect).

    Also, everyone has different talents and abilities. Some people are able to draft resumes in their sleep (and draft powerpoints), and others are simply not. Best of luck at beginning the planning process earlier (and things falling into place earlier).

  2. aerin,

    But that’s another thing. Even recognizing talent, I think that it would be appropriate to say there was a point when I couldn’t draft a resume or a powerpoint. However, I approached it through a research process — seeing hundreds of other powerpoints and resumes, analyzing what went wrong in some but what was interesting in others.

    But the problem is that there are some thing that don’t have a wide body of instructional or example material. So, IDEALLY, you (or, in this case, *I*) are supposed to go out without previous guidance. Kinda wing it.

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