Project management is a lot like warfare. It’s up to the army general to devise an effective strategy that will ultimately win the battle, by setting strategic goals, managing troops, and acting in the political interests of the higher ups, all within strict time and budget constraints. The process requires a clear vision, unwavering determination and an understanding of the ‘big picture’, but it’s often fraught with unpredictability, unforeseen problems and risk, which can scatter the best laid plans to the wind.
Unfortunately, most project managers aren’t fully trained or qualified when they step into the position to begin with. Many are simply promoted from within, and although they may have developed a great understanding of the business or industry, there are a number of obstacles that stand in their way.
Do you want to make your job as a PM easier on the battlefield? Here are some of the best kept secrets to success for wannabes, newbies and experienced PMs alike to consider before their next big fight.
#1 Communicate, listen and repeat
Project management is often talked about in terms of people management and the comparison couldn’t be more apt. You are the sole commander of the army. You can’t win the war on your own, but it is through you, and you alone, that the responsibility relies upon. No pressure, right!
So what does this all mean? It means that you must be able to effectively communicate not just to your teammates about the tasks, deadlines and milestones that have to be achieved, but also to the project sponsors and stakeholders on key developments, target finish dates and progress updates.
Communication works both ways though. It is vital to listen to what others have to say and be receptive to new ideas, unanticipated demands and the pressing concerns of all parties involved in the project cycle. You can’t have your blinders on all of the time. Flexibility, adaptability, negotiation and compromise are key components of project management, which often requires reworking of some stages to ensure that priorities are listed in the right order.
And what comes after that? REPEAT! Yes, you’ll need to constantly check in with everyone on a regular basis and keep the channels of communication open at all times.
#2 Believe in the impossible
Remember all of those stressful deadlines back in college that felt impossible to achieve? Project managers on some level are suckers for punishment (although at least they are getting well paid for it). PMs need to have an almost unflinching belief in making what seems impossible possible. This requires a rare level of optimism, dedication and enthusiasm that can be hard to muster up, but if you don’t, what’s the alternative? Well, put bluntly you won’t have any more hair left to tear out, or nails to gnaw.
#3 Ignorance is not bliss
One of the worst things a PM can do is to ignore their team members, or blatantly favour some over others. Respect is earned, not given, and if you want an efficient team, you’ve got to work hard to build relationships with each and every person on it to achieve the best results. A big mistake that most PMs make at some stage in their career is to try and do some of the work themselves rather than delegate it to the appropriate person. The old adage that a team is only as strong as its weakest member rings true here, because once again the responsibility for this falls entirely on you. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, so always keep in mind that you are responsible for the command of your soldiers.
If someone is unsure about the task, rewind! Make it clear what must be done and offer advice on how to achieve it. If they repeatedly fail to follow your instructions, rephrase! Everyone has a different learning style, so perhaps you haven’t expressed yourself properly in a way that can be fully understood. Finally, if a team member is falling behind, remind! Be constructive NOT destructive with feedback, so that progress is encouraged rather than inhibited.
#4 Commanding the troops
Another trap that PMs can fall into is the tendency to micro manage certain members of the team. This is a massive no-no and won’t do you any favours in the long run. As the leader of the pack, you must assign the right tasks and responsibilities to the right person. How well do you know your team? Have you spent time building relationships with them? What does each member bring to the table? It’s important to develop awareness and insight into who is good at what, in order to assign roles based on an individual’s skills, knowledge and signature specialties. Often you don’t have any say on who will be part of your team, the decision is made for you and you’ve just got to make the best out of it. That’s what being a great leader is all about.
#5 Reload your weapons
Are you fully armed, loaded and ready to go? In this fast paced day and age, technology can make your life a whole lot easier, so make sure your weaponry doesn’t consist of messily scrawled out to-do lists, haphazard piles of post-its, and last minute reminders. There are a whole bunch of online tools and apps out there that have been specifically designed to cater for PMs just like you, such as Asana, Evernote and Trello, to help you organise your schedule, manage multiple projects at once and correspond with teammates. Research which ones will suit your requirements and integrate them into your arsenal. Planning, preparation and organisation obviously go hand in hand with project management, so it makes sense to adopt time-saving measures and improve productivity and efficiency wherever you can.
#6 Training and tactics
Investing in further training is a crucial tactical move to make throughout your career as a PM. The world moves by so fast these days that it can be hard to keep up with the latest trends and techniques. Grab any opportunity you can to improve your game-play and expand your bag of tricks while, at the same time, strengthening your resume and enhancing your future job prospects.
If you’ve been working as a PM for a number of years without any formal qualifications, consider getting your skills assessed through RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning). You could be automatically eligible for a nationally recognised diploma or certificate without any extra study required, or days off work. It’s a great way of identifying any gaps in your knowledge too, rather than wasting most of your time on a course studying stuff you already know. Take a free skills review online with Get Qualified Australia, the country’s leading experts in RPL and Skills Recognition to find out what goodies you can add to your career inventory.
#7 Expect the unexpected
It’s worth allowing some extra time to account for the unexpected, because there’s bound to be something that crops up that wasn’t ever part of the initial project aim. Always try and plan to finish your projects ahead of time, to give yourself and your team sufficient breathing space. That way, engaging in problem-solving, adding more duties to the list, and lowering the risk factor of not being able to complete encroaching deadlines won’t be as likely to send you into an early grave.
Project management is a difficult discipline to be in at the best of times, so the fact that you’ve made it this far proves that you’re a highly resilient and ambitious character who isn’t afraid of a challenge. The key to continued success is to never give up hope, never stop trying to be the best you can be, and always believe you can do it no matter how unattainable reaching that end goal may appear at first (or second) glance. Own it right from the start and you’ve already won half the battle!