How do project management principles work on a day-to-day basis in the emergency management field? I previously wrote an overview of how each of the five phases of project management can apply to emergency management annual planning efforts, and it was an overview. As a reminder, many of our emergency management activities fit into the definition of a project because they are “temporary” by nature of having specific start and end times, and they are “unique” by having their own objectives (every budget period or activity is different).
The goal over the next few months is to provide a series of posts with detailed methods for using project management principles in emergency management activities. Every good project needs a cool and memorable name, so I’m going to call this series PM4EM, meaning “Project Management For Emergency Management.”
This post provides a foundation for the use of project management principles, lists additional resources for learning more about project management principles, and outlines the way ahead for this series.
A final result of the PM4EM series will be a template for every-day use that can be used to help emergency managers of all levels create a useful, professional document that organizes efforts for various activities or projects. The source for all project management information is the Project Management Book of Knowledge (6th Edition – just published!) and the Project Management Institute (PMI) website at www.pmi.org. The emergency management information will be based on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its Emergency Management Institute (EMI) documents.
The emergency management field is a young, growing professional field. In these formative years, we have an opportunity to lay the foundation for what constitutes a “professional” within emergency management. Professions need standard ways of doing things, and FEMA has provided some of those foundations within the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP), Incident Command System (ICS) and National Incident Management System (NIMS), and Comprehensive Preparedness (CGP) series. All of these have elements of project management built into them.
But what happens when we don’t have a nice guide to use? How do we maintain a professional baseline of quality when creating something new? We can use the same project management foundation that has set the stage for many other industries and business in general, and those are found with the Project Management Institute.
Let’s take a look at a few examples beyond general professionalism for why using project management principles can be important in emergency management.
- Good planning gets results: Who hasn’t heard jokes about inefficient and/or unfinished government work? I personally like to ensure any government work I do doesn’t fall into those jokes, and using project management principles helps. As we invest time upfront to outline detailed objectives, measures of success, methodologies, communication methods, and roles and responsibilities, we set the foundation for actual results in our work.
- Improved Communication: What topic is at the top of every Improvement Plan list? Communications! And chances are that daily communications can be improved, too. Project management principles will set a foundation for better communications through consistent and meaningful communication methods. Yes, you will find that there is a fair amount of effort put into writing, but the things that are written are the things that get results. The simple act of writing something down creates clarity of the idea and enhances communication.
- Know your numbers: SMART objectives provide the “measurable” information that can be used to determine if you are truly successful through the use of measures of success and key performance indicators. Key numbers that are easy to communicate also help build a vision that can rally the troops and build sustainable momentum towards a goal. Project management principles help you find those numbers and communicate them.
- Organized efforts: using the principles and process from PMI helps organize the efforts in terms of time, staff, money, and other resources. An organized effort is an efficient and effective effort that gets results.
There are a few assumptions throughout this series, too.
One assumption throughout this series will be that readers are in government positions, with pre-determined job functions and funding streams, with each budget year is a bit different in expectations based on annual exercise schedules and new focus areas. This means there are some key differences in relation to project management in the commercial/private world, where revenue and profit generation has a higher priority. The required processes and information remain the same.
That assumption doesn’t rule out the contractors providing services to government agencies and the emergency managers within private business. Almost everyone in the emergency field has the same ultimate goals: save lives and protect property through preparedness, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery. There is no profit in emergency management. Money is made for governments and businesses through big-picture cost-savings and the intangibles of public well-being.
Another assumption for this series is that this is a basic level of information aimed to get the emergency management field working towards the use of project management principles. The project management field can be quite complex, and to introduce the topic in just a few short chapters requires a very general approach. Ultimately, project management principles become a menu of tasks that can be used as needed. PMI recognizes this in the PMBOK when it states on page 2 of the sixth edition “The Project Manager works with the project team and other stakeholders to determine and use the appropriate generally recognized good practices for each project.” Also, in the preface notice, PMI notes that it “has no power, nor does it undertake to police or enforce compliance” of the processes.
So, there are no “project management police” out there to catch someone doing it wrong. The goal is to review processes and make them work for you. If a process provides no value, consider not using it. Some projects need more processes and written details than others, and you will have to adapt them to your needs. My goal is to provide enough information for anyone to begin using the basics and advance from there.
This series will focus on traditional project management. There are several types of project management, adapted to specific fields. You might hear or read terms like “agile” and “scrum,” which are terms from Agile Project Management and mostly used for technology projects. I think there is merit in using some of these principles in emergency management, but for now, the idea is to keep it simple with the traditional processes.
For more background on project management in government efforts, visit the Government Activities and Advocacy page at PMI.org. That is a great beginning source for the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act that is meant to improve federal program work but can be applied to state and local governments also. A key element of that Act signed in December 2016 is the use of project management principles. Because everyone loves video, here is a nice video from that page:
While you are at that PMI page, be sure to check out the infographic for this key fact:
When you need a break from all the great training that EMI provides for emergency management, here are few great resources to get started with project management. These are all available for online classes and also offline viewing to download/watch to make use of deadtime on airplanes.
Lynda.com: Use the “Become A Project Manager” Learning Path to get the basics of project management. This is a total of 23 hours of instruction and well-worth your time either as new information for the pups or a refresher course for the old-dogs. Be sure to download the “exercise files” that are the notes and templates discussed in the courses. This website is somewhat expensive at $35/month but you can use a 30-day trial to just do this learning path. A “Project Coordinator” Learning Path is also available, providing a more general level of instruction in only 16 hours.
Udemy.com – Individual Courses: these online courses are similar to the individual classes within the Lynda.com learning path but they are priced individually. If you sign up for an account, you will get really great sales in your e-mail that can save significant money. Below are two examples of Project Management classes; I have not watched these myself. I used Udemy to complete the 35 hour class required to qualify for the Project Management Professional test, and I found it to be fairly fast-paced, well-done and worth the money.
The stage is now set for a great series of posts to help institutionalize the use of project management principles the emergency management field. Future posts will outline details for each phase (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, closing) as well as other processes such as communication, risk management, integration, and leadership. Each post will be about as long as this post. As we go along in the series, a useable project template will become available for free download.
Comments and questions are encouraged and will help drive the sense of a professional discussion about this topic. The comments section is how we can get an open forum of ideas that will improve help all of us in our efforts.