Do you want to make sure you have the basics of Project Management sorted – the terminology, stages, structures and processes? You could go on a (very) expensive course, or you could access the materials from leading universities for free through the use of Open Educational Resources. I’ll be looking at some of the resources available and outlining what they cover and what benefits they could bring to your project management.

I am a big fan of the UK’s Open University. I have studied with them for years, and the quality of the materials they produce has always impressed me. They have a new(ish) iniitiative called OpenLearn, where they make some of their course material available as OERs for all to use. Anyone can register with OpenLearn and you can then use the VLE to track your progress and record your learning. Note that there is no tutor involvement with OpenLearn – it is all self-directed learning. If you want to sit an exam and get the support of a tutor and a formal qualification, you will need to sign up with the Open University itself, and hand over some cash.

Preparing a project

The first course I am going to look at is Preparing a Project (B713_1). It is at Masters level, but does not assume any particular qualification. The course outline suggests it takes approximately 8 hours to complete.

It covers the following topics:
  • What is a project?
  • Why projects fail – the dimensions of failure
  • Where do projects come from
    • The idea
    • Mind mapping
    • Task breakdown chart
  • Project inputs and outputs
  • Setting aims and objectives
  • The stakeholders and their interests
  • Will it work?
    • Consider the purpose
    • Feasibility studies
    • Risk and contingency planning
    • Risk assessment and impact analysis
  • A basis for action and the project brief

This unit provides the context for setting up a project. The key points here are:

Section 5 – Make sure you know what you are trying to achieve and will be able to tell when you have achieved it
Section 6 – Think up front about who needs to be involved in your project and who you need to communicate with about it.
Section 7 – Risk analysis. It provides a template for a risk register, and discusses the need for contingency
Section 8 – A checklist of the headings that should be included in your Project brief, or Project Initiation Document.
I particularly like the Project Brief Checklist. It can be quite difficult to find a template or outline for the main Project Management documents, and I think that the headings given here are a great starting point for someone who is trying to put together a Project brief, or who is wrestling with how to get started with managing a project.
Here’s the list:
  • Project title
  • Name of sponsor and main contact for project approval
  • Locations – address of sponsor, project location, contact address
  • Name of person managing the project and possibly their organisation if different from that of the project sponsor
  • Date of agreement of project brief
  • Date of project start and finish
  • Background to the project and purpose with goals outlined
  • Key objectives with quality and success criteria
  • Details of how achievement of these will bring benefits to the business or sponsoring organisation
  • Scope of the project and any specific boundaries
  • Constraints
  • Assumptions
  • Timescale of the project
  • Deliverables and target dates (milestones)
  • Estimated costs
  • Resourcing arrangements
  • Reporting and monitoring arrangements
  • Decision-making arrangements – level of authority and accountability held by manager of project and arrangments for any necessary renegotation
  • Communications arrangements
  • Signature of sponsor with date, title and authority
This looks like a really solid template for a Project Brief. Let me know if you think it is lacking anything.