It is essential to understand that there is no perfect approach to project management. While it is important to embrace knowledge and learn about the most effective ways to lead a team, it is equally imperative to recognise that no one-size-fits-all solution exists. In this essay, I will discuss the most vital skills necessary for becoming an effective project manager, regardless of the approach, framework, or methodology selected.
It’s all about the TEAMp
It is essential for each member of the team to foster a strong bond and cultivate effective communication. This connection should be a safe space where everyone can feel empowered and supported. Every decision and accomplishment should be a collective effort and the team should share the credit for its successes. By working together and relying on one another, the team will be able to reach its full potential.
In recent years, we have adopted a practice of using ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ when communicating formally. For instance, when addressing stakeholders outside of our team, we might say, “We generated the velocity chart for the latest sprint” or “We have completed the budget and cost forecast timetable”. Although this may seem unorthodox, it has several advantages. Firstly, it demonstrates that the decision was made collectively by the team, rather than by any one individual, thus creating a sense of unity and strength. Secondly, it serves to remind team members that they are not solely responsible for any successes or failures; rather, it is the team as a whole that is accountable. Following this, we conducted an internal evaluation to identify ways to improve the process and ensure that similar mistakes are not made in future.
Stop looking for the perfect process
You may stop looking for the ideal procedure for your team right now. There is no such thing as a universal application.
As project managers progress in their careers, they are exposed to a variety of different frameworks, methods and procedures. While it is important to try out some of the frameworks to determine which one works best for their team, it is essential to avoid a “one size fits all” mentality when the team is not in agreement with the process.
Project managers should be flexible in their approach to process management, tailoring it to best suit the needs of their team. In my time working in information technology, I have not encountered a single team that adhered to a framework unfailingly; instead, factors such as team dynamics, culture, and philosophy are all integral to an approach that works. Therefore, project managers should be willing to experiment with different strategies to find a combination of behaviours that will be beneficial to their team.
If the team employed Scrum, but found that daily meetings were too time-consuming, they have the option to employ a meeting bot in Slack and to schedule calls only when necessary. This same approach can be extended to sprint reviews; if team members find them to be inefficient, managers can arrange reviews based on the needs of the team. It is important to bear in mind that we are not the keepers of Scrum, Kanban or any other frameworks; they are simply tools to aid the team in attaining productivity and motivation.
Having Many Hands to Complete a Variety of Tasks
Effective communication is an indispensable part of successful project management. As the project manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that all project stakeholders are kept informed, and that any issues or concerns are addressed in a timely and efficient manner. It can be challenging to stay on top of the multitude of communications and tasks that arise, but it is an essential part of the job you have taken on.
As experienced project managers, it is important to master the art of quickly assessing emails and determining which issues require the most attention. It may take more effort in the beginning, but it is advisable to avoid diving into unnecessary, detailed conversations if they are not essential to the project. Instead, the project manager might want to consider organising a team meeting to find a solution and reduce the amount of time spent on ineffective, back and forth communication. In many cases, a 15-minute phone call could replace many hours of textual communication.
The Project Manager should be the primary point of contact for all stakeholders, and should prioritise and delegate tasks in order to keep the project on schedule. While some Project Managers prefer to personally execute work in order to ensure all standards are met, this can lead to loss of focus on the most important aspects of the project in the long-term. Whenever possible, the Project Manager should delegate tasks, while still undertaking jobs that require the Project Manager’s attention, such as Quality Assurance for major features and tasks. However, the Project Manager should avoid getting too involved in the assignments of other team members.
By default, trust estimates, then measure and discuss
As a Project Manager, it is essential to have trust in the job estimates given by their team members. Having worked as a Developer for four years prior to transitioning into a Project Manager role, I have only ever debated an estimate when I had evidence to support my argument. This evidence must be data-driven, such as the past record of a team member’s projected and actual time spent on tasks, rather than relying on my own development experience. When providing an estimate for work, it’s important to take into consideration the various experiences and backgrounds of people involved. If a Project Manager wishes to challenge an estimate, they must be specific about their goals and should provide evidence to support their claims.
Sensitive Information Transparency and Control
Project managers serve as an integral bridge between the realms of business and technology, drawing on expertise from both areas. They must manage the risks associated with the project while also keeping an eye on the bigger picture, including the safekeeping of confidential and sensitive information. It is essential to strike a balance between being an effective and transparent leader while also being mindful of the need to responsibly manage sensitive information.
Project managers may not always be considered part of the senior management team, yet they often have access to sensitive information. It is important to ensure that project managers are aware of what information should remain confidential, as its disclosure could have a detrimental effect on team morale and lead to disputes. For example, if a business is in the process of negotiating a significant business deal with investors, it may be advisable to only share the news with a select few individuals until the transaction is finalised. Doing so avoids the potential disappointment of the entire team if the deal is unsuccessful, thus preserving team motivation.
