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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Student page: Steering the ship



Being put in charge of a project can feel daunting; Jason Brett offers tips for keeping on top of things

It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders when you are managing a project.

Actuaries know better than most the gulf between actual and expected experiences – and it’s no different when it comes to project management. Timescales can falter. Less important actions can slip through the cracks and get forgotten until they sprout into weeds and hamper good progress.

There are so many moving parts and turning gears involved in a project that it can be difficult to keep the whole machine working. More often than not, disassembling the end product into its constituent parts can shrink a leviathan job into several more manageable tasks.

Relinquishing attention can be as important as assuming direct control. Delegation keeps processes moving at the appropriate level. With smart learning software being heralded as the future of the workplace, intelligent technologies could keep the machine functioning – targeting milestones, chasing progress and handling scheduling – and may quickly become the most efficient member of the project team.

Allowing software to take an active role in more routine aspects of supervision will save valuable time that can be put to better use, and catch falling tasks. For now, though, we’re stuck with people doing the smart work.

“Relinquishing attention can be as important as assuming direct control”

Poor communication can be a huge pitfall. Misunderstandings often lead to delays and last-minute scrambles to meet deadlines, at the expense of high-quality work. Create plans and confirm time limitations in writing to give project stakeholders a reference point, ensuring long-term objectives are tackled well in advance of deadlines.

Manage the risks – contingencies made early in the planning process can offer ways to claw back crucial time. Set up something that works, think about what could go wrong and put appropriate measures in place.

Take away a builder’s tools and construction becomes exponentially more difficult. Similarly, inefficient project management tools make it hard to keep track of different strands. Using reminders and scheduling, while monitoring milestones and managing risks are, individually, small tasks that may seem trivial – but failing to keep on top of them using appropriate systems and methodology makes these balls significantly more difficult to juggle.

Teamwork is essential. One lone soul cannot change the tide of the sea, no matter how hard they try. However, that single individual can steer the boat during the storm.  The importance of knowing that you can rely on your team to get something done cannot be overstated.

There are many ways to navigate towards the end product. Ultimately, a project manager needs to employ a working style that suits them as much as it works for all other parties involved, such as project workers, external providers and the client. Positive working relationships can progress tasks more smoothly, and help with adhering to the schedule.

Jason Brett is student editor

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