The Harlow Report - Geographic Information Systems, Volume 24, Number 1 (July 2001)

Project Management Essentials

I know, you already understand everything there is to know about project management. Perhaps. Perhaps not. As part of the IT community (you did know that GIS was part of the IT community, didn’t you?), we often think that because we finished a project, we managed it. More often than not, the project probably managed you.

To see if you need to learn any more about project management, ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. Can you recite the objectives?

  2. Do you review the objectives and progress weekly?

  3. Did your staff have input and agreement on these goals?

  4. Can the objectives be measured, or at least noticed when they are met? For example, were you asked to make images appear faster, or were you asked to render images 20% faster?

  5. Do you discuss objectives and progress with your manager more than monthly?

  6. Do you frequently miss deadlines?

  7. Do you meet all deadlines and objectives, without fail, or adjustment?

  8. Do you find it hard to leave work on time, take a vacation, or stay away from the office on Saturday? Do your kids call you Uncle Daddy (Aunt Mommy)?

  9. Do your team members think they have the resources and time to finish the project as expected?

  10. Are you overwhelmed? Underwhelmed?

Project Management for Dummies

The "Dummies" series has been quite a success, with titles ranging from Siberian Huskies For Dummies® (did you miss that one?) to the ever exciting MCSE Windows® 2000 Server For Dummies® . I must confess that I have spent more time reading the series while standing in the aisle in
Books-a-Million than I have purchased, but at least I am reading them.

Recently, I had a chance to read
Project Management For Dummies ®  by Stanley E. Portny. According to his bio, " Stanley Portny is an internationally recognized expert in planning and management of programs and projects. Portny has provided training to more than 20,000 people in over 100 organizations and federal government agencies including AT&T, Bank of Boston, the Department of Defense, Hewlett Packard and Honeywell, Inc.  He has been certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute."

If there is a common thread in the Dummies series, it is that the books are written by experts in the field, and are edited with a fine tooth comb. The writing is clear, and easy to follow. Usually, the books are organized in such a logical order, it is nearly impossible to give in to the temptation of skipping around from chapter to chapter.


Common Sense


What struck me immediately about Project Management for Dummies was how simple Portny makes a very complex topic. For example, right off the bat he lists the ingredients to a project, be it large or small:

  •  "Specific outcomes: Products or results

  •   Definite start and end dates: Dates when project work begins and when it ends

  •   Established budgets: Required amounts of people, funds, equipment, facilities, and information."

Does this sound too simple for you? It shouldn’t be, unless you truly are a project management expert. But, let’s look at these project ingredients a little closer.

  • Specific Outcomes   In my experience, this is the biggest omission in most in-house projects. For some reason, when an outside vendor is hired, everyone wants to hold the vendor’s feet to the fire. But, when the project is done internally, no one really wants to define success, because that means that you also define failure.

  • Definite Start and End Dates This phrase defines the difference between a process and a project. Too often there are no hard endings to projects and they soon move past the project stage, right through the process stage, and into the career stage. Just look around the GIS community and see how many people have been working on their project for over five years. The answer will startle you.

  • Established Budgets If you haven’t established specific outcomes, and definite start and end dates, how on earth do you establish a budget? Budgets are often looked upon as some abstract finance committee requirement. Portny is here to tell you that budgets are an important ingredient to a successful project.

The rest of the book then shows you how to achieve the success you so richly deserve. Portny takes you through how to organize the project, track progress, using experience and technology, and so on. Part V of the book is called "The Part of Tens". Each chapter asks ten important question, or provides steps and tips to manage the project. Work your way to Appendix B, and you will be treated to some solid analytical tools.

Dummy or not, if you manage a project or want to manage a project, go get this book today.

This review appears in Volume 24, Number 1 of The Harlow Report - Geographic Information Systems.  Established in 1978 by Chris Harlow, the Harlow Report - GIS is a newsletter with an international distribution.  The complete text of this review, as well as other interesting articles and information, can be seen at