We all use project management skills every day, at work, school and home. If you have coordinated a group of people over a period of time to achieve a common goal, then you have acted as a project manager.
After twenty years of experience I have seen plenty of training designed for experts, but a shortage of practical advice on how to do project management well every day. There is no shortage of myths, however. For example, I've met leaders who believe that project managers are simply those who lack the skills to be people managers, but the reality is that project managers need to be good people managers and be well organized too.
So I wanted to share my advice to help you transform your project management skills in the real world. You can start applying these insights today to become a better project manager. The first three principles you need to know are Strength, Scope and Speed.
Belief: It is common to think that if you focus on what you can directly control, you will be happier and more effective. Part of your strength as a project manager does come from doing your own tasks well, such as your project plan and final report.
Reality: Your impact will be much greater when you realize your strength is multiplied by how well you engage others:
- Subject matter experts you collaborate with not only add knowledge and experience but they also enhance your credibility and help market the value of your work through their informal networks.
- Stakeholders you influence to provide resources and remove roadblocks can also ensure you stay funded when priorities change, and can seek your help on future initiatives.
- Team members you inspire to achieve the project goals can be your greatest legacy when you help them acquire new skills and knowledge that they can pass on and lead future projects on their own. Developing team members while you are developing solutions is an important skill for project managers.
Belief: It is common to think that different projects can be kept separate and happily co-existing if their scopes are well-defined through a good project charter process. Having a project charter is important because it aligns everyone to a common vision of business case, goals, risks and timeline.
Reality: While this is true for larger projects with more fixed resources like new computer and vehicle introductions, the reality can be much different when you have people working on multiple smaller projects simultaneously, competing for resources and attention.
- Project charters include a lot of assumptions and estimates which mask a more amorphous and overlapping reality. It's not unusual to have multiple projects competing for the same business opportunity, especially in "siloed" organizations with less cross-functional collaboration.
- Project boundaries naturally expand or contract as data is collected, new problems are discovered, and initial assumptions are challenged. Teams will also uncover related efforts during the course of their projects.
- I think all the warnings about scope creep ("don't try to boil the ocean") have lulled us into a false sense of security about having a bunch of small scope projects managed independently by individuals. But optimizing small pieces can result in a sub-optimized whole, when the reality of systems interactions is considered. I have found it is often better to roll related projects into a coordinated program even though it requires a much more complex level of cross-functional management.
Belief: It is common to think that steady and methodical administration of a well-developed and detailed timing plan is how you do project management well. Like an hourglass model. Certainly you need to have a timing plan, and you need to make adjustments when risks are realized or performance data points in a new direction.
Reality: Momentum is the most critical ingredient of good project management. Picture yourself in the driver seat of a large truck. That is the best analogy I have found for a project manager. Trucks are difficult to get moving, to change direction and to stop. They have to push through a lot of wind resistance.
- Like a truck driver, as a project manager you need to get things moving. That's a lot easier when you're not starting uphill, so get your project pointed downhill by accumulating early quick wins to grow support and build momentum for your project.
- Once underway, you need to keep your foot on the accelerator pedal. Try not to lose momentum. Look far down the road to anticipate and avoid unnecessary slowdowns, which can erode your credibility, make stakeholders unhappy and destroy a good project. If you're in a large organization you will encounter more resistance which could slow you down too much if you're not careful. It takes more skill to collaborate, communicate and adjust while driving the project fast, but if you can do it well, it's a much better alternative than stopping and starting all the time.
© 2015 Lean Green Wolverine™ LLC