Project Management – now that’s a buzz word we always hear! But do we, as actuaries, associate that skill with ourselves?
With little time in the work force to really have refined many of the great skills experienced actuaries call upon without hesitation, the Young Actuaries Program (YAP) audience is always interested in ways to accelerate our development. Following a very successful Actuaries Summit in Melbourne on 19 May, the YAPsters continued their learning with a Project Management Session with Trang Duncanson, a master of Project Management and an actuary keen to share her wisdom
So why should actuaries master this skill? Trang explained that project management skills are a way to differentiate ourselves, imaginably could be our career advantage. They could be the other string to our bow that our peers and competitors may not have. By its very nature, project management highlights in born leadership skills.
Project management could be described as the art and science of ‘making things happen’. It’s not a static time outcome, but rather a journey of trade-offs between cost, time and scope with ever emerging risks and issues. Ultimately project management drives execution. Whilst we often associate this task with sophisticated tools and tireless reporting, we learned that at the core of project management lies leadership – telling and selling a vision.
Before embarking on a project management journey Trang reminded us to really understand our customers and their needs, and appropriately illustrated this with the comic below.
We often become exposed to the sales process and find ourselves over-selling a result for unachievable budgets, only to deliver an over-complex solution to a really simple problem. The project manager may then be sailing this doomed ship into grey waters. Instead, a trusted advisor is likely to provide the customer with what they really needed and will benefit from the future business this trusted relationship will produce.
The role of a great project manager is to lead and to handle crisis. This requires a doer rather than a bystander, active management and the ability to wear many hats simultaneously. The most important part of this juggling act is being able to engage upwards rapidly and to quickly agree to any changes. It is then easy to understand why project management is much more about people and politics than it is about technical ability. In addition, this is part of the reason why project management could be seen as a competitive advantage for aspiring actuaries, as this role strategically positions the manager to showcase their leadership skills.
Trang humoured us by commenting on the hundreds of quoted textbook tips out there, and summarised these into seven ways to succeed as a project manager. And not to disregard many of these tips and tricks, she managed to eloquently include a further seven tips on ways to fail as a project manager. As for the number seven, well it seemed to be the famous number for almost anything – seven wonders of the world, seven habits of highly effective people, seven notes on the music scale, seven days of the week!
7 Ways to Succeed
- Be able to give, and receive, criticism – build resilience
- Know how to conduct a meeting
- Be able to manage your time well (do not dawdle on low-level issues)
- Be open to new procedures
- Do not sit on the fence
- Maintain a sense of humour
- Be able to use project planning support tools effectively
Know your team members’ weaknesses and strengths.
7 Ways to Fail
- Scope, deliverables, reliance not well defined
- No agreed baseline project plan to manage against
- Not understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses
- Failing to address issues immediately
- Forgetting quality
- Not delegating – doing all the work yourself
- Not keeping stakeholders informed along the way
The more you keep your stakeholders in the loop the higher your credibility as a project manager.
Whilst the presentation spoke to the project manager in us, we learned that project team members have responsibilities too. Not only should team members follow the plan, but should do so with energy. Secondly, they should alert the project manager to any potential delays or issues to tasks and timelines. Although this third responsibility may appear difficult at first without experience, team members should engage the project manager to assist with materiality calls. Lastly, if in doubt about the task or timeline then simply ask. From her experience, Trang explained that the proactive analyst/actuary often learns much more and much quicker than the analyst that quietly sits on a particular task, determined to solve it alone.
No project team member should make a decision alone that has the potential to impact the project timeline or project cost.
One of the key points Trang made was that project management skills can be used for Business As Usual tasks such as assumption setting, and experience analysis and often the key stakeholders are our internal clients. This means that project management can be applied at a very early stage in our career. The presentation concluded with three reasons why you should become a great project manager:
- Get noticed – as great project management skills are not common.
- Growth – to be able to challenge ourselves to build resilience, agility and adaptability.
- Leadership…can start now!
All in all, this presentation on project management was far more than the ins and outs of managing a project, but additionally a motivational gesture of encouragement to young actuaries who are keen leaders but don’t quite have the opportunities to showcase this quality. Project Management may just be your opening!
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