How Are Your Project Management Skills?
Whether or not you consider yourself a project manager, you are likely leading some sort of project most of the time.
From delegating tasks to virtual assistants, changing procedures behind the scenes, or learning a new app or software to boost your productivity, projects come in all shapes and sizes.
The more complex a project, the more details you have to plan, manage and monitor.
However, the basics project management from start to finish are usually very similar.
At the beginning of a project, it’s important to develop a solid understanding of the project’s goals, and how the various elements will fit together for a successful outcome.
At the start of a project, I typically outline what, why, who, and when within a project management tool such as Asana – so I can understand how the elements of the project fit together. When I use a cloud-based project management tool such as Asana, it makes it very easy to share details, tasks, files, and updates instantly with everyone on my team.
To prepare this high-level document, it’s important to understand that each project is comprised of different stages. For instance there are things that need to be done in the beginning of the project that do not need to be done toward the end. Understanding project scope helps you not only hit deadlines but helps to control when things change long the way.
Because projects involve so many variables that change so often, I let the plan develop on its own, as time progresses. Most projects expand as they go along. This is often referred to as “scope creep,” and to keep your project on track it is essential to define the scope at the very start of your project based on all of the important variables that could affect you along the way. Creating a scope statement (or more formally, Scope Document), makes it more simple to manage your project as it unfolds.
To determine what a project will cost, you’ll need to hone in your skills of estimating, budgeting, and controlling. This aspect of projects often goes unchecked (especially if you’re using the services of others to get the project completed.) It becomes very difficult to keep track when you’re working on an open-ended agenda with others. Most changes and project decisions will have an impact on cost. Therefore, it’s important to understand what drives your project costs and to develop a system for monitoring the project’s financial performance. Because so many things can impact costs it’s critical to set up reliable control and communication systems to help you keep track of the costs and required changes.
For a project to be completed successfully, despite all of the unknowns, it’s important to clearly define the activities, estimate the time needed for each one, and build in time to allow for the unexpected (slippage). To be most effective, it is a good practice to prepare a specific timeline and sequence of activities. When you have a project schedule laid out, it is easier to manage the details to ensure its timely completion. A schedule can then be broken down into very specific tasks (with completion dates). This is particularly important to flesh out when different people do different things and their work output becomes the input for another piece of work. These parts and pieces map together to form a path of milestones that must be completed successively (in project-speak, this is what is known as the Critical Path). When a project gets behind schedule, I work with my team to help them understand the timelines and how they may impact the other team members. It’s better to share information with all team members so we all can find solutions and move projects forward rather than assign blame and get stalled. Keeping track of schedules can be assisted by many different tools: Asana, Teamwork,Basecamp, Salesforce and Zoho are a few that allow entrepreneurs access to their team without exchanging a ton of emails as schedules and tasks evolve. These tools are all comparable, some are free up to certain parameters, whereas others require annual fees.
Effective project management means communicating with the right people at the right time and in the right way. To do this, it is important to identify who your project team members are, and to keep all the people working on the project informed and up-to-date. It’s important to establish regular meetings to discuss changes and implement project documents that help keep everyone informed. I love to use the tools mentioned above to support open communication and keep everything available on the web. A cloud-based repository can save you a lot of time, and helps minimize miscommunication and maintain good relationships with people involved in the project.
The people on your project team can make or break the final outcome, so it is important to not just like your team members but be sure they possess and display the winning qualities that will support team outcomes. I’ve been burned by aligning with support people who have not had the right mix of interpersonal skills or the right technical skills. (Buyer beware!) In this online universe, it’s very easy to enter into relationships with support people without adequately vetting your new team members. Start working together effectively as soon as possible, develop a project plan, roles & responsibilities and outline your performance expectations. These will all keep the project team on track and working productively.
6. General Project Management Skills
There are many skills that come to play when you manage projects. Some of the most important at the start are planning and scheduling. Of course time management, negotiation, adapting to change, problem solving, and communication and conflict resolution are essential. They will not only improve negotiation and conflict resolution skills, but also help with risk management, time management, and quality management.
7. Quality & Risk Management
When managing projects, entrepreneurs do well to understand the aspects of both quality and risk associated with decisions. Projects should be delivered not only on time and on budget, but also to your quality specifications. As part of this, ensure that you identify your absolutes, and differentiate them from your nice to have’s when you’re referring to the benefits that the project will provide. If a deadline is most important, you may sacrifice some quality at the forefront – but you won’t waste precious time and resources trying to over-achieve. One of the best risk management practices is to start by identifying as many potential project risks as you can think of and then develop contingency plans to manage or minimize each one of them. With risk management, it is important to build in redundancy in case something happens – and decide who is responsible for which parts of the project in case something goes wrong!
When you are an accomplished project manager, few things will upset you or hurt your confidence in your ability to lead the project to a successful end. Use your project skills to help others on your team develop their project management skills. Lead by example, and provide opportunities for other team members to manage parts of the project. Also, be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Just as you review a project at its completion, make sure that you review your own performance, and identify what you can do better next time.
Your Sanity Assignment
What are the areas above that are most difficult for you today? What is one thing you could do to help improve your skills in that area. Take action today!
Images courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net