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A Guide to Project Management

Chapter 1


The Good Project Manager


Written by Brett Harned

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It’s difficult to define what a “good” project manager is these days. Every organization defines the role, and often the title, differently. Project managers are needed in many industries. As a PM, you might work on small or large teams with job duties that range from budget and timeline only to everything you can think of under the operational sun. Maybe you’re not even a project “manager” by title or you work on your own, but you’re responsible for managing work. No matter where you stand, there are things you’ll need and want to learn as you jump in to managing all of these things. You’ve come to the right place.


As a PM, you might work on small or large teams with job duties that range from budget and timeline only to everything you can think of under the operational sun.

Creating realistic project plans, estimating time and effort, rocking a spreadsheet your own way... those are all things you MUST do as a good project manager, and those skills are easily learned. In fact, there are some great programs and instructors who teach and certify those skills. But, central to the role is the skill to keep your work organized and your teams informed and happy. The core competencies of a good project manager are rooted in one's ability to navigate rough and still waters with the same level of effort and ease. It's one part technical expertise and three parts emotional intelligence. Either way, it’s not easy to navigate!

This series, written in partnership with TeamGantt, will cover both the soft skills and the hard skills. Look forward to tips on project planning, managing scope and expectations, and more. Before we get into those topics, let’s cover the basics. This article covers the roots of what it means to be a good project manager. The writer might not be the best, but has met and hired a ton of great PMs in the field of digital project management.

Communicate Like a Pro

I’ve never loved the term “people person” but that’s because I’ve never met someone who prefers to communicate with a plant or a dog. Those people are out there. But if they’re the PM at your organization, you’re in trouble. (Unless maybe they manage your garden?) Anyway, it’s universally accepted that good PMs are easy-going communicators who do not flinch at the thought of communicating with others. This means speaking to people in person about a variety of topics-easy and difficult in nature. And not being bashful about open communications, but recognizing the fact that an entire team might not communicate the same way.

Be a Chameleon

It’s a fact: Any project will fail without solid communications. Being clear, concise, and honest in outward communications is just as important as taking queues on how to communicate with others. Getting to know the people you work with and understand how they work and communicate is important when trying to motivate a team and accomplish deadlines, or even simple goals. Many times, a PM needs to be a project chameleon to make this happen. Devising a communications plan for your team can be helpful, but forcing a communications structure won’t always work for everyone. And that can get tough. Remember, it’s not all about you and your process as the PM. It is all about you working with the team to come up with a structure that works for everyone. You may ask, why change your communication strategy from project to project? This approach could get confusing for you. Particularly if you’re a PMO or are working on several projects with many team members. That’s okay, maybe so maybe it won’t work for you and you need to follow company-wide standards. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a personal approach. Think about it: If you put the time and effort into getting to know your team and creating a plan with them, everyone will buy in. In effect, they will communicate in a way that makes them comfortable and deliver on your projects with less effort, confusion, and fear.


If you put the time and effort into getting to know your team and creating a plan with them, everyone will buy in.

Status!

So what are the foundations of good communications? Status meetings and reports can be invaluable, because you’re keeping track of next steps, action items and project risks. Use a weekly status report to stay transparent about budget and process and you’ll never have that awkward conversation about needing more time or money to complete your project. There’s value in regrouping on a regular basis to talk about what’s happening and what the team is accountable for at any time. If you’re working with clients, it’s a good practice to communicate project details in writing on a weekly basis in a status report. And, if time allows, hopping on the phone to talk through the report will help to reinforce the message and build rapport. Remember, it’s never a bad thing to pick up the phone!

No matter what you’re doing, just remember that we’re all humans. Everyone has their hangups and everyone communicates differently. That said we’re naturally built to be communicators. Whether your communication written or spoken through email, phone, instant message, mail, carrier pigeon, you’ll find a way to make your point known. As the project manager, you have to figure out how to communicate with the various personality types on your team. You don’t have to endure the carrier pigeon if that’s not your thing (I mean, why would it be?). You can set the proper expectations, but If you ignore your team’s preferences and just do things your own way, you’ll find more barriers to success.

Set Expectations and Never Abandon Them

Setting and managing expectations is one of the most difficult things a project manager has to do as a part of the role. Many PMs start projects with several unknowns about goals, budgets, timelines, and most of all level of effort. When you’re setting communications expectations with your team, it’s a good idea to also cover scope, timelines, and any other details that may play into how you will make a project successful. And, when you’re working with a client, it’s good to set the same expectations early on.

