Essential Skills for Project Managers – Beyond the PM Education

For project managers, having the right education is vital. You might earn your certification through PMI, or through another course provider, but developing those skills is essential to doing your job correctly. The days when you could work yourself up the ladder are fading fast (mostly gone, truth be told). However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll learn everything you need to know in your course. There are many other skills that a well-rounded project manager should have that aren’t taught in any course. Below, you’ll find a few of the most important ones.
Schedules Should Change
You might think that your project schedule should only change if absolutely necessary, but that’s not true. You might think that once your schedule is in place, that’s all there is to it. Again, that’s false. You need to change your project schedule on a timely basis to avoid serious problems. Your schedule should be updated as new data comes in. That data might be anything from the cost of raw materials to delivery time changes because of a supplier shortfall. The point is that your schedule is only a guideline, not a set-in-stone rule. Be ready to change it and make sure you apply those changes in a timely manner.
Be a Detective
If you’re working on a project for a client, chances are good there will be times that problems arise on the customer’s end that you have to react to. “Putting out fires” is pretty common. However, you need to develop some investigative skills here. Resist the urge to react only to the customer’s complaint or comment. You need to dig deeper. Slapping a Band-Aid on the situation is only going to work temporarily. Get to the root of the problem. For instance, a customer complaining that new information should have been sent to their higher management might actually be complaining because the wrong information was sent in the first place. Always dig into the situation and get to the actual cause of the problem.
Don’t Be Seduced by a Pretty Face
As a project manager, you’ll be inundated with “new” technologies, tools and platforms that are touted as the best thing since sliced bread. Resist the urge to try every new thing just because it’s new. Sure, it might offer advantages in certain situations, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for your project. For instance, Agile is an excellent management solution, but it’s not ideal for all situations. If you’re not careful, you can spend more time trying and tossing out new things than actually working on your project. While you should never be afraid to try something new, focus on what works and introduce new methodologies, technologies and techniques only when necessary.
As you can see, there are quite a few skills that you’ll need to hone on the job. Many of these require actual experience in order to learn them (or to realize their importance). Keep learning, even after you’re certified.

Understanding Task Constraints within Your Project

Any project is really nothing more than a series of interrelated tasks that build on each other, eventually reaching a specific culmination. Because those tasks are the bedrock on which your project is built, it’s important to know what constraints apply here. Task constraints determine several things about individual tasks, including when they’ll be scheduled and the order in which they will be completed. There are quite a few different types of constraints that can be applied depending on the urgency of the task in question. Here’s a look at the various types.
ASAP – ASAP (as soon as possible) means exactly what it sounds like. Tasks with this constraint take priority over other tasks, so long as those others aren’t dependent on the original task for completion. For instance, if one task was to complete a storyboard for a new commercial and a second task was to record the voiceover work for the commercial based on the storyboard, obviously, the second task could not be completed until the first one was wrapped up successfully.
As Late as Possible – Tasks with this constraint have high priority, but they’re relegated toward the end of things. These might be related to project reporting (particularly in terms of profitability).
Start No Earlier Than – These tasks are time sensitive in that they can only be started on or after a specific date or when another task has been completed. This type of constraint can also be related to resources that won’t be available until a specific date.
Finish No Earlier Than – This constraint is rarer than other types, but you may still need to use it. It applies to tasks that must have a specific completion date and cannot be completed before that time. This can also be used if you need to keep resources available for another task.
Must Start On – These tasks must be started by a specific date or time in order to comply with overall project requirements.
Must Finish On – Tasks with this constraint have a hard completion date, and can sometimes be combined with “finish no earlier than” constraints. This is another example of a constraint that can be easily tied to resources or resource availability.
Start no Later Than – These tasks must be begun by a specific date or point in the project. They may be date/time sensitive, or they may hinge on the completion of other tasks.
Finish No Later Than – These are also time sensitive tasks, but are the converse of the constraint listed above. These cannot be completed later than a certain date or time, and often act as lynchpins for upcoming tasks.
Use these constraints to your advantage. There is no requirement that you add them to the task plan/schedule, but you’ll find that when applied correctly, they can help your project run much more smoothly than would otherwise be possible. If nothing else, carefully consider using constraints where resources are of central importance (either availability or because of a limited nature).

