To win and succeed with your projects, you need more than just one or two skills. You need a whole bag of them to make the magic happen for your company. Truth is, we’re probably all aware of the skills that are needed, but we rarely put all of them together. After years of working with teams and project managers, we’ve seen these eleven project management skills help leaders from all different backgrounds and experiences.
1. Master the schedule.
When you are assigned a project, you are essentially given a task and a deadline. You are told where you need to end up and how long you have to get there, but it’s up to you to plot the route. So before your team can achieve anything, you need to lay out a schedule. You need to break the project down into manageable tasks, figure out how long each of these tasks will take to achieve, how many people are needed, what kind of skills are required to achieve them, which of them need to be completed before others can be begun, which can be done simultaneously to others, how to transition between tasks, and on and on. It’s a complicated jigsaw puzzle but a well-constructed schedule is a work of art.
2. Purposefully prioritize.
No matter how hard you wish that you could be in two places at once, it can’t be done, only if someone invented time travel without telling me. Since you can’t do everything at once, you’re going to have to be able to prioritize. But not randomly prioritize, because that won’t help anyone. No, you must plan with purpose. Two tasks have the same deadline, but you only have enough time to complete one of them. No matter which you choose, someone is going to be disappointed. You need to know which is more important and which one can be delayed. These situations happen all the time, so you’d better get used to handling them now.
3. Care about people.
Yes, your title is Project Manager, but the project isn’t the only thing you’re managing. There are multiple forms of management on this list because a project is more than just the brief of specs you’ve been given, and more than just an abstract idea. For a project to become a reality it needs to contend with all the complications of the real world, and you need to be there to deal with them. Your team aren’t the only people you’ll be managing. You also need to manage: third party suppliers, clients, and senior management. It’s great if you’ve got your team working like a well-oiled machine, but when your supervisor comes along halfway through the project and tries to completely change the scope, you need to deal with them in a way that prevents disruption to both your team and your schedule.
4. Know what to do with time.
It’s one thing to build a schedule, outlining how long each task will take and when it will be finished by. It’s another thing to be able to keep to that schedule. Some things will take longer than you expected, others will be completed more quickly. You need to be able to reassign the extra time from the quick tasks to the more involved ones. The less time wasted, the more productive your team will be.
5. Manage risk…but don’t be scared.
So many problems that occur over the course of projects could have been prevented in the planning stages. Planning isn’t just about deciding on a way to approach the project, it’s about figuring out the most efficient way to approach the project. A big part of that is choosing people, practices, and tools that are reliable and won’t mess things up later on down the road. If there’s a great programmer on your team, but they have an attitude problem and no one else wants to work with them, you need to judge whether the risk of having them on the team outweighs the possible reward.
6. Aim for quality.
Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of a project, it’s easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal. You’re caught up in the small tasks that need to be accomplished that you forget about the end product that they all combine to produce. The best project managers are able to keep one eye on the micro and the other on the macro all the way through a project. They know how to steer a project so that it ends up with the result that best fits the brief and the intended purpose of the job.
7. Beat the budget.
There’s nothing clients and upper management like more than when a project comes in under budget. Unfortunately, they don’t always like to give you the resources to make that an easy task. Talented project managers know how best to allocate their resources to get the most out of them. Once the project is underway, make sure to identify any discrepancies with the budget immediately, so you’ll have a chance to deal with them before they lead to bigger problems. And always, ALWAYS, leave some room for unexpected costs.
8. Be flexible.
Something always goes wrong. No matter how well you plan, how dedicated your team is, or how well they work together, something will go wrong along the way. The success of your project and your success as a project manager all depends on how you handle it when that inevitable problem occurs. Maybe one of your team members gets sick and is unable to continue work on the project, or two people both think they were assigned the same task so they double up on it, or you get an email telling you that there was a typo in your brief and the final deadline is a week earlier than you thought. It’s your job to figure out how to overcome these obstacles. And this is where a great project management solution can help. It’s your job to find a way through.
9. Make fast decisions.
A good project manager needs to be able to think on their feet. Every project involves thousands of decisions and as the leader you will be responsible for the majority of them. When one of your team members comes to you with a problem or a question that you hadn’t anticipated, you must weight the pros and cons to make a quick decision. If you’re spending hours deciding how to proceed, those are hours that team member isn’t working on this specific task, which is delaying other tasks further down the line. If you can think both critically and quickly to make snap decisions during a project, everything will run much more smoothly.
10. Effectively embrace technology.
Technology is constantly changing, developing, and improving. Everyday there are more and more tools available to us as project managers. To be as efficient as possible, and prevent ourselves from falling behind the competition, we need to make sure we keep up to date with the latest technology. Workzone offers an array of specialty tools, designed for ease of use, to help you and your team to be both harder and smarter, to be more productive and more efficient.
11. Communicate well (and often).
Communication is more than one skill. It involves a mix of listening, negotiation, coaching and conflict resolution. As team members bring their own ideas and agendas to each project, the project manager has to navigate those tough waters and find a middle ground. Sometimes that means compromising, other times it means making a hard choice.
Here’s the truth: As a project manager, you’ll never master all of these skills. There is no fixed point of perfection you can reach. Every project is different, every person you work with is different, and so you need to approach every situation differently. A good project manager is always learning. But if you can focus your learning around these core skills you’ll be putting yourself in a good position to succeed in both the present and the future.