Effective Project Managers

Over the years, I’ve managed hundreds of projects.  Some small; some large.  For profit; not-for-profit.  Software development, sales process, customer relationship management, construction, hardware development – a bunch of stuff.  I have a bent for analysis, detail and strategic thinking, but to say I learned project management the hard way would be a laughable understatement.  Nonetheless, learn it I have. 

Along the way I made many mistakes and made note of what does and doesn’t work so well.  Though I’m still learning, and because I haven’t given up the ghost yet, I’m jotting down the most important principles that do work consistently – in spite of the nature of a project and in spite of what circumstance dishes out.  These principles underpin what I call Common Sense Project Management.

I hope they’ll keep you focused on and accomplishing your dreams.

An effective project manager:

  1. Listens actively.  You repeat what you hear from each project participant in your own words and then listen for validation and corrections.  Repeat until each participant nods their head up and down – the universal signal that “you got it”.
  2. Plans meticulously and still understand that plans generally become useless as they’re being printed.  Your planning process prepares your mind for many possibilities, but what happens happens.  The best plans help you focus and refocus on what’s most important when the inevitable surprises occur.
  3. Keeps detailed project plans with dates and times to yourself.  You know perfect execution rarely happens and how long it takes someone(s) to get from A to B is dependent on many things.  When you do show your detailed plans to others you’re careful to remind them often that you know the only things GUARANTEED wrong on every project plan are dates, durations, costs and planned completion dates.  This doesn’t mean deadlines aren’t important; truth is the opposite – they’re what drives what you ACTUALLY DO and how you do it in a press.
  4. Understands deadlines and target dates are different and understands the importance of those differences.  If you have a deadline, you’re honor bound to hit it or let EVERYONE know you might not, can’t or won’t as soon as you have good reason to believe you’re off target.
  5. Remembers the dates don’t change.  Just because you do or don’t hit a milestone when you originally intended, you’re honor bound to hit the next one sooner to catch up or at least give yourself a way to do a better job of estimating next time.
  6. Plans for surprises by working around them and building slack into plans whenever feasible.
  7. Models the fact project management involves honest relationship and demonstrates that relationships build on trust, common interest, loyalty and candor.  Common interest can be missing, but trust, loyalty and candor may not.  Trust and loyalty take years to develop and a second to destroy.
  8. Understands project MUST be constrained by the client approved balance among time, money and resources.  This “constraint triangle” defines the boundaries of what you can and will deliver (deliverable scope of work) in exchange for the area of the time, money and resource triangle you negotiate.
  9. Always treats everyone in a project as if your roles were reversed AND you both knew what you were doing.
  10. Understands your MOST IMPORTANT roles are clear and effective communication of the truth and maintenance of a project environment conducive to successful accomplishment of the desired result in the desired time at the desired cost.
  11. Begins each project developing a crystal clear vision of the desired result as it appears in the minds of the paying project stakeholders.   The more clearly you can describe the end result of a project to the project “sponsor”, the better and more cost-effective your result.
  12. Establishes clear lines of authority, channels and acceptable methods of communication, planning tools and reporting specifics.  To the extent possible, you’ll use what works best for your client.
  13. Creates and communicates boundaries that describe:
    1. what you will do
    2. what you won’t do
    3. Anything important to you or your client’s health, well-being or core values
  14. Monitors commitments and let people who know best how to carry out a task set their own due dates and work methods
  15. Manages expectations constantly.  You start as you’re negotiating a deal and you continue throughout the life of the deliverable(s).  You always want to underpromise and overdeliver and that doesn’t just happen – it requires constant observation and constant communication.  Remember:
    1. Telling someone, “I don’t think that’s possible” is MUCH better than saying, “Sure” and then failing to deliver
    2. Saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” is MUCH preferable to guessing or stretching the truth
    3. Spend as much time as necessary getting clients and delivery team members to clearly understand and agree on a scope document that they all help to write and markup.
  16. Oh yeah…  And remember to have some fun.  Life’s short.  Who you work with, how and why are much more important than what you work on.