How to Communicate with Your Team Members

Your team is only as good as the communication it enjoys. If you are able to communicate effectively with your team members, you can eliminate many of the most common headaches and pitfalls that affect projects. However, if you’re unable to implement effective communication, then you can expect to suffer through setback after setback during the course of a project. How do you communicate with your team members?
Keep an Open Door
In any management situation, having an open door policy is important, but it’s doubly true in the world of project management. Keeping an “open door” isn’t as difficult as you might think, either. Essentially, you just need to ensure that your team members know that whatever they need to talk to you about, whatever questions they might have, or whatever problems they’re experiencing, they can bring them to you. Your team needs to know that they can come to you with anything, and that you’ll actually listen, which brings us to the next point.
Listen, Listen, Listen
If there’s one problem that’s common to managers in virtually all situations, it’s the inability to actually listen. This is very important – if a team member brings something to you, stop what you’re doing and listen. Make eye contact while they’re speaking. Stop thinking about the million other things you need to be doing and actively listen to what they’re saying. Chances are good that whatever it is has some bearing on the project, and you owe it to your team members to listen if they’re going to go to the trouble of bringing it to your attention. Listening can be harder than it sounds. You’ll need to:

Make eye contact
Pay attention
Sum up their point(s) before answering questions or offering advice
Provide real answers to their questions and take action right away
Meetings aren’t exactly everyone’s definition of a good time. Chances are that your team members won’t be all that enthused about weekly project meetings, but not only can you change that perception, you can use meetings to your advantage. However, you’ll need to make sure that you can 1) keep the meetings as brief as possible and 2) keep things on topic. By keeping your meetings brief, you not only encourage your team members to say what they need to say quickly, but you show respect for their time as well. By keeping the meeting on topic, you avoid running over time, but you’re also able to keep the conversation focused on finding solutions to the problems at hand, rather than veering off into other areas.
Be Available
Keeping an open door policy in the office is important, but you need to go beyond that. Project problems and the need for communication can occur at almost any time. Make sure that your team members know that you’re available when they need you, even if it’s outside of normal office hours.
By following these simple tips, you can enjoy better communication with your team members and see better success within your project.

Guiding Junior Project Managers – Helping Them Grow

Large projects require more than one hand at the helm in order to be successful. While you might head up the project as THE project manager, chances are good that you’re going to have one or more junior project managers working beneath you. Those junior PMs are more than just important assets; they can become valuable allies down the road. It’s in your best interests (and the best interests of your project) to ensure that you’re able to guide them through growth. What should you know?
Round Out Their Experience
One of the most important things you can do for your junior PMs is to ensure that you help them round out their experience. For instance, if one of your junior PMs has plenty of experience in other areas but is lacking in the realm of business operations, take the steps necessary to ensure that he or she is able to develop the necessary familiarity. Partner them with a business analyst, or team them up with another junior manager who understands the language of business. Do this for your junior project managers and you’ll find that they quickly develop stronger skills and greater confidence.
Invest in Ongoing Training
Another vital thing you can do for junior PMs is to invest in ongoing training for them. While they might have gone through basic PM training and earned their certificate, that’s often not enough for them to begin climbing the ladder toward the senior PM position. Company-specific training, management training, team management training and numerous other options exist. Sit down with the junior PM and determine what their weakest areas are. From that point, you can determine what ongoing training will be necessary.
Personal Help
If you find that one of your more promising junior project managers needs a more personal touch with training and growth, don’t be afraid to take them under your wing. This works well for developing protégés, but it can also be used to help those who you need in other areas of the project. Let them be your shadow. Explain management tips, techniques, tools and systems to them. Show them how your specific PM software works and what its abilities and limitations are.
Foster Ownership
In order for any project manager to be successful, there has to be a sense of ownership. You (or the junior PM in question) need to feel that it is YOUR project. That implies accountability for mishaps and problems, but it also implies developing an entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurs don’t fall back and assume that someone else will take care of a problem. They solve it. They don’t pawn responsibilities off on others. They do them. Fostering an entrepreneurial mindset in your junior project managers can have profound benefits down the road.
With the right care and the right steps, you can begin turning your junior project managers into potential senior management candidates. It only takes a little time and a helping hand, and you’ll see your projects succeed, and watch as those you’ve trained go on to achieve things on their ow

