Project management process is crucial to success and we here at Workzone believe that people are central to that process.
So don’t think this article will be about tactical advice or high-level strategic guidance on your day-to-day project management process.
This article will be about you.
Because you, as the leader, have to shoulder a lot. It’s your job to manage and oversee the project from beginning to end — and everything in between. You must act as a planner, manager, leader, coach, salesperson, mediator, and more.
So naturally, this article will be about leadership traits you can control and improve relating to the project management process. Sometimes it’s hard to know what areas of the process you need to work on because we all have blind spots…and sometimes, those closest to us often don’t want to point out the blind spots. This is exactly why we wrote this article. Its a self check on you as a leader.
Here are areas your team would love you to work on, but they’re too afraid to tell you.
1. You don’t lead
Project management is ultimately more about managing people than managing tasks or projects. Often, you’re responsible for overseeing people who don’t directly report to you, which can make it challenging to hold them accountable. So, how do you ensure your team is engaged, productive, and efficient?
You have to lead them. Leading is more than just telling people what to do and asking for updates. Your job is to provide vision, motivation, and assistance to keep the project moving. At the same time, you need to keep customer expectations realistic and ensure you don’t overcommit your people or promise something that can’t be delivered. You constantly need to find a compromise that makes everyone happy.
Do you find there’s always conflict between your team and other stakeholders, or that your team seems unmotivated and disengaged? If so, here are some key leadership traits you should work on building:
- Taking responsibility for all outcomes
- Listening skills (including taking the best idea on the table even if it isn’t yours)
- Conflict resolution between team members
- Critical thinking
2. You don’t communicate enough or clear enough
There’s a common saying in project management, “90% of a project manager’s job is communication.” So, if you’re not spending the majority of your time communicating, it’s safe to say this is an area you need to work on.
As a project manager, you need to be able to clearly and consistently communicate with all the project stakeholders. You must be able to explain tasks, expectations, outcomes, and goals to your team. You also need to continually communicate progress updates with executives and clients.
There are several ways you can improve the level of communication on your projects, including:
- Build communication points such as team meetings and reports into your project schedule.
- Use communication software like Slack to help support real-time communication for quick questions and discussions.
- Implement dashboards and live reports in your project management software to communicate progress between updates.
- Seek stakeholder feedback to discover what they want to know and how frequently they want you to touch base.
3. You don’t think ahead and plan for possible outcomes
It’s easy to be assigned a project and want to jump into it head-first, especially if you know the customer expects a fast delivery. But planning is a vital part of the project management process. If it’s not done well, it can lead to lots of problems down the road, such as unavailable resources, materials that weren’t ordered on time, rework, delays, and other issues.
Planning requires taking the time to fully understand customer requirements and expectations as well as risks and potential issues. No one enjoys spending hours working on something only to be told it’s not what the customer wants, and they need to start over. Plus, if you don’t take the time upfront to consider what may go wrong and how to prevent it, it can turn into a much larger issue for your team later on.
To excel at project planning, you should have the following for every project you tackle:
- Documented project requirements and acceptance criteria
- A baseline (initial) project schedule and budget
- Assigned resources to ensure you’ll have who and what you need when you need them
- Contingency plans (Plan B) for when risks occur or things go wrong
4. Your timelines are too aggressive
Having a plan and having an executable plan are two different things. You can have the most thorough plan in the world, but if it requires a lot of scrambling and overtime to meet deadlines, you’ll burn out your team. Plus, it doesn’t look good if you continually miss deadlines because they’re too aggressive.
On the strategic side when creating a schedule, we recommend a few preparations you can make:
- Prepare a WBS (work breakdown structure) of your project with a complete list of tasks and activities to accomplish. Then, record any dependencies and sequence the activities. Finally, seek out input from past projects, your team members, and other experts on how long each task should take.
- Assess your team resources by knowing what your team has on its plate now and in the future. If your team is fully loaded with work, then the new project can’t start until your team clears some projects.
Once you have solid estimates of the project, you can create your schedule and check the critical path to see what a realistic timeline looks like.
Some other tips for ensuring realistic timelines are:
- Add extra time throughout the project as a buffer to cover time lost to unexpected issues.
- Factor in time spent for meetings and other work (just because someone works an 8-hour day doesn’t mean they accomplish 8-hours worth of project work.)
- Make sure you update the timeline for any changes that add work or cause delays.
5. You lack the right tools
Project management requires keeping a lot of balls up in the air. You need to be able to constantly keep tabs on what’s going on. You also need to seamlessly share updates with others.
