Project managers: Get organized or get out


Brad Egeland

January 28, 2016

In my time as a project manager, I’ve seen a lot of very organized individuals leading projects. Sometimes they are organized to the extreme. That can be good…and it can also be bad. Too much rigidity can lead to project managers who are focusing on the minute details and micromanaging team members rather than focusing on the end goals of the project, engaging the project client, and being flexible enough to handle the bumps in the road that inevitably show up.

The other end of the spectrum — not enough organization and experience — can be even worse. It’s excusable if you are a new project manager learning the ropes. Grab a mentor and learn from them some of the basics for staying focused, understanding and managing against best practices and how to lead a complex and skilled group of project team members. Another challenge – trying to figure out how to effectively manage a project customer who doesn’t report to you and has a lot of other work to worry about aside from the project you are leading for them.

As for me, my best advice is to follow these five tips to the best of your ability.

1. Find the right tool. First, find the tool that works best for yourself or – if it’s an organizational situation then find what works best with your organization’s project management needs. What’s most important? Cloud-based vs. desktop? Customer reporting and dashboard views? Ease of collaboration? Task management? Shared knowledge base area? Risk analysis? Project portfolio management (PPM)? More? All of the above? You can get each of these, you can get more and you can get everything and all at varying prices, sometimes even for free. But it takes searching and research.

Find the right tool for what you need and don’t just rely on spreadsheets, post-it notes and luck. That may work today, but it won’t continue to work for long and one or two projects down the line you’ll be facing a miserable fail.

2. Find your best practices. Figure out what your best practices need to be. For me, the basics are these: A detailed project kickoff meeting, weekly customer meetings, weekly team meetings, thorough and regular project status reporting and followup, solid risk planning, a communication plan that starts with the project manager and is doable, weekly resource analysis and forecasting and weekly budget analysis and forecasting. That is usually a pretty good basis for ongoing project success and consistency. But you need to figure out what yours is as well, what you can follow and what works for the types of projects you manage.

3. Stick to a schedule. Consistency is important in project management. Figure out a schedule that works for you, your team and your customer and stick with it. Project meetings with the client every Thursday? Great….stick with it. And even if there isn’t much to cover in a given week, don’t cancel. Even just a five minute phone call may keep something important from falling through the cracks. Again, as with most of project management, it’s all about consistently carried out best practices.

4. Demand results. If things aren’t going well or your team and customer aren’t following directions, you have to take a firm stand before you lose control of the project. Never settle for status quo. Demand results. Be firm – you are in charge. Demand that task progress be consistent. At the end of the day you won’t be able to point fingers – success or failure falls to the project manager. So take care of business as it happens. Don’t embarrass team members in front of others during team or customer meetings. But if you are having issues with any team members, take them aside and discuss and set goals. If they can’t follow, then you’ll have to have them replaced, if possible. Demand progress and followup with those who aren’t complying.

5. Be accountable to senior management. Finally, make yourself – force yourself – to be accountable to your senior management. Include them in the project status reporting. Try to find a one-size fits all reporting format so you aren’t reinventing the wheel for all stakeholders. But include them and report to them. It will help you stay on track and you should benefit career-wise just from the dedication and visibility…though no guarantees.

Summary / call for input

Project management is not easy. It takes dedication, organization, attention to detail and flexibility. Some of these things can sometimes contradict each other…that’s the nature of project management. But you must eventually be all of them. So, while yes…you have to sometimes “fake it till you make it”, you do eventually need to be good at all or it won’t last. It’s not that hard, but it certainly isn’t a career where you can “phone it in.”

How about our readers? What advice would you give to new or disorganized project managers looking to advance or improve? What tips or tricks have worked for you?

This article was written by Brad Egeland from CIO and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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