As any project manager can attest, each project is unique and has its own challenges. The result is that you cannot have the same cookie cutter approach to each project. Instead, you must tailor your approach with each project and team. This does not mean altering your process or framework; instead, you need to adapt the soft skills and emotional intelligence required for a project.
As a Senior Project Manager at iVision, there are a few key principles that I have found useful for effective project management:
1. Communicate thoughtfully
Call out key details. We are all inundated with messages — emails, calls, instant messages, texts, etc. Make it easier for your stakeholders by pulling out the key information using bullets, bolding, and italics to draw attention. If you are sending a five page report, provide a summary of the essential decisions to make, risks, dependencies and issues in the email. If they need more detail, they are always able to dig further into the report.
Consider your audience and how you communicate. Being a good communicator is not just about what you say. Some people absorb verbal information better than written communications. Some need a few hours to digest information before providing feedback. Get to know your stakeholders and how they best digest information so that you can tailor your approach.
Pick up the phone or call a meeting for complex or difficult subjects. Ask yourself how you would prefer to get this piece of information. For example, if you have a complex problem that needs to be solved, email may not be the best way to communicate. Pick up the phone or have a meeting (even if it is 15 minutes), then you can follow up with a detailed email and action items.
2. Seek to understand
In project management, it is impossible for one person to know or keep up with ever-changing technology. However, having an understanding at a high level, as well as the work effort involved and dependencies, is critical. This gives you perspective of the project as a whole, rather than just dates and independent pieces. Once you have that understanding, you can help translate the project work for other non-technical stakeholders, outline key dependencies, identify risks and help refine the process. You will also be able to better advocate for the project team with the project stakeholders. So, how do you get an understanding of the work?
Ask questions! It may feel uncomfortable at first — you don’t want to seem as though you don’t know what you’re doing or annoy your project team. However, most people are more than happy to explain their work and provide additional detail. They might even find, during this process of being asked questions, that it helps them look at their work or a problem from different perspectives.
Gather feedback throughout the project. Asking each team member and stakeholders how things are going can be a great opening to gain insight into potential risks, issues or ways to improve. But, you must be willing to listen to the feedback and incorporate it where you can.
3. Plan for change
Whether it be changes in requirements, changes to stakeholders, or changes to the plan and approach — change is the one constant in project management. The longer or larger a project is, the more change you may experience over its course. Be ready for this change! But, how?
Have a change process that accounts for how the change will affect the project budget, scope and timeline. Outline the change process in the project kickoff. This sets the expectation from the beginning of the project for how changes will be handled. Then, stick to that process with every change that comes up.
Look for potential alternatives. When a change is brought up that may introduce additional scope, issues or risks, don’t react immediately. Gather the details and let the stakeholders know you will discuss it with the team and let them know how it will affect the project. As a project team, outline how the change will affect the project and potential alternative approaches. Look for ways to limit risks or budget increases as changes are introduced.
4. Build Trust
Building trust might be the most important principle for effective project management. Trust must be built with the project team, as well as key stakeholders. Trust leads to a more successful project.
Be reliable. If you say you will send out something by a particular time, follow through. Set expectations and don’t overcommit yourself. Sometimes, you may have to say, “No, I cannot get that completed by 3pm, but I can have it to you by 5pm.” Be proactive in communications — if you are not going to meet a previously agreed upon deadline or expectation, let the team know as soon as you know.
Be transparent. Clearly communicate risks and issues, along with potential solutions. If you make a mistake or a mistake is made on the project, be upfront and address them immediately, along with how it will be avoided in the future.
Some other great ways to build trust and rapport include gathering feedback and engaging in thoughtful communication. Building authentic relationships and long-term partnerships is what we pride ourselves on here at iVision. Project management is never an easy job, but adapting your soft skills and communication tactics goes a long way for a successful project.