What separates the mediocre project managers from the great ones? It’s the little things. The tips and tricks of the trade are often learned through painful trial and error, but sometimes you can find that key piece of the puzzle from someone who’s been there before. Here are the best kept project management secrets.
1. Leadership Skills Are Crucial
The good project managers are, well, managers. The great project managers are leaders. Leaders inspire. Leaders bring people to heights they’ve never achieved before. Leaders see the big picture. Managers just plod along doing what they’re told. Leadership skills are crucial – honesty, integrity, relationship building, and innovation especially. Relationship building is more and more important in the modern business environment. Knowing that is something that makes a real difference is one of the best kept project management secrets. Spend the time growing and honing these skills – your ability to deliver will grow exponentially with your leadership skills.
2. Communication Is Half The Battle, If Not More
Managing projects effectively requires communicating with management, stakeholders, clients, and team members, vendors, contractors, consultants…without effective communication, there won’t be a project. The project manager is the “hub” of the project, connecting all the “spokes” and making sure everything runs smoothly. So much goes into effective communication – everyone knows about effective communication – the proejct management secret is knowing what’s important:
- Information creation, tracking, and sharing: all the data, both input and output, needs to be placed in the right hands at the right time. Sometimes this is as easy as taking detailed notes at meetings. Other times this is as difficult as creating cost estimations and milestone dates months in advance while you’re still missing key components of your models. Make sure all the information needed is created, available for who needs it, and filed for easy access. This is true for spoken, written, typed, and thumbed communication 🙂
- Building trust: Trust is the foundation of effective communication. Your team members need to trust you to really share with you what they see at ground level. Your client has to trust you to tell you what they really think of the project. Your boss needs to trust you to tell you the critical feedback you need to fix your mistakes. Build your rapport with everyone, take the time to get to know them, and you’ll succeed.
- Clear communication channels: You might be the world’s most gifted communicator, but if you’re talking to your team over Slack, email, Whatsapp, text, and why not throw in a project management software on top too, the messages get lost in the churn and the noise. You need to ensure there are clear communication channels, that are specific to particular messages, and that everyone follows the protocol. Otherwise, that key update you send your team member may never get seen.
3. Know Your Team
This is one of the project management secrets that makes such a big difference operationally and boosts the chance of a project’s success. You’re ultimately only as effective as your team. The better you know them, the better you can utilize their talents – while avoiding their weaknesses and be able to keep momentum rolling for success. This starts by knowing their work histories. Their talents and skills. And yes, their weaknesses. You don’t want to kill morale by asking someone to take on a task that’s a bad fit for them. Make that mistake, and you might just be building delays into your project, too. Know who is good at what, and find out those extra tidbits like “Karen actually loves data entry and cleaning up spreadsheets” or “Michael worked in sales for years and knows how to interface with vendors.” If your team is handed to you, take the time to talk to them and get to know them! And if you are building your project team, pay attention to this.
4. Use Milestones As Often As You Can
Milestones are great drivers of team engagement and execution. Your team often doesn’t know the project roadmap. Even if they do, they don’t really look at the life of the project with the same big picture vision that you do as project manager. Milestones are a way to give the team a target – a short term goal that has them setting their sights on something tangible to work towards. It’s a motivational tool as much as a planning tool! This is one of those project management secrets that project managers learn through experience. Keep the team engaged, and you’ll be building momentum into the team project. As time goes on, and the small successes start building up to the large ones, your team will be firing on all cylinders, coming to work with sleeves rolled up and ready to tackle their daily tasks.
K.I.S.S. stands for “keep it simple, silly.” Whatever process you can simplify, do it! Complexity is where mistakes hide, waiting to rear their ugly heads. The simpler the process, the easier it flows, and the faster it can be tackled. Some people refer to this as making your workflow “dummy proof.” Instead of multi-step tasks, break things down to sub-tasks. Get things down to as linear of a flow as you can. Simplicity also helps your team get into a “zone.” It gives team members autonomy to tackle their tasks without needing to constantly check in with other people and processes. If you are detailed in the planning stage, the operation stage will be bite sized pieces which are capable of being done on time, on budget, and on target.
2 Bonus Project Management Secrets
- Avoid scope creep like the plague. Get the project scope nailed down in writing and never let that change without a proper review. If the client is fickle, you talk that out without letting it derail the progress you’ve already made.
- Develop KPIs or other performance metrics for measuring project health and success during the project. This keeps you on track, working towards the proper target, and gives you something in hand to answer the all important questions, “how are we doing?” and “where are we holding?”