If you’re not using project management software to keep you organized, chances are you feel like you’re always scrambling to stay on top of everything — and that shows. For instance, if your team all uses Slack and you’re still trying to stick to email, you will seem disconnected and out of touch.
Embrace tools that will help you manage projects, including the following:
- Specific software used by your company (i.e., if they have an internal quality management system)
- Project management software
- Communication tools such as Slack and Zoom
- Time management tools
6. Your decision-making skills are poor
Project managers are faced with a lot of decisions, conflicts, and trade-offs on a daily basis. It often falls on you to decide which features or requirements to prioritize, who to assign which tasks, and what trade-offs must be made between cost, schedule, quality, etc.
If you can’t make timely, decisive choices, then your project and team will suffer. Also, if you take too long to make decisions, your team can lose valuable work time and become frustrated with your seeming inability to choose a path.
To improve your decision-making, do the following:
- Seek input from knowledgeable sources if the right answer isn’t clear
- Listen to the feedback of your team
- Take a step back from the situation and examine it independently
- Make sure you’re calm and thinking clearly when making decisions
- Get familiar with the different biases that can skew your decisions so you can watch out for them
- Learn from your mistakes
7. You’re not a team player
Your job as a project manager is to lead the team. But you’re still part of the team. If your project team doesn’t feel like you’re “one of them” it can hinder your projects. They need to trust you and feel like you have their backs.
Being a team player means seeking out ideas, opinions, and other feedback from your team. You need to show them that you support and trust them. This also means avoiding micromanaging. Delegating and giving your team the authority to take on work and decisions shows you have faith in them and understand that you’re all in this together.
Some ways to become a better team player are:
- Delegate tasks to competent team members
- Encourage brainstorming and collaboration
- Seek out feedback and listen to ideas
- Allow your team to have a say in decisions that impact them
8. You can’t handle bad news
Something will inevitably go wrong on your project. When mistakes happen, or problems crop up, your team needs to know they can approach you with them. If they feel you don’t listen or don’t react appropriately, they’re less likely to tell you things. This can result in them trying to hide issues until they’ve grown too big to cover up. It can also kill motivation and result in a culture of mistrust and unhappiness.
Your team needs to know you will stay calm and react to issues in a reasonable and understanding way. It will make them more willing to tell you about things early on before they’ve grown. Reacting well also helps show your team that you’re in control, and they can rely on you to lead them.
If you tend to lose your cool when told bad news, it’s time to work on it. Here’s some ideas for improvement:
- Don’t immediately react – take a breath, count to ten if you need to, and make sure you’re calm before you respond.
- Look at mistakes as learning opportunities – focus on how the team can improve and how you can all do better in the future rather than focusing on what was done and cannot be changed.
- Try to understand their point of view. If someone is raising a concern, take the time to see it from their angle before brushing it off or dismissing their worry.
9. You need more training
A lot of people get thrown into the role of project manager without any formal project management training. While it’s not impossible to succeed as a PM without formal training, it’s definitely more difficult.
The project management process includes a lot of technical processes and procedures, and without being taught them, you’re forced to either learn on the go and struggle to figure out on your own the best way to do things. Plus, you may not be familiar with the jargon your team and others casually insert into conversations.
There are ten knowledge areas that are part of the project management process. Knowing them can help improve your management and make your projects go more smoothly. They are:
- Human resources
- Risk management
- Stakeholder management
10. You’re overlooking your value
As a PM, you may feel that your role in the project management process is just to oversee your team does what they’re supposed to. But, if that’s your view of your role, you’re missing out on what value you really add to the team.
As a project manager, you are the key link between higher-ups and the project team. You’re also the link between end-users and creators. You are the vital go-between, and without you, it would be next to impossible to ensure everyone is on the same page. Which is why communication is such a big part of your job.
Instead of spending your time trying to ensure your team completes their day to day tasks, you can add value by doing the following:
- Representing your team well to outside stakeholders (clients, executives, other employees)
- Working to remove roadblocks and bottlenecks that will slow down your team (such as cumbersome organizational processes)
- Managing external expectations around the project
- Being a cheerleader for your team and publicly acknowledging their accomplishments
- Keeping your team up-to-date on information that may affect them, such as delays on other projects that could come into conflict
A sound project management process is essential for ensuring your projects run smoothly. Sometimes as project managers, there are areas we could work to improve the process, but we’re unaware of them, and our teams are too afraid to tell us.
As you can see from the list above, the overwhelming majority of areas to focus on are soft skills (such as leadership, communication, and decision-making.) While it’s important to have solid plans and processes in place, the right software can help make that a breeze. To really shine as a PM, focus on improving your soft skills — your team will thank you for it!
Looking for project management software to help your project management process?