My First Rule of Project Management
Project management is a discipline-centric process. Regardless of what type of project you are managing, be it a production process, communication project, construction, IT or any other; you are sure to have a folder full of forms and templates. Sometimes it seems keeping up with the meetings, meeting minutes, schedule updates, budgets, and executive reporting is more than a full-time job. Sometimes it is, indeed.
When we get overloaded it is easy to take shortcuts, especially when we have trustworthy partners to rely on. It is good to have such partners; they can be lifesavers when the chips are down. But, leaning on them does not absolve the PM from maintaining their own sense of the state of the project and its myriad details, and that requires doing something that too many PM’s let slide in hectic times – the legwork required to give them deep confidence in what they are reporting. Think about your last project status brief to an executive sponsor. You do not want to be caught presenting information you assumed to be accurate when it is not. As president Ronald Reagan once famously said, “Trust, but verify.”
That is wisdom for any PM who is who is relying on information feeds from others. Yes, we need to leverage all the assets available to us and we need to optimize our time. Neither of those imperatives, however, absolve us of the responsibility of assuring that we are reporting correctly and basing our decisions and recommendations on accurate data.
How does a PM go about doing this? Start by looking out your window. Better yet, take a walk. Observe, question, probe, and test what is being reported to you. Does what you are being told match what you are observing? Have downstream risks been properly identified? Are appropriate mitigation measures in place? Is the supply chain on track? One can do this in a reasonable amount of time, and it will inform your decision making and build confidence in your reporting. Those alone make this a valuable process.
Being present and known throughout the project has other advantages. Being a known quantity around the project is an opportunity to contribute on a wider scale. Here are a few strategies a PM can employ to benefit the project and his or her role.
- Developing trust relationships with team members at different levels will result in a freer flow of information and inform problem solving.
- Helping others solve their problems, even when you are not directly affected or involved, will build goodwill and trust.
- Keeping team members in the loop and generally informed increases ownership. You can never over communicate.
- Genuineness builds a bridge between the front line and the executive level. Reward respectful and candid talk and listen well. Provide feedback so the troops know what has been done as a result of their input.
- Increase your own knowledge by considering each outing a learning experience. Be interested and inquisitive in your conversations.
- Collecting anecdotal evidence and stories will provide illustrations you can use in other conversations to make your point.
Bottom line, the first rule of project management is to get off your bottom. Don’t be trapped at the desk with spreadsheets, schedules, meetings, and correspondence. Get out there, get real, and get deep into the work of the work. You will find your improved knowledge, confidence, and trust will increase your overall contributions and value. Become one who is known for your integrity, trustfulness, approachability, and problem solving.
And remember, share the love. It’s a team effort. Be proud of your accomplishments but humble in your attitude. Let others enjoy the success too. After all, it’s theirs as well as yours.