There was once a time when managing a project at work was fairly straightforward.
Being a project manager is tough. It requires top-notch interpersonal and organizational skills and the ability to successfully interact with team members and stakeholders alike. Project managers need to be cheerleaders and coaches, as well as leaders and team players.
Almost all of us, at some point, will be part of a project – if not hundreds of projects – working with different teammates, departments and offices. That project will have a manager, and many of us will end up managing projects ourselves. Actually, when you think about it, every single day is filled with projects large and small, from buying groceries to scheduling our kids’ summer camp schedules. Some succeed, some fail. Some end up somewhere in between.
But what makes for a great project manager?
It comes down to more than just people and organizational skills. It involves a batch of qualities that need to come together in just the right way.
If you’re an experienced project manager you’ve probably become familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses, and you’re always looking for ways to improve.
Here are seven ways to elevate your project management skills:
1. Keep it fun
Enthusiasm is a key aspect of inspiring others and getting them to respond the way you want them to. It’s also infectious. If you’re managing many projects at once, though, or if you’ve been in the project management game for a long time, your energy and enthusiasm may be waning in a non-project specific way. Remember that there are many ways to rebuild enthusiasm. Take some time to do this and watch your team, and project, reap the benefits.
2. Refine your delegation tactics
Expert delegators do more than just chuck tasks down the ladder: they strategically divide responsibilities among team members according not only to their particular skill set but also their work styles and personalities. The best delegators can quickly break projects down into person-specific tasks and can immediately see how each team member will contribute to the “big picture” and the ultimate goal of the project. They also recognize the fine line between over- and under-delegating and can masterfully balance on that line without wobbling. Here’s a list of successful tactics that can help improve how you delegate.
3. Make every team member feel valued
Especially on more deadline-driven projects and projects with larger teams (ie, more than 10 people), it’s easy to become myopically focused on the bottom line and/or stakeholder interests, which can make you lose sight of your team’s individual contributions and hard work. There are plenty of simple ways to make everyone feel valued. Be sure to use these tactics so that morale stays high and the team stays together.
4. Practice effective cost management
Whether you’re managing an internal or external project, few things can hamper your project more than inefficient or ineffective project costing and client billing. If you’re a professional services firm, for example, you’ll want to ensure your client billing is as streamlined as possible. An ideal solution is one that not only tracks billable hours but also automates project billing, simplifies resource management (including identifying the right people to work on a project based on bandwidth and skillsets), and forecasts future demand with accuracy. Similarly, for companies that use a shared services model, for example, it’s important to also manage large internal projects and resources efficiently and have a clear understanding of time and costs against all activities. In both cases, whatever solution the companies employ should use real-time data, cloud-based software (as opposed to paper or Excel), integrate easily with other key applications, and be user friendly not just for capturing time and resources but also for administration and reporting.
5. Learn how to diplomatically push back
Every project has moments of doubt and shifting priorities, but you need to know when to acquiesce and when to dig your heels in. The key is to keep communication open (as much with stakeholders as with team members) via regular in-person meetings, emails, plans, and progress reports so that you have benchmarks to refer to. If someone isn’t holding their weight, this needs to be made clear. Likewise, if stakeholder interests have driven the scope of the project to something that requires more people, this also needs to be taken into account. Don’t forget about the various tools of effective communication. Use these to your advantage to keep yourself, your team members, and the project on track. And don’t forget that a huge aspect of communicating well is listening well.
6. Always set goals and have a clear vision
A good project manager presses a team to keep track of activities for a particular client, campaign, and/or initiative so that everything is done on time and on budget. But a great project manager is able to think big and see how all of the smaller steps and projects tie into the overall strategy. Whether the goal is to drive company revenue via upsells or cross-sells or to support overall corporate goals and/or sound growth, the best project managers are able to see the forest for the trees, so to speak, and tie in every detail to the project’s greater blueprint.
7. Refine your performance metrics
Basic performance metrics tools can tell you how many hours have been spent on a project (and compare estimate hours versus actual hours), but there are now more sophisticated tools available that allow you to pull up automated reports on who has bandwidth, which skills you need, and costs per project, helping you to know who and when to hire and how each project impacts the bottom line.
In the end, great project management comes down to effectively juggling the responsibilities of meeting or exceeding overall business goals with the softer, more people-focused traits of good communication and team building. Great analytical and operational skills are critical to the role of a project manager and to overall productivity and profitability, but so are great human skills, and to up your game you need to be focused on both.