A few months back I wrote an article about a list which I had started some 10 years ago when I began managing projects. This list is a hodge-podge of things which worked and things which didn't. I've added items as years have years passed, sometimes subtracted and also updated statements to be more relative as I've grown personally and professionally. In that last article I focused specifically on 5 common reasons project managers fail and fall down. Today I'd like to balance that article with 5 ways to succeed. Before beginning I'd like to qualify the 5 ways I've identified.
There are quite literally hundreds if not thousands of ways to succeed as a project manager. One can look at success from general management practices, team leadership, personal competence, delivery and the entire gambit of the project processes. What I’ve aggregated here are some simple and quick tips which I hope you can carry with you as you go out into the fray to lead and direct your efforts.
Aristotle wrote “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. ” Much like project management we have to work to succeed and strive to achieve excellence in everything we do. Failure is easy and requires no effort on our part. Success takes work, drive, effort, motivation and dedication. After all if it was easy everybody would be just that. Successful.
In project management there are 5 “Ps” you need to stay keenly aware of; Proper Planning Prevents Pitifully Poor Performance (note this is the politically correct version). To start out right you need to create a solid plan. However, proper planning tends to be the first thing to be cast by the wayside under the pressure to deliver your project. Your plan is the roadmap on how you’re going to get to where you want to go. Take the time to develop the best plan you possibly can early on and continually refine it as the project matures. In the end you’ll spend less time stumbling down the road if you know where you’re going and how you want to get there.
2. Develop Alternative Actions-
So you’ve properly planned. What’s next? Those of you who are conspiracy theorists, risk managers or who subscribe to Murphy’s Laws of Combat covet alternative action planning. Mr. Murphy stated the following; “No Op (operation) plan ever survives initial contact. ” So be prepared for that highly detailed plan you spent so much time on developing to fall apart right before your very eyes. Nothing can be more disconcerting to a Project Manager than this. However, watch to the surprise of your sponsors and envy of your peers as you reach in your back pocket and invoke your mitigation strategy or fall back plan. Then turn to them and ask “…Ok what’s next. ”
3. Set up and maintain the project file-
You’ll remember this one from the 5 ways to fail. Equally so it belongs on the ways to succeed. Project administration while the bane of a PMs existence is a pillar for our success. Document everything (charters, scope, changes, issues, stakeholders, risks), seek buy in and confirmation on key actions and decisions in writing. Publish your information to the team and key stakeholders. Keep the file maintained in an area that’s accessible to all. I can’t mention how many times I’ve called upon my minutes, action logs and requirements logs to negotiate my way out of a sticky situation. Assuming you’ve documented, published and sought agreement it can save you many a big head ache. In extreme circumstances it might just save your project, perhaps even your career.
4. Be able to take criticism-
As “A” type professions go Project Management is full of them. This type of personality tends to have strong feelings about opinions. We accept all of them as long as it’s ours or agrees with ours. Most often the last thing we want to hear is criticism or thoughts alternative to what we have in mind. It’s at this point we need to stop and listen. Criticism should be seen as valuable feedback. As we grow and progress as project managers, criticism can be leveraged as a powerful tool to help read situations. It tells us how we’re presenting ourselves, how others perceive us and the results of our actions. So the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of some negative criticism use it as a learning tool. If it’s positive criticism take note and find a way to repeat that action again.
5. Assign “I” to the Problem-
This comes down to the sometimes lost art of leadership. A good way to succeed as a Project Manager is to take ownership and accountability for the project, decisions made and the outcomes of those decisions. As a PM you’re expected to be a leader. Taking accountability will ensure a couple things. First, if it’s your fanny that’s on the line you’ll be highly motivated to ensure that what’s getting done and what’s happening is going well! Second if you take accountability you’ll work hard to stay on top of the issues and plan in advance on how to resolve or avoid them all together. Important leadership note here. Always remember being accountable is more than just lip service. It also means accepting responsibility for the potential failures. This is the lost art of leadership. Have you ever seen a PM who likes to call the shots but with the first sign of trouble bails? They blame the team, technology, the organization or the environment for the failures. Anybody but themselves. Remember being a leader means calling the shots, drawing fire and on occasion receiving it. So go out and lead from the front and not from the rear. Lastly to note when your project succeeds don’t bask in the glory. A good leader understands while they helped get the job done they are ultimately just a servant of the team. It’s the collective outputs of the team that made the success happen. Make sure they receive the lion share of the praise.
In conclusion, the above are just some highlights and I encourage you to develop lists of your own. Post it on a wall where you can see it, add to it and review it regularly. Best practices in project management come from trial, error, learning from others, capturing them and putting them in your respective PM tool boxes. Lastly and most importantly, after you create your list share it with others so they too can benefit from your experiences. PMI is quick to point out their view on project management is a continual journey of learning and self improvement. So go out and share your profession.
Chris Richards, PMP is a Program Manager with the Hartford's Property and Casualty Company. He has been practicing project management for over 10 years within fortune 100 companies. A former consultant he has worked on projects spanning the industry from compliance, information technology, international and organization redesign. Currently he is leading a project to develop and advance the internal project management capabilities and competencies of the Hartford's P&C project managers.