Applying various project management approaches to the complex task of project management will enable you to ensure that you deliver your project – on time and on budget. On paper project management can look a straightforward enough task, but there is much more to it than simply starting a project, managing staff and organizing goods. Fortunately there are some basic processes and techniques, along side project management tools; that you can use to make your job easier.
Managing and Leading.
The most successful project managers are always excellent managers and excellent team leaders. It would be wrong to state that either of those two roles was more important than the other, but you will probably spend increasing amounts of your time as a leader rather than a manager making and implementing decisions. Why, well a leader quite simply will command authority and respect by the way that they follow up their directives and plans with actions; inspiring and motivating others to ensure the success of the project and its component tasks. There is no single manner in which you will act as a manager or a leader; different styles will be required as different issues occur. You can be trained in management and leadership but becoming a good manager or leader really depends on experience. That experience doesn’t have to gained solely through the workplace, you can develop and refine your skills in all walks of life be it negotiating a discount in a store or leading an event at your sports club. Some basic tenets for a good manager and leader are that they: put the customer first, will manage and adapt to change, can negotiate, will listen to others, can build teams, are technically competent in what they ask others to do and above all can communicate effectively.
You must be able to prioritize.
Managing a project means that you will, in effect, be managing a multiplicity of tasks all at the same time. It is vital that you can evaluate at any given time which task is the most important one for you to allocate resources and time to. A big help in this will be having a master schedule that outlines how, in an ideal world, the project will progress with time and the resources you will be likely to need at the various stages of the project. There will invariably be overlaps on this master schedule which, until the actual time arrives, should not be of any concern to you. However, on a day-to-day basis you will have to decide where exactly to put most of your time and energy into. Your decision will invariably be influenced by the task that is, at that moment, the most problematic. Finally, don’t feel insecure about asking the project sponsor if you’re not sure exactly where to put your priority at any one time. Just as it is important for you to discuss with your managers and team leaders about their priorities, you too will need someone to talk to at some points in the project.
Understand the roles of others.
As the project manager you are responsible for the whole project, but we all know that in reality you can’t actually do absolutely everything yourself. You will be relying on the managers and other stakeholders in the project responsible to you, to do ‘their bit’ too. Whether they are staff you have appointed or belong to external agencies that you have to work with – you must understand what their roles are and what their needs are, in order to maximize their contribution to the project. It doesn’t matter whether the other person is the project sponsor above you or a key team member/manager or an outside contractor; being able to form trusting and meaningful relationships with them is essential. Even a supplier of materials into your project is to some degree a stakeholder in it. They will be keen to perform their function correctly in order to gain repeat business with you; however, no matter how lucrative such a possibility might be if they feel ignored or under-valued, you could well miss out on being able to use them again. The same is true for other managers in your project. If you consult with them when looking to instigate a new procedure, they will work with you, rather than against you if you try to impose something on them. One way to avoid others feeling undervalued is to have an appreciation of the pressure and stresses they’re under to deliver on your behalf – and be prepared to support them in motivating their team(s). Regarding managers working directly with you it does, of course, help if you can instinctively trust them in the first place. If you were appointed as project manager before the project got under-way you should have been able to appoint your own managers and team leaders. If you have inherited someone else’s choices – spend some time getting to know them and be prepared to assert your authority if you think someone responsible to you might jeopardize the project.
Some days you may well think your job title should be problem solver rather than project manager. However, once the project is up and running that is what you’ll spend a lot of your time doing – solving problems. Of course the simplest solution to this is to see problems coming and prevent them. For a variety of reasons that’s not always possible, to alleviate the situation you need to encourage your managers and stakeholders to come to you as soon as a problem appears, rather than waiting until it has become an emergency. However, in encouraging others to bring problems to you also ask them to bring ideas for solutions at the same time. This will hopefully lighten your load and increase the sense of problem ownership and solving on the manager/stakeholder bringing the problem to you. Problems can be thought of as having a solution in four other P’s. People – do they need better skills or more support? Products – is there a design fault or a production error? Processes – does a business model need refining or an IT system updating? Procurement – are your supplies/services arriving when you need them?
Flexibility in your approach and attitudes.
Just because the procedure for getting something to be done has previously had a fixed routine to it, dos not mean to say that you cannot improvise around that routine or, better still, improve on it. Your job is to have the project completed on time and on budget; and having flexibility in your approach to how things are done will help tremendously in your effectiveness in attaining those goals. That isn’t to say you should try and ‘cut corners’ or indulge in any sharp practices, as that can actually lead to delays and extra cost, but instead look at how a job is being done and see how it can be improved. For example say you wanted to improve the productivity of a carpenter using a band-saw on long lengths of wood. They have to cut the wood then clear it from the other side of the saw once cut. Telling the carpenter to work faster will probably just result in the carpenter having an accident, delaying the whole project and presenting you with a Health and Safety issue. So, instead assign someone to work at the other end of the band saw removing the cut timbers, result productivity increases whilst the timber needs to be cut. In taking an approach like that you are focusing on priorities, and overcoming a performance difficulty. Having personally taken control of the situation will also enhance your standing as a team leader.