Define Scope

Every project’s expectations should be set by a well-written scope of work. If there isn’t documentation to back up the project request, create it. Not every work environment is formal enough to create scopes for every project. That’s okay! But some semblance of a scope will help to provide you and your team guidelines, or expectations of what the team will deliver. Every team should use a scope document to set the stage for what you will deliver on a project. It’s a good practice to sit down with your team and clients at the beginning of a project to review the scope in conjunction with the project timeline. This will mean that you have to explain levels of effort attached to tasks. That’s okay too! You’ll know all the answers because you have the team and experience to back up timeline and scope decisions. Either way, having this type of conversation early on will keep your clients informed of the level of effort. It will also keep them engaged in your process.

Frequent Checkins

Between deadlines, check in on the upcoming document or delivery and chat with the team about what each will entail. Are your deliverables changing based on previous work? Will that impact the scope and the timeline? Explain the benefits of check-ins and how their constructive, helpful feedback will make the end deliverable stronger. Remember when it comes to setting expectations, there is nothing wrong with repeating yourself as long as your repetition is meaningful and timed just right!

Later on in the series, we’ll get into how to manage scope, timelines and resourcing in detail.

It’s Not About You

Being a part of a project team can be fun and creative, even of the managerial side of the team. You’ve got to check in on progress and next steps so phone calls or meetings will happen where maybe the whole team isn’t present. After all, your team needs time at their desks or in the field to work. Inevitably, there will be times in any project where left-field ideas arise, new requirements, and questions that will come to you. Proceed with caution, project manager! If a client, partner, or team member is approaching you about any of these things, it’s best to make sure the ideas check against your project requirements. The documentation isn’t always the bottom line, but it’s best to be open about any idea or a conversation. Know when to involve the team to help the conversation and the decision making process. For instance: Is the client asking something that is design or development-specific? If yes, pull in the appropriate people. They can help answer the question, and possibly even do it better than you. That’s where things get tricky: don’t think of yourself as “just the PM,” but recognize that you are just the PM. Not the PM, design director, and consultant. It’s more about owning your role and being honest about your expertise.


Don’t think of yourself as “just the PM,” but recognize that you are just the PM.

Don’t Be a Know-It-All

A project manager should never answer to project issues completely alone unless they were previously documented or are specific to budget, scope, and a pre-determined guideline. After all, your team should staff the experts who are responsible for answering to questions that fall well within their realm. Your job is to know when to farm questions to them without getting in the way of their work. Ideally, if you don’t know the answer and you can’t pull someone in the room at that moment, take good notes and follow-up. There’s nothing wrong with following-up on a conversation when the time is right. That’s when you become “The Good PM” and not “Just the PM.”

Later in this series, we’ll get further into the mechanics of working well with (and winning over) clients and how to become the project manager everyone wants to work with in this series.

Be Your Team’s Biggest Fan

You may not be a peppy cheerleader by nature, but every project needs a leader who owns and supports the process. A good project manager will enforce process and keep everyone on the team in-sync. Juggling timelines, deadlines, and deliverables is key, but a project manager who also supports the process, the team, and the client, brings true value to a project. Be the one who says, “Wow, this is really nice. Good work”. Celebrate the wins and encourage the team to do the same. At the same time, don’t be afraid to be the one to say, “Did you think about X?” to look out for the best of the project and your team. If you’re the PM and you’re really doing a good job, you will know and understand every aspect of the project, and potentially be able to anticipate questions or concerns the client might have. This type of behavior not only supports your team and your project, but shows everyone involved that you are genuinely engaged, and not just worried about the PM basics.

There is no doubt that project management is one of the most challenging and rewarding career paths one can take. A good project manager can help a business clarify goals, streamline processes, and increase revenue. It’s no surprise that PMs are highly sought after in many industries. But no matter where you take your PM skills, you have to hang on to the core skills that will make you “good.” At the heart of it, you must be highly organized and process driven, but being an easygoing, adaptable person who genuinely likes a good challenge will make you the best PM. We’re looking forward to sharing more lessons learned, best practices, and tips on how to be a good project manager. Stay tuned.

What to read next:


Chapter 2:

THE DARK ART OF PROJECT ESTIMATION

In order to create a workable estimate, you need to know your team, deliverables, tasks, and process like the back of your hand.

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