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Mastering the Art of Project Management

These tips from project managers can help you succeed when overseeing your facility's special projects.

Many companies hire project managers to oversee and implement initiatives set forth by the organizations. Project managers are adept at ensuring that those initiatives are successfully completed in a timely manner.

As a fitness manager, you are also expected to manage projects as part of your job description. Unfortunately, few fitness managers are given the tools they need to evaluate their business and then formulate and forecast a plan for success. You may have learned how to manage schedules, revenues, expenses and staff, but have you developed the skills required to resourcefully oversee multifaceted projects with pressing time and budgetary constraints.

The good news is that you can learn from professional project managers exactly what it takes to be more effective in that aspect of your job. Implementing the following strategies gives you the necessary tools and techniques to generate a more focused direction, useful solutions, a timely response and desired outcomes for every assignment you embark on.

Project Manager Job Description

Project management is defined as applying one’s knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a vast range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a project. Those who do well in project management possess finely developed adaptability and communication skills. They are adept at delegating work and developing their employees. They are motivated and driven by their values and the results they produce.

Tamara Bourne, a technical project director for Freddie Mac, has been a project manager professional for more than 5 years. “Good project management and delivery of successful projects requires that the manager can understand and apply techniques from each area at the right point in the project life cycle,” says Bourne. “Depending on your industry and your unique organization, some of the areas may have more or less of an impact [on] the project. Managers at every level should actively become aware of—and proficient at—using these ‘knowledge areas’ to manage everyday tasks, as well as longer-term projects, to ensure project success and stakeholder satisfaction.”

Project Manager Skill Sets and Qualifications

As they move through the phases of a project’s life cycle, project managers must show competency in many knowledge areas. These areas have been defined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, published by the Project Management Institute (the 3rd edition was released in 2004). According to the guide, these are the 9 knowledge areas:

Integration Management: the specific processes required to ensure that the various elements of the project are properly coordinated. Integration management involves making tradeoffs among competing objectives and alternatives in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations.

Scope Management: the processes required to ensure that the project includes all of the work needed—and only the work needed—to complete the project successfully. Scope management defines and controls what is or is not included in the project.

Time Management: the processes that ensure timely completion of the project.

Cost Management: the processes that ensure the project is completed within the approved budget.

Quality Management: the processes required to ensure that the project satisfies the needs for which it was undertaken.

Human Resources Management: the processes required to make the most effective use of the people involved with the project.

Communication Management: the processes that ensure timely and appropriate generation, collection, dissemination, storage and ultimate disposition of project information.

Risk Management: all the processes concerned with identifying, analyzing and responding to project risk. Risk management includes maximizing the results of positive events and minimizing the consequences of adverse events.

Procurement Management: the processes required to acquire goods and services from outside the performing organization.

When overseeing a club project, it is easy for some fitness managers to find they are focused solely on time and cost and far less on quality and integration. They may create and act on plans that keep owners content but leave clients feeling undervalued, unheard and cheated. Orchestrated carefully, these knowledge areas can enable a manager to consider and balance the needs of everyone impacted.

The 5-Step Management Process

Once you have considered and mastered the resources called for in each knowledge area, you need to anticipate the 5 main steps to successful project management. These steps are initiation, planning, execution, supervision and completion. Here is a summary of what each step requires.

Step 1: Initiation

Initiation is the first phase of project management—the phase in which the idea is incepted and consensus is gained. If the project is your idea, you as a manager may need to “sell” the concept to your staff or supervisors. To gain consensus, it is recommended that you prepare an analysis of the project needs and budgets, along with an initial business plan and maybe even a storyboard with images designed to convince those in your organization that there is a need or desire to complete the project. Be sure to list the benefits and advantages that will be enjoyed if the plan moves forward. Because every person will want to know what is in it for him or her, this may very well be the motivating force behind project acceptance. For specifics on what to consider in this phase, see “Questions to Ask Yourself During the Initiation Phase” on this page.

Step 2: Planning

In the planning phase, you need to create a project outline and a flow chart of events. Many aspects of the business will have to work in unison to bring a well-run project to fruition. Consider each of the 9 knowledge areas described earlier when charting the tasks and timeline for your project.

Planning Tip: List the knowledge areas on a piece of paper. For each area, describe in detail what is required as it relates to this project. (Keep in mind that some areas may not apply.) If possible, assign a captain or leader with relevant expertise to oversee the specific tasks for each area. Meet with your captains and their staff to review the project and their precise roles.

Step 3: Execution

Lights, camera, action! This is where it all comes to life. Team members begin working independently and collectively on the project. This phase can last days, months or years, depending on your project’s timeline. Meet together as a group as frequently as needed to ensure that the project stays on schedule.

Project Tip: Don’t lose sight of your final goal. The daily grind can be daunting, and it may seem like there is no end in sight. Remember to encourage and motivate your team members throughout the process so they can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Step 4: Supervision

Supervision can be tricky: as project manager, you may be balancing your own tasks with supervising all the staff and departments involved. Although you need to oversee their work, you must be careful not to micromanage your staff. Even though it may seem that some of your team members need constant supervision, no one likes to be watched over. In fact, the majority of people perform better when they know they are trusted. The best way to supervise your staff is to communicate your expectations clearly; answer any questions they may have before or during the process; and check in periodically to review their progress and offer assistance.

Project Tip: Avoid the tendency to micromanage the project staff. Yes, details are important, but it is equally important to allow your team members to experiment and perhaps share some failures (as long as they are not too costly to the overall project). Who knows, in the process of sharing, your staff may contribute an award-winning idea.

Step 5: Completion and Closure

Bringing the project to completion in the allotted time is just one of the responsibilities in this step. As a project manager you must also follow through by getting feedback from all the parties involved. This is best accomplished during a group meeting. Use this setting to discuss critical project elements and how each was handled. Take detailed notes on the project and any issues encountered along the way, such as communication breakdowns, errors in budget estimates, or contractors that did not meet your expectations. See “Questions to Ask at the End of the Project,” above.

Your Just Rewards

Learning to capably administer and oversee a project from inception to completion will enhance your productivity and efficiency as a manager. These management principles and skills will help you structure the project tasks and clearly communicate your vision to others. By mastering the 9 project knowledge areas and following the 5-step management process, you will be able to prioritize, simplify and successfully complete the smallest and largest of projects.

Questions to Ask Yourself During the Initiation Phase

Here are some timely and pertinent questions to ask yourself at the end of the project initiation phase:

  • Is the project possible?
  • Are the decision makers in your organization in agreement?
  • Will you need permits, capital or permissions to proceed at this point?
  • Have you presented the concept to staff for buy-in and support?
  • Will the project require outside contractors?
  • What is the definition of success for the project?
Questions to Ask at the End of the Project

During the completion phase of the project, conduct a meeting with all of the staff who contributed to the project. Use this time and setting to pose the following questions to the group at large (and don’t forget to document their answers for future projects):

  • Was the project a success?
  • Were there any unpredicted roadblocks or obstacles?
  • Was the timeline appropriate?
  • Did the project stay on budget?
  • How did each person on the team perform and communicate with others?

Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Amy Boone Thompson

Amy BooneThompson is the national project director for Stroller StridesTM and is experienced in directing multi-purpose health clubs and spas.  Amy teaches fitness/nutrition with Stroller Strides and Moore's UCSD Cancer Center in San Diego. Certification: ACE 

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