I’ve been a professional project manager for 15 years.
I have worked in both the “corporate” world as well as an independent contractor and consultant.
There are days where I love what I do.
There are also days when I ask myself, WHY did I choose this profession?
On the not-so-great days, I reflect on the events of the day, soul search, and ask myself, what am I doing wrong? How can I be a BETTER project manager?
Here’s what I have come up with that has helped me, and I hope that it helps all my fellow project managers out there, too.
1. Set and communicate expectations.
Every project manager has his or her own project management style. What I have found running my business is that every client has a different understanding and expectations around what a project manager is and does. The key to success is to communicate your particular project management style, your strengths and weaknesses, to your client or your team.
For example, I’m a “soft skills” project manager. So, if you need a project manager that enjoys working with people, solving problems, resolving team conflicts, and helping teams prioritize to get things done with tact, compassion, and shiny communication abilities, then you should call me to lead your project and your team.
However, if you need a project manager who is analytical, scientific, and to create and run reports and do math, I’m not your girl.
2. Assess EEFs and OFAs.
Through the years of working with clients, I have learned that there are a lot of factors that affect a project manager’s ability to be a good project manager. For example, every company has differing “influences” that play a role in the environment in which the project management exists. These influences can have a favorable or unfavorable impact on a particular project or the project management role itself. These sources of influence are known as Enterprise Environmental Factors (EEFs) and Organizational Process Assets (OPAs).
EEFs are both internal and external, and can occur inside and outside of the project and the enterprise. EEFs may have an impact at the organizational, portfolio, program, or project level. Some examples of external EEFs can include:
- marketplace conditions
- social and culture influences and issues
- legal restrictions
- commercial databases
- financial considerations
Some examples of internal EEFs can include:
- organizational culture, structure, and governance, such as mission, vision, values, beliefs, leadership style, ethics, code of conduct, and so on
- virtual teams
- resource availability
- employee capability
OPAs are internal to the organization. These may arise from the organization itself, a portfolio, a program, another project, or a combination of these.
According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, Sixth Edition, here is a graphic that shows where EEFs and OPAs lie:
In short, if a particular team is struggling to work together as a team, get organized, speed up project delivery, and improve “project management” overall, they think that bringing in a project manager will be the “quick fix” to those challenges.
Yes and no.
It is possible, but refer to the chart above. If the company culture doesn’t support project management or see the value in it, or there are too many internal and external influences that trickle down and impact a project manager’s ability to bring about new processes, procedures, and organization to the chaos, then it doesn’t matter how awesome or experienced of a project manager is, he or she will be set up to fail.
3. Build a framework.
Many clients hire us for the following reasons:
- They are too busy to keep up with the day-to-day.
- They don’t understand or don’t have the time or skill set necessary to project manage.
- They need to grow and scale their businesses (internally with people and processes) and aren’t sure how to do it.
- They are “ideas” people and struggle with execution.
Over the years, rather than try to blend myself and my team into a pre-existing process (or lack thereof), I have gotten better at taking the initiative and building a framework for project management on behalf of clients when there isn’t one.
Of course, this takes end-user buy-in to be successful, but the way to do that is:
- Create documentation
- Present to executives and leaders
- Train team members
- Build an execution plan for all stakeholders to follow
- Build a continuous improvement plan to iterate on
4. Practice better communication.
I will be honest, I don’t always do this as well as I should. I’m often so quick to offer solutions and help that I miss what the actual problem is. You might miss a key requirement, task, or misinterpret or understand the scope, a client challenge or need, or just plain, ‘ol miss the mark.
DON’T jump to conclusions.
One of the great things about being a human being is the power of our minds. It’s absolutely crazy to think about what our brains are capable of doing. We can do things without even thinking about them. Of course, we all know this, this is call the subconscious mind, but take a second and actually think about how amazing that is.
The subconscious mind is also known as “System 1”. Your “System 2” is the part of your brain that works harder and requires more energy to process new information or question existing information.
Sometimes as project managers, we have to activate our “System 2”, which allows us to question what we read or hear, think outside the box, and take a different approach.
The answer? Clarify, clarify, clarify. Don’t take things at face value. Don’t be afraid to think differently.
You might think that bouncing from meeting to meeting, task to task, and email to email is being productive. It’s not. Sure, you might respond to more, but you are more liable to miss a key detail, a deadline, and make a mistake.
Quality work comes from slowing down, thinking clearly, focusing, and crafting the right response or asking clarifying questions. Quality and productivity do NOT come from speed.
5. Measure project success.
Whenever project managers are asked to take on a new project or initiative, their heads immediately think, What is the scope? What is the deadline? What are the deliverables? Who is the project team?
Don’t get me wrong, these are all important questions to ask, but they aren’t necessarily the right questions.
In addition to the above, a project manager should also ask:
- What does success look like for this project?
- How will success be measured?
- What factors will impact success?
By understanding the success metrics of a particular project, project managers will be in a better position to not only track those metrics through reporting dashboards, widgets or even a “score card”, but also drive the project to success, far beyond remaining within constraints.
6. Set professional boundaries.
Whenever beginning a new engagement as a project manager, or starting a new project, it’s important to set professional boundaries for yourself. For example, for me personally, I learned that I need fewer meetings. There are certain days of the week when I am in meetings all. day. long.
In these cases, I don’t have any time to do actual project management work, which stresses me out, increases my anxiety levels, and then I miss things and make mistakes.
One important thing I have learned: Doing less allows you to do and focus on more.
This is now something I live and work by.
With fewer meetings and scheduling longer blocks of “deep work” time, I can not only slow dow (see point above), focus on more, and get more done, all of which allows me to not only be a more effective project manager, but a better one.
Build a Success Scorecard
Changing the way you think, work, and lead won’t change overnight. You have to develop the right routine and habits to spark that change. This is the framework I used to help me develop different habits and take a different approach to being a project manager, and how I work with clients.
What you can do is set small, measurable goals, or little things you can do each day to turn your new habits into second nature. Download my trusty “Success Scorecard” to help you.
In addition, if you are interested in learning more about project management or to supplement your existing project management skills, check out my course “The Basics of Project Management”. Readers and fans get a 25% discount!