A PRACTISE TO REACH GOALS

No matter where I used to work – real estate, consulting agencies, marketing teams, insurances, software developement, or commerce -, as a project manager (PM) you are on the front line of projects, defending their teams, clients, and projects from miscommunication, missed deadlines, scope creep, and any other failures. I am used to champion the well-being of the people involved in their projects and look to make or facilitate strategic decisions that uphold the goals of their projects. As a project manager, you require a fine balance of managing the administrative details of a project and its people. While PMs are often lumped in the “behind the scenes” aspect of project, to be highly effective, they need to be a part of the bigger strategic project conversations.

PMs are not robots. They are not on your team to just take notes and make sure you’re recording your time properly. Yes, they do work in spreadsheets and follow-up on deadlines at a sometimes-annoying rate. In fact, they might not even PM role is important on your team for several reasons.

There are so many intangible tasks and qualities of project managers that it’s not uncommon for people to not fully understand just what a PM does, and if they need one or not. Here’s the thing: you always need a PM, no matter what. That PM might be called a producer, account manager, designer, or even developer.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

As mentioned, the role and even the title may differ slightly from place to place, but the basics of what a PM will do for a team are fairly consistent (though some may be less formal than others). The role of the project manager encompasses many activities including

  • Traditional Approaches
  • Agile Methodologies
  • Change Management Methodologies
  • Process Based Methodologies
  • Planning and Defining Scope
  • Setting and Managing Expectations
  • Crafting Process
  • Analyzing and Managing Risks and Issues
  • Monitoring and Reporting Project Status
  • Team Leadership
  • Creating Project Plans
  • Managing Tasks
  • Resource Planning
  • Time/Cost Estimating
  • Strategic Influencing
  • Facilitating Communications and Collaboration
  • Planning and Facilitating Meetings

One of the biggest problems a project manager faces is having a solid understanding of what each team member does on a daily basis.

FIND THE RIGHT WAY

There is no single way to run all projects. You’ll find that most organizations spend a lot of time making mistakes and adjusting their process in order to get it just right, only to find that when they thought it was “just right” it needed to be tweaked again. Factors like changing business needs and goals, new or different staff and expertise, evolving or new technology are often among reasons why processes have to change. But what’s most important is that an organization or team have a basic framework for how projects operate.

As you research project management processes, you will find that most models identify three basic phases (with varying names, tasks, and deliverables) to organize activities:

Research, Discovery, and Planning
Typically, an organization will perform some level of research to determine the validity of a project. This could take the form of market research, user research, competitive analyses, among many other activities. These are the critical steps in the project that help to define goals and requirements for what needs to be designed or built. This is also when a project team can come together to define how they will work together, and what their execution plan will be, taking all outside factors into consideration.
Executing
Once the project is planned, it’s time to execute. The execution can play out in several different ways, using different processes like Waterfall, Agile, or variants therein. Essentially what you will find in this phase is time for collaboration, creation, review, and iteration. Teams will partner with stakeholder groups to present work, accept feedback, and complete deliverables that are mutually agreed upon, leading up to a final deliverable. This happens to be the phase that is riddled with change, delays, and sometimes even dispute. For that reason, it happens to be the phase where the PM is most active.
Testing, Measuring, Iterating
After a project has launched, it’s time to make sure it’s tracking well against its goals. In an Agile project, a minimum viable product (or MVP) will be launched to gain early feedback to iterate. On Waterfall projects, the feature-complete product will be launched and tested. In either case, test results will reveal what is and is not working for users and stakeholders. Teams will take test results and alter–or build on–the product to create something that is closer to those goals. This is natural for Agile projects, but not so much for Waterfall projects, which would require a new or “Phase 2” project to be added on. There is no right or wrong way to roll out a process. What’s most important is that the process matches the values and talent of the organization. It will become quite evident if the process is not a right fit for a team, because people will be unhappy and work will not get done without issues. The best thing you can do when it comes to process is sit down with your team to discuss what will work best and why. Document decisions, roll out a process, and be open to discussing it and changing it when needed. Keep the 3 steps above in the back of your mind for an overall framework to operate by, and do what feels right for your project and your team.
project management best practices - project manager in Frankfurt Rhein Main

BENEFITS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

There are so many intangible tasks and qualities of project managers that it’s not uncommon for people to not fully understand their worth. The benefits of any role seem to come down to perception, but a bulk of a PM’s work is “behind the scenes,” so how can you demonstrate the benefits? First, it starts with the individual. Each and every PM should know their role and their worth and follow-through on being a good PM for their teams. Second, it comes down to the organization. A PM will not thrive in an organization that does not value the role and see the benefits of it. And, lastly, the benefit of having a PM on a team is realized by the people who work with them. If they are not bought in, the PM will have a hard time helping.

Some people see the benefits of having a PM on a team, and others don’t. And that is okay–sometime just having someone on a smaller team to handle logistics and communications is enough. That’s right, you don’t always need a PM, but you do need someone who will handle PM tasks. If simply stating that managing tasks and communications can provide more time to team members to collaborate and create isn’t enough to sell you on the value of project manager.