Fitting Agile Concepts into Traditional Project Management

Traditional project management methods have worked well for a long time. It’s natural for companies, particularly larger companies, to view anything that differs from that approach with something akin to trepidation. They see change as risk. Risk is to be avoided. For project managers, a company-wide adherence to traditional project management methods can be a bad thing, though. There are ways that you can implement Agile concepts into your traditional management situation, and you might just find that slowly adding these elements helps upper management get used to the idea of moving away from tradition.
In Meetings
Regular meetings should be a part of your project. However, traditional PM methodologies don’t really reinforce the need for these. Agile, on the other hand, does. You can add this element to your project and provide very visible results for upper management and stakeholders. For instance, Agile promotes a concept called a stand-up meeting during which team members are allowed to voice their concerns. This provides an open forum for communication, helps give you a heads up for any potential issues coming down the road and can allow you to avoid disaster.
Review Meetings
In traditional project management, the end of the project is when reviews are conducted to determine what lessons might have been learned and what steps might be taken in the future to avoid any problems encountered. However, this is a reactive stance. In order for your project to be successful, you really need a proactive stance. Agile offers that with review meetings. Review meetings are held throughout the project and are designed to review what occurred during tasks, steps and milestones immediately preceding the meeting (but before the end of the project). This allows you to gather data, make choices and decisions based on almost real-time information that can then be implemented within the current project.
Test Deliverables during Development
Agile offers the ability to do “sample testing” – a small test of deliverables during the development phase of the project. This ensures that deliverables are error free before the end of the task, unlike with traditional project management, where errors might not show up for a very long time, and then require revisions, reworking and more costs.
Stakeholder Feedback
Stakeholders are very important to any project, but they can be overlooked until the project’s end. However, Agile offers the concept of stakeholder feedback and demonstrations. In this type of situation, you or your team would demonstrate products (whatever the project is supposed to develop) for the stakeholders while the project is still ongoing and before the end of the production stage. This allows stakeholders to provide immediate feedback and for any changes to be made right away.
Integrating Agile concepts within your traditional project management methodology might not sound like the easiest thing to do, but it can be done, as highlighted above. In addition to helping you improve project success, it can also encourage higher ups to adopt Agile completely where possible.

Project Management – Understanding the Needs and Requirements for PMs

Today, all businesses use projects to help accomplish their goals. Projects form the bedrock of productivity in every industry, from retail to IT and everything in between. In order to ensure that projects run smoothly and offer the returns necessary to see success, project managers must lead the team responsible for implementing that project. However, it’s vital that those managers have key qualities and knowledge in order to be effective.
What Is a Project?
While this might seem obvious, you need to understand what a project is. At its heart, any project, regardless of industry, scope, budget, resources or goals, is nothing more than a series of interrelated tasks designed to lead to a specific outcome or outcomes. A project manager needs to be able to see both the larger project-based picture and the smaller series of task-based instances that lead to project completion at all times.
Training Is Vital
In the beginning, there was no such thing as a project manager (not specifically, anyway). Over time, that changed as the need for specialist leaders was recognized. Today, project managers are found in all industries, though it’s still not really classified as a specific position of its own. Regardless, you’ll find that in order to be effective, you need training and education. Moreover, it’s vital that you get this training long before you jump into the PM world. PMI is one of the best-known education providers out there and has been around the longest, but numerous others can also offer the training necessary to be successful as a project manager. The important thing is that you get the training you need.
Ongoing Training
Any project manager who thinks that their education is over after completing their initial courses is in for a surprise. Many companies today are focusing on enterprise-specific training and education. This ongoing training helps ensure that PMs stay up to date with proprietary software, processes and procedures used within that company, and also helps to boost productivity and effectiveness. For PMs, ongoing training should be seen as an advantage, as there’s no such thing as too much knowledge.
Project Management Software
You cannot go it alone in the world of project management, regardless of how much education and training you might have. While your team and various stakeholders will be vital aids, you should also ensure that you have the right software. A vast range of project management software can be found today, from desktop programs to web-based solutions and even mobile apps. Perhaps the best solution here is to collaborate with your team and determine what software (or software combination) will provide the advantages, capabilities, features and tools necessary for a successful project.
Project managers have a lot of responsibilities – these tips will help you become more effective, more successful and happier in your position. With the right software, the right education and the right mindset, managing projects of any size can be surprisingly simple and easy.

