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How to Develop Olympic Project Management Skills

Ian Needs

Ian Needs

This is a contributed article by Ian Needs, Marketing Manager at KeyedIn Solutions.

It’s been about a year since the London Olympics. Imagine you were the manager of transportation programmes during the Games. That’s a huge responsibility.

Where would you start? How would you stay organised?

For most of us, Olympic project management is a hypothetical issue. But for Sue Kershaw, it was day-to-day life.

As the Deputy Director of Transport for the Olympic Delivery Authority since 2010, and previously the Head of Project Management to the ODA’s Transport Team, Kershaw oversaw all the transport projects involved in preparing for the 2012 London Games.

From maintenance and improvements of London’s existing public transport infrastructure, right through to the creation of the northern ticket hall of King’s Cross station and the extension of Greenwich Pier, her guidance and support enabled high-value projects to succeed.

So how do you develop your project or programme management skills to an Olympic standard?

Build on your experience

Sue Kershaw is one of the few female Fellows of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the UK (since 1999). She’s also one of the only two women in the UK to be made an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (in 2011), and is the former head of Transport for London’s Project Management Centre of Excellence.

As a specialist in large-scale and high-profile construction projects, Kershaw uses her 25 years of experience in the industry to gain deeper insight into construction project and programme management.

Her popularity as a public speaker on the topic is largely down to her unique perspective and her ability to make project management principles transparent to her audience, both of which are a result of her long years in the field.

Lesson learned: Just because you can manage a project even without relevant industry experience, doesn’t mean you should. Build on your experience, either by working in fields you already know or by seeking out experience in new fields that interest you.

Don’t keep it to yourself

Kershaw’s career provides a model for aspiring project managers to follow. Her publications of legacy reports and best practice documentation have made her an ambassador for project management in general, and the “clienting” side of project management in particular.

To maintain productive collaboration between more than 40 different organisations, Kershaw had to know who had what information. Collaboration and information sharing go hand-in-hand, even in a much smaller programme.

In this case, Kershaw needed to make sure that everything from transportation demand forecasts to progress reports went to the right recipients at the right time and that the information’s implications were understood. “Collaborative working was essential at all levels from Board to operations,” the Institution of Civil Engineers legacy report on the programme affirms.

Lesson learned: Everybody appreciates being given useful information in a way they can easily understand. In your projects, track information sharing so you know it’s reached the people who need it, and make it as ready-to-use as possible. Don’t forget how important it is to share relevant information with clients and educate them on best practice.

Use the right tools for the job

Kershaw had access to a multitude of tools to help keep the Olympic transportation programme on track. For your own projects and programmes, you’ll need to choose tools that suit the scope and scale of your endeavours.

Lesson learned: Project management software is used in most organisations these days, though one or two project managers still maintain their preference for a pen-and-paper approach. The many project management applications on offer are varied and flexible – often highly customisable – so take time to look into your options before choosing such an important tool.

About the author: Ian Needs is Marketing Manager at KeyedIn Solutions, who create PM and PPM software in both the UK and USA. Click here to visit KeyedIn Projects USA, or here to visit the KeyedIn Solutions UK site.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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