Project managers have the toughest job; you’re pulled in a myriad of different directions trying to please management, your team and your clients. While you are often asked to perform miracles with tight turnaround times, it’s your head on the block when things don’t go according to plan. Project managers must be masters of organization, wizards at personnel management and skilled in troubleshooting. While it may sound like a tough call, one of the best ways of honing your skills is to emulate those project managers whom you most admire. Here are the seven top habits of my project management mentors.
Responsibility, not blame
Things will go wrong from time to time and while you must make note of who is responsible, placing blame is a waste of time and energy for the discerning project manager. When you are looking for a scapegoat, you break down the coherence of your team. You don’t want your team members to point fingers at each other.
Instead of dwelling on the negatives, accept that the damage has been done and start focusing on solutions. Assign responsibility for fixing the problem rather than placing blame. For example; if your team is behind schedule, don’t point fingers at who is to blame for delays, ask for solutions to getting back on track and then give people specific tasks and duties that will help you make up for lost time.
Project managers must strike a good balance between consulting and deciding, but ultimately your team cannot move forward until a decision is made. Good project managers understand this delicate balance and don’t delay their decision making or shift this responsibility onto their team. It’s understandable that some project managers will balk at making final decisions because they understand that they will be held accountable for the outcome. But you know that being decisive means your team can get on with implementation. Your team will have more confidence in your leadership as a project manager when you are decisive.
While it’s impossible to please everyone and some of your decisions will inevitably be the wrong ones to make, but moving in one direction is better than not moving at all.
The customer is king
Project managers often have to juggle the concerns and interests of a variety of players including team members, investors, board members and clients and it can be difficult to please everyone. When you have conflicting interests, it’s good to remember that the client is king. When you put the needs of the client at the forefront of your decision making, you are serving everyone’s best interest. When your clients are happy, they spend more money and recommend your company to others. This means that everyone will ultimately win as your business improves.
Lead from the front, project managers
Successful project managers understand that their employees, customers and superiors will judge them on what they do, not what they say. This means you have to lead by example. If your project is off schedule, and you are asking your team to work overtime, you need to be in the trenches too. When asking your employees to tighten their belts during tough economic times, you will earn more respect if you make sacrifices too and don’t be late if you expect your team to be on time. Leading from the front is what makes project managers successful and respected.
Communication is key
Effective project managers understand the importance of communication. Meet often with your team and outline tasks clearly, set realistic deadlines and assign responsibilities so that there is no confusion. Each employee must clearly understand what they need to do and when their deadline is set. You don’t have the time to micromanage, but you should check on each task a couple of days prior to deadline to ensure that it is on track.
Harness the powers of technology
This is a tricky one as all project managers know. Technology can be your best friend or your worst enemy. If you find yourself checking your email 20 times a day, if your smartphone takes up great swathes of your time or if Facebook is diverting your employees from more pressing tasks, you know how ‘time saving’ technology can actually cause your projects to fall behind schedule. The same goes for new technologies. Never establish a deadline prior to getting a handle on new technologies. If you are utilizing new hardware or software, ensure that it is properly installed and that you and all your employees have been adequately trained before setting deadlines. Nothing derails a project faster than downtime.
When you have completed a task, ensure that you author formal project reviews. These do take up additional time, but the astute project manager understands that reviewing where things went right and where they went wrong will help to streamline your processes and hone your team’s skills.