Vital Help for New Project Managers

Are you stepping into the role of project manager? If so, it’s a whole new world out there, to use a time-honored turn of phrase. While your education, training and certification program gave you the tools and skills to handle quite a few things, there are some things that can only be learned through experience. Rather than going into it unprepared, knowing some important elements ahead of time will help ensure that you’re ready for what’s to come.
Realize It’s Your Responsibility
One of the first things you need to understand is the amount of responsibility that will be on your shoulders here. No matter what type of project you’re running, its success or failure will rest directly on you. Whether your project is a smashing success or a dismal failure, it will reflect on you. Even if the project fails because of things outside your direct control, it will be your ultimate responsibility. Understand this from the outset and you’ll do better.
Beyond Your Team
Project managers have to work closely with their team and others involved in the project. However, as the PM you’ll have to deal with people that the project affects who might not technically be part of it. It’s important to understand that some of these people will take a dim view of project management and you as the project manager. This is particularly true for client projects, where the client is spending their hard-earned money to pay you to manage the project. Realizing from the outset that you’ll meet with both approval and disapproval based strictly on your role is vital.
Foster Participation
Touching once more on the theme mentioned above, you’ll have to deal with a wide range of different people in your project, from team members to managers and executives. One of the most important tips for new project managers is to ensure that you make participation as simple and easy as possible for those involved. New software can help make this painless – robust systems allow everyone the ability to communicate, share thoughts and ideas, record data and transmit documents/records while in their office, or even when on the road if you use mobile technology. By taking steps now to ensure easy communication, you help streamline your project while keeping everyone in the loop.
Know Your Stuff
As the project manager, you’ll be expected to know a little about everything within your project. You cannot afford to be a specialist. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades. You need to ensure that you’re familiar (at least passingly so), with every team member’s area of expertise, understand their roles, understand what the project is about and what it is supposed to achieve. Know a little bit about a lot of different things – you’ll find that your job is much easier if you do.
With these simple tips, new project managers will find a smoother transition into their new roles. While there will still be snags along the way, your chances of success are much higher.

Vital Skills for Project Managers – An Overview

Ensuring that you have the right skillset and tools is an essential step to becoming the consummate project manager. No matter what industry you work in and regardless of the scope of your project, having the right skills will allow you to lead your team to success. Here’s a brief overview of the skills you’re going to find the most valuable. Cultivating them now can save you time, headaches and failures down the road.
The Ability to Lead
As a leader, you have to have the ability to lead. Leadership skills aren’t inborn, they’re learned, which is good news for those who find they aren’t natural leaders. Leadership requires several different things, including accountability on your part. You also have to be recognized as the leader, which requires more than just holding a PM position. Your team needs to know that you have the knowledge and experience required to successfully guide the project, answer their questions, anticipate problems and conclude the project.
Communication Skills
There are few skills you’ll find more in demand as a project manager than communication skills. You must be able to communicate with a wide range of individuals, from team members to stakeholders within client organizations to your own management. What’s more, your communication has to be accurate, timely and direct. You will need to have the right communication tools to help, as well. Email, instant messaging, project management software and even smartphone/tablet apps can help. Communicate successfully throughout your project, and you’ll find you’re much more successful and that problems are not as insurmountable as they would otherwise be.
Solving Problems
While your team should handle many problems on their own, there will be many instances where you’re called upon to solve an issue. Having strong problem-solving skills is essential for project managers. That means you need to be able to analyze a problem, determine what’s going on and what elements are involved, and then plot a course that gets around the issue. Being able to develop alternative solutions that still move the project forward and align with the organization’s goals is also an important part of this.
If you’re not organized, you’ll find that leading a project to a successful conclusion is an uphill battle. Keeping track of myriad documents, sorting and passing along essential information, tracking project progress towards task and milestone completion and maintain a schedule are only a few of the things that you’ll have to do. As with communication, the right tools and software will help here. Collaborative software, programs designed to help you track and store documents and many other helpful options are available for those who aren’t natural organizers.
By cultivating these skills and ensuring that you have the right tools at hand throughout the course of your project, you will not only see better success in your immediate project, but be able to be more successful in the future as well. Becoming the consummate project manager requires skills, but you’ll find help, tools and training available.

Are You Suffering from Project Management Burnout?

Burnout – it’s a problem I used to think was fake, until a loved one went through it at her job. She physically became ill because of the stress. Fortunately, she was able to leave and start a new career.

But what if that’s not an option for you? How do you identify burnout as a project manager and what steps can you take to remedy the problem?

Synquis, an Australian project management company, addresses the issue on its blog. Some of the advice is basic but it bears repeating. Sometimes the most simple solutions can have the greatest impact on burnout.

What’s the blog’s first suggestion? Create a schedule and stick to it. I’ve alluded to me doing this in my professional career recently. It’s nothing fancy but it has helped me prioritize my day. Now, I longer respond to whatever jumps up in my email. Instead, I tell myself to save it for its scheduled time. The only thing stressful about a schedule is realizing how much work I have to do (but that strikes me as a good stress).

