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Last year, we began developing a new certification management system for the CSIA Certification program. When I was asked to assist, my first thought was, “Great! But how do we start?” Getting this project off the ground took a lot of hard work and focus on the part of everyone involved. Looking back I realize that it was also an opportunity for me to take a crash course in project management. These are some of the most important lessons I learned.

Collaboration was vital. From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a one-person assignment. Successful completion of this project called for a great deal of collaboration. We had a core group of staff and industry members who undertook the day-to-day work and it was incredibly helpful to be able to rely on each other for fresh perspectives as we moved through the assignment. At times, the ability to talk an idea out was the best way to solve a question at hand. We also relied heavily on member/industry input. After all, this was their certification program and so their time and expertise was essential.

Establishing deadlines improved our focus. Before jumping in to the main work of the project we took some time to set up a schedule and set deadlines. We started by determining a target project completion date. With our start and end dates in place we could fill in the rest of the schedule, deciding on target deadlines for different parts of the project, all the time moving toward our completion date. Having this schedule in place provided structure to the work and allowed us to plan ahead. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the project as a whole we were able to focus on meeting each deadline as it approached.

Flexibility was essential. For all of our planning we figured out pretty quickly that this project was going to change as we progressed. We absolutely had to be flexible! We adjusted our schedule a number of times and our collaborative approach to the project meant we experimented with several management structures along the way. Even now, after the system roll out has been completed, we are still making changes to documents and procedures as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
Being part of this project has definitely been a great lesson in project management! It was a challenging assignment, but by working collaboratively, setting deadlines and staying flexible we were able to bring the development of the new certification management system to a successful conclusion. As we move the new system into practice I will continue to learn from these important project management lessons.

What about you? Have you been faced with a big project recently? What tools did you find most helpful?

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