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How to be a Successful Project Manager

Level up your project management skills with these 6 helpful tips.

Published By Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell
how to be a successful project manager | Planview

Project management is hard work. Even seasoned veterans with years learning how to be a successful project manager have occasional setbacks. Even when you’ve planned and executed things perfectly, the unexpected could happen.

How you respond to those problems could be the difference between steering your project on course or watching it come to a grinding halt.

What makes a project manager successful? It’s not whether they experience problems. It’s how they approach problems and come up with solutions.

Want to learn more? Below are six tips to help you become a more successful project manager.

1. Know the process

One of the most important tips on how to be a successful project manager is understanding the project process. Every project is different, and the process that helped you on one project may hinder you on another. As the project manager, it’s your job to decide which approach is best for completing your project on time and within budget.

Every project has a workflow, and how you choose to manage processes depends on your project. The three most popular project management techniques are:

  • Traditional waterfall approach: A linear approach that involves extensive planning, where teams complete tasks sequentially.
  • Agile: Instead of long-term planning, projects are planned iteratively. The work is completed in increments, requiring shorter feedback loops where work is built on top of the previous work.
  • Hybrid approach: This approach combines Agile teams with high-level milestone-driven work, making it great for teams transitioning to Agile. It’s a great compromise when you have Agile teams and executive stakeholders who still prefer the waterfall approach.

These approaches can be used in conjunction with visual project management tools, making it easier to monitor processes in real time.

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2. Communicate effectively

Nearly every guide written on how to be a successful project manager stresses the importance of good communication. In fact, many projects fail because communication breakdowns.

But what is good communication? Too much correspondence and people get overwhelmed with messages and important information gets lost. When there’s a lack of communication, projects start to fall apart as teams, stakeholders, and management lose track of their goals and objectives.

Communicating effectively requires you to strike that perfect balance. With teams, you need to tell them what they need to know to succeed, but don’t burden them with unnecessary information. Stakeholders should be given routine updates throughout the project, so you can manage their expectations and perceptions.

You can also improve communication by:

  • Creating a communication plan
  • Using a project management solution for all communication and document sharing
  • Conveying updates with visual data, with KPIs and visual project management tools

Ultimately, good communication guides teams in the right direction and ensures everyone involved in your project is on the same page.

3. Manage risks and issues

When you’re learning how to be a successful project manager, it’s important for you to manage risks effectively. While most project managers understand the importance of risk management, successful ones know the right way to manage risks.

Here are a few tips to help you improve your risk management process:

  • Don’t rush: No project manager wants to spend extra time planning risks, but poor risk assessment could increase the time you spend on your project by 25%
  • Risk management is a journey: Identify risks throughout your project, not just at the start of it
  • Communicate effectively: Use weekly status meetings as an opportunity to identify and manage risks and other issues

4. Remember the big picture

Most projects have a lot of moving parts for you to keep track of. It’s easy to drop the ball if you’re not mindful of the bigger picture.

You must strike a balance between:

  • Delivering on time
  • Staying within budget
  • Sticking to your scope

Focusing exclusively on one element will throw your project off balance. For example, deadlines are important, but if they’re your only priority, you may overlook mistakes or accept subpar work – especially when managing large projects.

To be a successful project manager, you have to be flexible. Good leaders understand the nature of their project (the goals and objectives) and know when they should stay the course and when they should adopt another approach­­––like Agile.

5. Stay humble

With Agile’s growing popularity, command-and-control project management is falling out of fashion. Project managers are moving away from micromanaging, giving teams more autonomy for planning and organizing their work.

Under this approach, project managers adopt the role of a “servant leader.” Their role isn’t to call out orders, but rather empower teams so they can successfully complete projects on time and within the budget. Here are some ways you can become a servant leader:

  • Set the goals and let teams decide how to manage work
  • Don’t be a know-it-all––ask questions and elicit feedback from your teams
  • Believe in your team’s plans, motivate them, and coach them to the finish line

When it comes to the importance of leadership skills, project management is no different than other managerial positions. Good interpersonal skills will go a long way when you coordinate and communicate with team members. 

6. Always be learning

As a discipline, project management is constantly changing. Accomplished project managers never get set in their ways––they continue learning. As technology and the professional landscape continue to change, expect to see different tools and new project management approaches that enable you to continue learning how to be a successful project manager.  

We talk about continuous improvement a lot in project management, but it doesn’t just apply to the work delivered. You need to be continuously improving your leadership and project management skills, and empowering team members to improve themselves, as well. That way, you and your teams will have the knowledge and experience needed to see your projects succeed.

Putting it all together

Becoming an effective project manager isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a process that requires some trial and error and a lot of learning. Want to learn more about how to be a successful project manager? Download our eBook titled “Get Work Done Faster: 6 Steps to Accelerate Project Planning and Delivery” to discover how you can accelerate your project planning and delivery.

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Written by Liz Llewellyn-Maxwell Sr. Manager, Content Marketing

Liz leads the go-to-market content team at Planview. She worked at LeanKit prior to the company being acquired by Planview. With more than a decade of Lean-Agile marketing experience, Liz passionately believes in the transformative power that applying Lean-Agile principles can have on teams and organizations.