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Project Managers, These Are the Top Essential Skills to Nail Your 2021 Projects

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Being a project manager is a delicate job. Getting people and processes moving in the same direction is beyond a traditional college degree or job title. It requires interpersonal and organizational skills in equal measures. In other words, a balance between soft, hard, and technical capabilities sets a successful project manager apart.

If you are experienced in managing automation, analytics, or data-centric projects, you are probably aware of your strengths and weaknesses. And if you are not — if you have just begun managing professional services projects — this one is for you, too. We have lined up hands-on tips to getting things done so that you can create winning project management opportunities.


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Here are 10 top essential skills project managers need in 2021:

1. Planning and Setting Goals

Planning, setting goals, and ensuring project continuity all require continual assessment. With proper time tracking software, you not only stay goal-focused but also make informed decisions by having full visibility into project expenses, accounting, and resources. For instant visibility and clarity of communication with diverse stakeholders, a project manager should be handy with all project-related information, budgets vs. actuals, WIP, and resource allocation to projects. Whether the goal is to drive company revenue via upsells or cross-sells, or to support overall corporate goals and proper growth, the best project managers can tie in every detail to the more significant blueprint of the project.

2. Governance

Governance in project management acts as a foundation for responsibility (ongoing duty to complete the task) and accountability (what happens after a situation occurs). In the absence of organizational structure concerning project framework, you define a hierarchical mechanism (stakeholder map) for speed in decision-making and consistent execution. You formalize the “what if” scenarios to resolve uncertainties around who decides what.

With a modern project management solution in place, you can standardize projects, resources, billing, and other processes across your services business for a consistent view. It lets you manage the entire project life cycle by defining key items needed at every stage — initiation, planning, execution, close. The checklist ensures that the team members adhere to the process.

3. Budgeting

Every project manager wants to manage project budgets accurately. But they have a tough job at hand. Often projects derail, and costs incurred are much more than budgeted, giving project managers nightmares.

Nonetheless, there are ways to improve the odds of a smooth landing. A classic project management solution can help create accurate project budgets while accounting for all the estimates, costs, margins, WIP, and billings. An ideal solution is one that not only tracks billable hours but also accounts for costs against all activities — project, non-project, billable, and non-billable. The solution you choose should be cloud-based software (as opposed to paper or Excel) that integrates easily with your CRM and project expenses accounting software to sync all relevant information.

4. Forecasting

Bringing the project dynamics into your forecasting process is critical on two counts. First, complex project proposals outweigh benefits and undermine costs. Second, stakeholder opposition and strategic manipulation often act as a double blow. A stakeholder can be a supporter and a resistor.

To make decisions in-the-now, you need to forecast business metrics accurately based on historical and real-time information. A project management software leverages historic data of similar projects and real-time data to forecast critical business metrics and automatically generate regular reports (weekly, biweekly, monthly, custom) to track progress and early warnings. For instance, resource forecast reports can give you overarching visibility into future resource allocation and utilization to ensure there is no last-minute resource crunch.

5. Communication

Fast-changing project dynamics put a premium on simplifying project bottlenecks, slicing through silos, and boosting cross-team collaboration. When our interaction with cross-functional teams turns sluggish, our complex and customized processes suffer. Invariably, lack of clarity and collaboration makes navigation difficult between sales, delivery, distribution, and finance channels. As a project manager, determine what series of steps to take and how to move between teams to attain a specific purpose and outcome. With workflow as a way of collaboration, projects pass through a series of stages across functional teams. A project management tool can provide comprehensive, customized workflows to the unique requirements and schedule reports to help reduce the need for meetings and create transparency.

6. Positivity

Business can drive harmony across groups when they have a single source of truth across all projects, resources, and financials. When tough decisions are made easy, we derive happiness and satisfaction, and even a hard day doesn’t seem rough.

Energetic interest, positivity, and commitment are crucial to inspiring others. This also helps in making them respond the way you want them to. If you have been managing projects for some time, your positivity and enthusiasm may take a nosedive. Remember that there are many ways to rebuild confidence. Take some time to do this and watch how your team and project reap the benefits.

7. Performance Metrics Management

Essential performance metrics tools can tell you how many hours have been spent on a project (and compare estimated hours versus actual hours). Still, there are now more sophisticated tools available that allow you to pull up automated reports on who has the availability, which skills you need, and costs per project, helping you know who and when to assign and how each task impacts the bottom line.

In the end, excellent 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. Outstanding analytical and operational skills are critical to a project manager, but so are excellent human skills. To up your game, focus on both.

8. Delegation

Expert delegators do more than just chuck tasks down the ladder: they intelligently distribute responsibilities among team members according to their particular skill set, work styles, and personalities. The best delegators can quickly break projects down into person-specific tasks. They can immediately see how each team member will contribute to the big picture and the project goal. They also recognize the fine line between over- and under-delegating and can masterfully balance that line without wobbling.

9. Leadership

While the project manager steers the project towards completion, a project leader owns the project vision, fosters collaboration, shows empathy, stands firm when needed, makes sense of uncertainty, does cross-functional delegations, and inspires teams to achieve the project goal. As project scope and work fundamentals are getting complex, with more stakeholders, a distributed workforce, and new client mandates, fair and effective project leadership is the need of the hour.

According to Project Management Institute (PMI) report, organizations waste an average of 11.4 percent of investment due to poor project performance. Also, organizations that do not use project management strategically report an average of 67 percent more of their projects failing outright. A project manager with leadership skills can deftly defend their craft and keep project performance high.

10. Risk Management

It is a widely accepted fact that you have to be willing to take risks to be on the winning side. But not with project management. Here, with risk-averse customers, stakes are high and the error margin is tighter than ever. Predictably, this risk identification part of project management centers on due preparation before the crisis presents itself.

Broadly, project risks arise from cost, scheduling, and performance. Cost risk entails pouring more money than budgeted. It may lead to reductions in scope or quality. A project taking too long to perform will fail to meet the schedule, and the effect of the failure can reduce the project and stakeholder value. Performance, scope, quality, or technological risks occur when projects fail to meet the mission or business objectives. Since there is no guarantee to avoid the unforeseeable project threats, risk by dint of its virtue has become a high-priority issue. Keeping profitability, efficiency, transparency, and regulatory compliance in notion, you should be able to prioritize risks by striking the right balance between uncertainty and certainty.

Use Automation to Nail Your 2021 Projects

While mastering all of these skills is important to upping your project management game, using the right automation tool can be the difference between nailing your 2021 projects and not. Time is a limited asset. As such, managers need to prioritize how they need to spend their time, especially when resources, schedules, budgets, and costs all need their attention at the same time.

When managers know how to automate menial, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks, they can free more time to spend on tasks that need manual intervention. A professional services automation (PSA) solution comes with pre-configured workflows that complement human labor and streamline project management processes. It can also integrate with your CRM, HR, accounting, and ERP systems/back-office applications. By setting up complex work breakdown structures, generating accurate project timelines and resource requirements from previous projects to meet profit metrics, you have a comprehensive list to ace the game.

Watch this video to see more about how a PSA solution can help you in 2021.

See How a PSA Tool Can Help You →


Make Costs and Profits Go Hand in Hand at Your Enterprise

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Scott Bales


Scott Bales

Scott is the Senior Director of Customer Success at Deltek | Replicon. Deltek | Replicon provides award-winning products that make it easy to manage your workforce. With complete solution sets for client billing, project costing, and time and attendance management, Deltek | Replicon enables the capture, administration, and optimization of your most underutilized and important asset: time.


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