Getting stuff done. I know it is a little simplistic and broad, but it seems to be one of the biggest problems facing most project managers right now. I have told you guys I am currently looking for a new job in project management — one that will utilize my entrepreneurial attitude and provide me with the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the organization I work for. I had two interviews today and I asked the hiring manager at each what they felt was the biggest challenge the position would be facing in the first six months. When asked this question I think most people don’t give very specific answers, but the responses I got today surprised me a little.
While the words they used were different, the theme behind both responses was very similar. Both hiring managers did not discuss challenges the position will face but more specifically, challenges they have had in filling the positions. Both companies are hiring senior level project managers to work within their PMO on multi-year projects with budgets that will range between $1M and $10M. The challenge they both shared was finding a project manager who actually gets things done. Someone who actually make progress in their project. I think they both have had their fill of people who are skilled at onboarding their projects but not so skilled at communicating with their project team and motivating them to complete the various activities.
I found this perplexing. As a PM you have to use your technical planning skills to make sure you can get from point A to point B. However, when it comes time to accomplish your outcomes and meet your deadlines, you have to be able to communicate the expectations and requirements to your project team and then motivate them to complete the required work. If you can’t do either, you will find yourself out of a job in a hurry. Frankly, you probably deserve it.
Having been in project management since 2000, there are a couple of lessons I could pass on to people who are just entering the profession. I know for PM purists this is over-simplifying a management style, but let me share with you what I have found works. Once you have a well laid out project plan that includes a schedule, budget, defined deliverables, and assigned resources, it is time to get started. Here is what I think is important:
- Target — Your project plan should provide you with the direction that you need and more specifically with the steps that are required to produce your deliverables. If you are using an agile methodology you should have defined features as part of your backstory. Regardless of your preferred methodology, you will know what you need to accomplish.
- Implement — It sounds elementary and it is. As the PM you need to provide the structure to your project team to help the complete the required work. You need to constantly communicate with them and keep them informed of the project progress. You need the team to work together and provide motivation to its members. You need to constantly monitor the work completed and use test-driven design techniques. Monitor the progress of your project by using quantifiable metrics and know when you need to crash a particular group of tasks and assign additional resources to meet deadlines. There is no shame in asking for help. Figure out what motivates the individuals on your project team and hang a carrot in front of them if needed.
- Achieve — Measuring your progress will help you determine when you are meeting your goals and completing your milestones. When you reach one of those milestones for goodness sake celebrate. Show your team you appreciate them by providing them with a reward that is meaningful to them. And whatever you do, in private or public, never take credit for the completion of a project or phase. Take a lesson from NFL coaches everywhere and give all the credit to your team, naming specific individuals when your project is successful (as bad as the Cowboys are right now, Jason Garrett is amazing at this) . And when your project flops like a soccer player, take all the blame. Your project team and your boss will appreciate your honesty and willingness to accept responsibility.
As a PM I really feel my job is to formulate a project plan that works, point the project team in the right direction, get out of their way so they can complete the work, and monitor the project to make sure it stays within budget and hits deadlines. Of course I want every project I do to produce a deliverable to meets the requirements outlined as part of the project. Assuming I did everything correctly as part of the onboarding process and I manage change well throughout the process, my projects typically will accomplish this goal. Ultimately, it’s up to me to make this happen.