Project management is a key business skill for today’s executive. However, a whole industry has sprung up around it and although projects can be complicated, sometimes the jargon doesn’t make it sound any simpler: GANTT charts, PERT, Critical Path Analysis, PRINCE2, it’s easy to feel daunted. It can also sound too boring and technical for some sectors, such as fashion. But the Milano Fashion Institute’s Masters Degree in Fashion Project Management is now in its second year. Yes, project management is everywhere. So, think positive; whether you’re co-ordinating the Spring Collection or just making a cup of tea, the basic principles are the same.

“All important decisions are made on the basis of insufficient data” – Sheldon Kopp

This may be true – especially with hindsight – but before commencing a project, you need your information to be as complete as possible. Agree a clear statement of what the project is to deliver, by when, to whom and for what cost. Share that statement with the project team. Share it with the project stakeholders.

A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in, or some influence over, your project. They include: senior executives, shareholders, your team, customers, colleagues, the press, etc. List your stakeholders and then consider their levels of interest and influence:

  1. high influence / high interest – these are people you must fully engage and satisfy
  2. high influence / low interest – do enough to keep them satisfied, but not so much that they become bored
  3. low influence / high interest – keep them adequately informed, and talk to them to ensure that no major issues are arising
  4. low influence / low interest – monitor them but do not bore them with excessive information

Having identified the parameters of the project, break it down into key tasks and steps; as much detail as possible. Which tasks depend on the completion of others? Which can be performed at the same time? By charting these tasks and knowing how long each will take and what resources it will require, you have built a detailed roadmap of your project. You also won’t have to guess at deadlines.

The project is now under way and your job is to keep it on track. To do so you need regular communication between you and your project team and the key stakeholders. As obstacles arise, decisions will be needed. To help decide, you must know your priorities. Any project is driven by the required quality and the available time and resources. You need to know which of these is the most important and which have some flexibility in order to achieve your goal.

Finally, you may think it’s all over but this is the time to learn with hindsight for the benefit of the next project. What happened? What problems occurred and how were they solved? What training or coaching might be required in future?

Whether you’re involved in design, production or marketing – from the designer’s sketch pad or screen to the customer’s home – thinking positively about project management can keep everything flowing smoothly.