Have you worked under a project manager that let a project get away from them? Have you ever worked as a project manager and let a project get away from you? Have you ever struggled to effectively manage a team? Well, I have done all three.
Over the course of the last twelve years, I have managed my fair share of projects, been managed by my fair share of other project managers and have been director over a group of project managers. Over the course of this long and very tedious project management journey, I have been confused, opened my mouth too much and put my foot in it. How embarrassing. I want to share with you five things that I have learned about the project management process in the hopes that it will help those currently in a project management role or those pursuing the role.
Know What You Want
A project manager who isn’t clear about what they want or what their client wants can cause an otherwise “cut and dry” project to go completely awry. Before giving instructions on the first step, it is always best to know what the plans are for steps two, three, four, five, six, etc. Also have a contingency plan in the event something unforeseen occurs in either step that causes the plan to break.
Starting a project off with a partially laid plan is like an airline pilot taking off in a 747 without having a flight path. It’s risky and not very smart. Having a very well laid out plan helps you to stay in proactive mode throughout the course of the project and mitigates reactive mode. Know every detail and be ready to make decisions at the spur of the moment. Answering questions with “I don’t know” and “I’m not sure” should never be a part of your project management vocabulary. Have answers like “I’ll have my decision on this detail in the morning” or “This is the approach we are going to take.” Sometimes, pilots don’t anticipate turbulence; however, they have a plan to thrust and lift the plane to a higher altitude in the event turbulence is encountered.
Open Up Your Ears First and then Your Mouth
Project Management is not for the weak at heart. You need to be able to LISTEN to your clients and make key decisions that are in their best interests. You are the expert and your partners and clients have hired you for your expertise. Too often, Project Managers fall into the trip of simply becoming a telephone operator between the client and the freelancer, or in my case, the engineers, relaying what the client says to the engineer, designer, developer, etc., and leaving it up to them engineers to attempt to manage the project. This proves to be impossible with a middle man translating all of the feedback and instructions but offering no real management. If you have chosen to outsource your work or have an internal team working for you and you have taken on the role of project management, be ready to fill that role. Otherwise, simply refer your client to hiring someone else directly, since you’re not managing it anyway.
KNOW What You’re Talking About
Like managing anything else, it is of the utmost importance that you have an understanding of what your team is doing. Now, I’m not saying that every project manager needs to be a fluent guru in configuring firewalls; chances are you’d be the engineer if you were that fluent. What I am saying is that you should, at a minimum, understand the difference between a firewall, router and switch and at least know what each of them do. Be willing to spend some extra time educating yourself on the tools being used, if you’re not familiar with them.
DON’T PRETEND YOU KNOW and think your team will be fooled; they will not be and neither will your client. As a result, they will lose respect for you and your (in)capabilities. In my experience, this lack of understanding is the biggest reason why projects delay and run over budget, why expectations are shattered and why subordinates find themselves frustrated and overworked.
Don’t Get Personal
Within the past twelve years, I’ve managed a lot of projects and something that I have recognized that seems to hurt projects is to personalize them. Do not look at the players involved and identify their portion of the project with them as people or how they work. This can cause the team and the project goals to get lost in stereotypes or presupposed ideas. The key is to see each member of the team as representing the needs of the projects. This eliminates personal feelings and opinions from hindering the project. Instead of saying, “Well, he is just saying that because he is an engineer and only want to see engineering as a priority,” say, “Engineering is absolutely a key component to the overall success of the project.”
Work As Hard or Harder Than Your Team
It is true that project management is about delegating tasks, not ignoring them. There is no better way to create a bitter and ineffective team than by not putting in your fair share of blood, sweat and tears. On a previous job, I regularly juggled a very overwhelming workload, client calls, emails, status reports and some design and production tasks while my VP, EVP and CEO spent half of the day shopping for cars, boats and houses and eating for three hours during lunch. Although it was great for them to have this autonomy and the finances to be able to do these things, doing them during work hours limited the time they were available to field items that were within their realm of authority to field. This also caused them to not know what was going on within the company, with their clients and with their employees, ultimately resulting in them frequently being reactive and ill-prepared.
Project management is difficult all by itself. While these tips are not the “say all be all” that will resolve all of the ills you’ll encounter while you manage, I trust they will be very instrumental in helping you to manage wisely and more effectively.
- Dearick Milton, Senior Project Manager