Wondering how to improve your Project Management Skills? You’re in the right place. In this blog, we’re going to discuss the underlying ideas of project management, as they have withstood the test of time and proven to be the pillars of good project management.
In recent times, the discipline of project management has undergone a significant evolution. It has become more of a coordination and coaching act than a dictatorship, and the human element has taken precedence. You may have seen the representation of a project in terms of scope, time, and capacity, but if we redraw the picture today, it will look something like this:
Let’s deconstruct this picture by looking into the three connecting elements: “People,” “Priority,” and “Process.”
To effectively deliver the scope of your project with the capacity you have (aka people), you must be good with your interactions. Here are three aspects that will help you improve.
Emotions – Develop a sense of how everyone in the team is feeling at the moment. How people respond to a specific situation is heavily determined by how their current emotional state. It isn’t going to help you if you want to convey a great idea to Jim, but Jim is feeling a bit down due to a specific situation in his personal life. You could be more effective if you were aware of this and could strategize your communications or meetings accordingly. Also, acknowledging the emotional states of your team members will help you develop much stronger relationships.
Motivations – Keeping people in a state of high energy when working on ambitions or goals can make or break a project manager. And there is no one fix to ensure that your team is motivated; it is a combination of many small things. Clarity of the goal, knowledge of the impact of their work, the environment of work, incentives, etc. The point being, even though these are small things, they are so varied that you that it is easy to overlook them. Ask yourself, are all these little pieces in place before work truly begins?
Engagement – The level of engagement is determined by how exciting the problem is that a team or individual is solving or how varied is the work. But the challenge is that it might not be possible to feed the group with challenging or stimulating work all the time. What helps here are two things: storytelling and mixing things up. Regardless of whatever the work may be, the narrative you create around it helps to shape people’s perception toward it And ensure you keep mixing things up so that it doesn’t get routine or mundane.
Given that you have a defined scope and limited time, it is vital for you to know how and what to prioritize. Let’s look at three things that will help you get better at prioritization.
Focus on WHY/WHAT/HOW – A comprehensive understanding of the overall business of the client or the organization you are working for is a must. This helps to understand the overarching “why” and answer questions like ”how” and ”where” your work create impact. The next would be very specific to the project, the ”what”. These are the details of the project that need to be carried out like objectives, outcomes, timelines, etc. Mapping the ”what” to ”why” helps you determine the priorities and set targets. Next is when you put down these priorities and targets on a timeline based on scope, time, and available capacity or resources. This is the “how” aka the plan of how you are going to make the project a success. All of these might sound overly simplistic, but it is astonishing how often we tend to get stuck on the “how” rather than using the mapping of ”why/what/how” for decision making.
Progress/Status/Risk indicators – Once things are in motion, you must ensure there is a smooth path for your team to deliver on the plan. To make these adjustments, you need to be aware of how things are going; if possible, you should be able to predict things before they become a reality, whether it be success or failure. You can set indicators throughout the life of the project that can help you predict if things are going as planned or if you’re headed toward impending doom. The fundamental indicators you need are for the ”progress.” i.e. how much of the total project you have completed, ”speed” to access if you will make it to the finish line on time and “risks”to anticipate a problem you might encounter and prepare to tackle it. There are already standard metrics that you could use as indicators and then predefined methodologies you could use to prioritize and act upon them. The point is to make sure you have these three indicators in place, and you monitor them closely. It also helps to share these indicators with all your stakeholders so that everyone is on the same page.
Contingency plan – Regardless of all the planning you have done, things are bound to go off the track in the real world. Some of them might be minor issues and some significant catastrophes. How well and how fast you deal with these issues and catastrophes determine if you could bring the project to a successful end. So, identifying such potential areas using indicators or past experiences and having a plan B ready is a wise thing to do. This saves time required to make decisions and overcome obstacles. There are a few strategies to develop a well-rounded contingency like creating a strategic breakdown of your entire project into stages based on outcomes and having a contingency plan for each stage to get to the final result if your initial plan happens to fail.
Where process becomes important is when you work with a set capacity and a time-bound project. It is essential that you optimize for efficiency and that there is minimal chaos. In such a scenario three elements can be beneficial.
Effort management – Until very recently we viewed time, scope, and effort elements of work from a very simplistic standpoint, i.e., you have this much amount of time, this much capacity, and this much amount of work, now do it—one template to fit all situations. But with the increased emphasis on agile methodologies and the human element, there are a few new things to think about, such as the flow of work, context switching, continuity, multitasking, etc. A keen understanding of the people you are directly working with is essential to assess their capabilities and boundaries. There will be situations when it is better to let people finish one thing before they can jump onto the next one, and there will be times when they might have to work on two things at a time. There will be times when time and capacity are limited and the only thing you can adjust is the scope. Armed with this knowledge, you can make very context specific decisions. There are also tools and methodologies available that help you do this such as Scrum and Kanban.
Redundancy management – In any project, some things are repetitive or similar. Templates which you can use again and again are handy at managing redundancy. Hence, always be on a lookout for things that you could convert into a template and reuse. Also, using some process to automate things that you must do frequently is also a time saver. Leveraging automation is one of the best things that you can do.
Risk management – In conjunction with setting up indicators and contingencies mentioned above, it is vital to assess the impact of the risks on your projects. The effect of a ‘risk’ is variable and, depending on the timeline, it might move between minor and severe. Some risks do not need immediate action, and it’s okay to track them until they need it. Identifying the sweet spot when addressing a risk has minimal impact on the outcome of the project. At the same time, the smallest deviation from your original plan is key. To do so, you need to maintain a watch-list of risks and their threat projections. It also helps to involve your team members or stakeholders for risk identification meetings where you can go over the watch-list and decide the threat levels and corresponding lines of action.
In summary, if you keep the tripod of people, project, and process balanced, you will be successful. The three make up a project by connecting scope, time, and capacity. Keep people motivated and engaged while tuning in to their emotional states, map out the why/what/how of your priorities and keep a focus on risk indicators and contingencies, and, in regard to your processes, prioritize effort, redundancy, and risk management.
How you achieve these goals is up to you, and finding the right product is key to improving your project management skills. If you’re interested to learn more or experience such a product for yourself, I encourage you to check out Planview Projectplace.