Maximising openness within a project is beneficial for a variety of reasons. For one, it reduces the risk of any important information being overlooked or missed. Additionally, with more individuals in the loop, there is no need to unnecessarily reiterate information as everyone is already aware. Encouraging transparency and communication is thus crucial in order to ensure that all team members are kept informed.
Early detection of risks
As a project manager, it is important to develop a systematic approach to address impediments in order to ensure that all project tasks are completed. If managers do not take the necessary steps to eliminate blockers after each sprint, many items in the backlog may become blocked. While it is tempting to focus on removing impediments from the highest priority tasks, this could lead to serious issues if a large number of tasks which are dependent on each other end up blocked.
As a project manager, it is essential to create a list of action items specifically designed to address roadblocks. It is important to ensure that the tasks are properly linked, so that stakeholders are aware of any high-priority activities that may be delayed due to lower-level blockages. Ultimately, managers are left with two options: they can maintain their own to-do list focused on reducing roadblocks, or they can add additional details to their tasks and link them by creating dependencies that keep the blockages aligned across all related activities. However, the latter option can become too complex on larger projects, so managers may need to do both in order to keep the project moving and remove roadblocks in a timely manner.
From setbacks and difficult times to little wins
If a deadline is not met, the project manager should not express their frustration with the team. Instead, they should be a source of motivation and reassurance. They should take ownership of the situation, and empower the team to do their best to get the project back on track. It is also beneficial to schedule a post-mortem review to identify the causes of the missed deadline, and how to prevent such issues in the future.
It is essential to recognise the efforts of the team by celebrating the small milestones achieved during the project. Scheduling a short meeting to recognise the team’s progress, such as when findings are delivered on time, can be a great way to show appreciation and motivation. Acknowledging these small successes can have a significant impact on the overall success of the project.
Maintaining a consistent documentation process is a critical practice for all project managers. In my opinion, meeting management is often overlooked and can lead to wasted hours during the project management process. To ensure an effective meeting, preparation is key, and it typically requires no more than five minutes of time.
- Make an agenda and select the necessary participants. Make certain that all participants are invited.
- Send the agenda to participants and ask if anything additional should be addressed.
- If you have a virtual meeting, be sure the link was provided.
When the meeting begins:
- Join a few minutes early, meet everyone, and then dig right into the agenda after a little period of light conversation.
- Keep notes throughout the meeting, write down all action items, check for any questions once you have completed the agenda, and conclude the meeting.
- After the meeting, immediately share the meeting notes and action items with the team.
Based on my past experience, fifteen-minute meetings tend to be more efficient than meetings that last for one or two hours. This is because participants are more likely to remain focused on the agenda and any relevant discussion points, rather than allowing conversations to drift away from the main topics. Unless there are any particularly important issues that need to be addressed, fifteen-minute meetings can help ensure that the necessary topics are discussed in a concise and effective manner.
Here are a few time-saving extra tips:
- Create a meeting note template.
- Send repeated invites whenever possible.
- Create templates for action item follow-up.
- Make a note to remind yourself to send the follow-up emails.
The Right Equipment Makes a Difference
Selecting the right software tools for a project is a vital element of project management. It is not uncommon for project managers to be embroiled in discussions about which tools the team should use. These conversations can be either a waste of time or beneficial, depending on the team’s understanding of the objectives they hope to achieve with a given technology. When deciding which tools to use, it is important to take the following factors into account:
- The team’s size
- Team Structure
- Framework or project methodology
- How much information should the report contain
For projects of any size, I have a carefully curated selection of tools that I use. For smaller teams, particularly at the beginning of a project, I use Trello, a tool that includes the majority of the functionality required by the Kanban framework. When working on medium-sized projects with dozens of employees, I consider using Asana, which offers a broad range of project management tools, including reporting capabilities. If a project has more than 20 employees and requires extensive reporting, then I choose Jira, due to its compatibility with a variety of different market solutions, allowing for a high level of customization. In addition, for any little to medium-sized projects, my go-to tool is Clubhouse, which I have found to have an outstanding selection of features.
The Key Is Adjustment
As an experienced leader, it is essential to stay up-to-date with the latest frameworks, procedures, and tools in order to meet the changing needs and address the pain points of the team. While the years may lead to the obsolescence of certain tools, the leadership skills acquired throughout the process will empower you to get the most out of any framework. Therefore, it is important to maintain a comprehensive understanding of the available options and ensure that they are properly adapted to the team’s requirements.