The next suggestion is breaking down the project into smaller pieces. That correlates with some running advice I received. In order to get faster, coaches suggest, run short distances in bursts of speed. There’s no way I can run 5 kilometers full out but I can run sprints for a block or so. Eventually I’ll be faster and stronger because I started out by breaking my runs down into smaller sprints.

Don’t micromanage your group is the next step to avoiding burnout. Sometimes you just have to let go. We’ve all heard about helicopter parents who swoop in and do everything for their kids. Are you a helicopter project manager? Let your underlings get things done without you. OK, you’ll occasionally have to pick up the pieces but that’s kind of what you’re doing already as a micro-manager.

Realize the motivation may not be there. I’ll let the blog speak for itself in this case: “Force yourself to begin a task that may seem tedious and exhausting. What you’ll find is that after a few minutes you do become focused and before you know it, the project has been completed.” It’s just like writing. Sometimes I need to just start writing to be motivated.

Embrace breaks. When I managed a newsroom, I had not patience for people who didn’t take lunch breaks or vacations. I didn’t want them working seven days a week. You need breaks just to clear your head. The simple act of reading a coffee house menu could be just the break your brain needs.

Shake things up. Don’t keep doing things because that is the way they have always been done. Embrace a different approach. Strict adherence to the mundane can kill your soul faster than anything.

Let’s say you’ve become burnt out. How do you recover? Psychology Today offers some advice on its blog you may find practical. Here are some of the tips, in no particular order.

OK, maybe this one I would place at the top of the list: socialize outside your professional network. Nothing feeds burnout like talking to others who are down on their jobs. Talk to others with real troubles and all of the sudden your problems might seem trivial.

Unplug for a while. Leave your devices turned off to help recover from burnout. Your smart phones and tablets aren’t doing you any good (unless maybe there is a good meditation app out there). They are time consumers. Are you a Mac person? I swear by an app called SelfControl for keeping me turned off from Facebook so I can get things done. Yes, my name is Keith and I’m a FB-holic. Going dark from Facebook is helping me realize what a time suck it is.

Leave your work at work. Just try leaving your briefcase at work for a weekend. You really need the time to unwind and go dark from work. It’s something I plan to do in my professional life while on vacation this summer. It may be stressful at first but by the end it should be liberating.

How do you deal with burnout? Add your comments below and share your good advice. Summer is almost here. You should only be worried about sunburn.

Being the Ringmaster – Hints and Tips for PMs

Being a project manager is a lot like being a ringmaster in a circus. Your team members are the performers, and your stakeholders and champions are the bears, lions and feats that your acrobats must perform. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out, but there are a few tips that will help ensure you’re successful as the ringmaster.
Be the Boss
As the project manager, you have those you must answer to. You have your own manager and other higher ups. You also have to answer to stakeholders and the like. However, to your team, you’re the boss. As such, you will have to make decisions quickly and confidently. Those decisions will have an immediate, dramatic effect on your project, but you cannot afford to hesitate in your decision-making. Make the call and be accountable for the repercussions.
Work Out Team Member Problems
Ideally, your project team will operate as a seamless whole, a single unit made of disparate components. However, reality usually falls short of that ideal. You can experience a broad range of problems with individual team members, and you need to ensure that you nip these in the bud. You can’t afford to let personal conflict jeopardize your project, and that’s exactly what you’re doing if you don’t put a stop to it immediately. That doesn’t mean that you need to be a heartless taskmaster, of course. Find out what the problem is and if there is any way that you can help. If the problem is because two team members cannot work together effectively, consider splitting them up somehow. If the problems are because a team member has personal issues at home or is losing focus on the job, take them aside and address the situation. As the project manager, you’re also the team leader and part of that role is to deal effectively with personnel issues.
Don’t Be Intimidated
You’ll face a variety of threats during your project. They can stem from component suppliers, from poor budgeting and from a changing project scope. However, you can also face intimidation from managers and stakeholders. Don’t be intimidated. Keep your behavior professional, but if you are sure you’re right, don’t back down on something just because an executive is losing his or her temper. If necessary, work with your champion to address the issue. Often, these problems are due more to a lack of accurate information given to the stakeholder than anything else, and your champion (plus accurate, timely communication and reporting on your part) can go a long way towards smoothing it over.
Stay Organized
Perhaps the most important thing for project managers hoping to master the ring that is their project to understand is the importance of organization and ongoing tracking. Without solid, constant organization, you can’t expect your project to be successful. Your team must provide their reports on time, every time, in a standard format, and you must be able to access that information at all times, as well as supplying it to stakeholders. In addition, you need to ensure that you are tracking each task and milestone within the project as you move toward completion.