HAVING A PLAN AND BEING AGILE

Independent of how you manage a project, at its core, the project plan defines the approach and the process the teams will use to manage the project according to scope. This is important because every project needs a plan; not only does it go a long way toward keeping teams honest in terms of scope and deadlines, a plan communicates vital information to all project stakeholders. If you approach it as something more than a dry document and communicate that aspect of it differently to everyone involved, it can and will be seen as integral to your project’s success. The fact is, a plan is more than dates. That’s why a plan comes first, agile methods comes second.

Agile methodologies are based on the mindset that self-organizing software development teams can deliver value through iteration and collaboration. In such respect, I am used to work and administer Agile projects using software like JIRA.

MY PROJECT MANAGEMENT SKILLS

Effective project managers for IT-driven projects need more than technical know-how. The role also requires a number of non-technical skills, and it is these softer skills that often determine whether a project manager — and the project — will be a success. Here are a few key characteristics a project manager should have:

Leaders are innovators who are always looking to improve ways of doing things and challenging the processes in order to improve the team’s productivity level. On the other side, managers are skilled in following processes. Hence, managers tend to accept the status quo and continue to do things the way they have been done.

This means: Leaders tend to look for challenges. Challenges lead to new ideas and improvements in the current processes. As innovation and leading have been part of my proven track record, I am skilled to lead a team.

Leaders motivate and inspire their people simply in the way they work with them: in setting goals, making meaningful contributions, recognizing their efforts, always encouraging the team to deliver the best work that they can. Managers, in their focus on implementing processes, control their people and the working environment, including their work assignments, schedules, deliverables, etc.

Successful project managers continuously develop leadership skills in motivating and inspiring teams. They practice effective human resource management processes for team development.

That’s why motivating colleagues and team members is crucial to meet goals any plan. I have managed to meet expectations in such a field in my recent projects.

“Only 7% of communication by people is verbal—the content of our communication. Thirty-eight percent is conveyed through the quality of voice—tone, volume, speed and pitch. Fifty-five percent is through posture, movements, gestures, facial expressions, breathing and skin-color changes.”

As a result, communication is a vital element of a well-managed project and expressing its needs. There are two main groups of people with whom the project manager needs to ensure clear and effective communication, the stakeholders and the project team.

Having attended multiple communication seminars and successfully managed a variety of projects, I consider myself an open and strong communicator.

In order for any project management to be successful, it needs to follow a structured project management process. A project management process is a process that facilitates the optimal use of resources (people, money, and technology) over the life of a project to maximize value. The desired outcomes of this process are to select the right projects by improving decision-making and to improve project outcomes through excellence in execution.

The five phases of the project management process are:

  1. Identify and assess business opportunity
  2. Select from alternatives
  3. Develop preferred alternative for full funding
  4. Execute (detail design, procurement and construction)
  5. Operate and evaluate

I have created project management plans and processes over a period of more than 10 years.

Some problems are small and can be resolved quickly. Other problems are large and may require significant time and effort to solve. These larger problems are often tackled by turning them into formal projects.

Whether the problem you are focusing on is small or large, using a systematic approach for solving it is helping me to be a more effective project manager. The following approach defines five problem solving steps you can use for most problems:

  • Defining the problem
  • Determining the causes
  • Generating ideas
  • Selecting the best solution
  • Taking action

Such steps helped me to manage teams of up to 20 people working on projects.

Adaptability generally means to make something suitable for a new use, purpose or situation. Organizations adapt to change and project managers are often required to adapt to new environments, technologies, expectations and situations.

Adaptation is a fundamental property of matter, organizations and people. It is refined over time in trial-and-error fashion as individuals learn, experiment and adjust to new conditions. Above all adaptation provides a smart approach to problem solving by emphasising learning through interaction, responsiveness, adjustments, feedback, and recognition of complexity and ambiguity inherent in situations.

I am actively using adapability in managing my projects, and I am training colleagues on how to apply such methods.

Prioritizing project work is a challenge for project teams across many industries. While shifting priorities are a natural part of working life, when you don’t prioritize work you can lay havoc to all your team’s projects and initiatives, and even drain team morale.

Effective prioritization is as much an art as a science. These steps can help:

  1. Making the project schedule visible to everyone
  2. Creating a project backlog (for example using JIRA)
  3. Managing the team for the long and short game
  4. Knowing the business and the market
  5. Giving project tasks a finish date
  6. Account for uncertainty in the schedule
  7. Learning how to predict incoming priority shifts
  8. Drawing the line between urgent and important tasks

I have managed projects in the past according to such methods. This helped me to manage projects effectively, increased productivity, and helped to raise the morale of the team. As a result, people who worked together with me knew that our work really made a difference!

DID YOU EVER ...

… ask yourself how bad project management looks like? One that does not exist or is performed in a poor way. No matter if you have a dedicated project manager for it or if project management duties are taken care of by other team members.

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