Project management requires adaptability and creative thinking. You have to problem-solve on the fly and will find yourself trying to keep many plates in the air throughout the day. Despite this turbulence, there are still Do’s and Don’t’s that should inform your workplace decisions. You need to balance the ability to be flexible with the need for stability in these 5 key areas.
1. Don’t: Rely On Your Memory
Even if you have a great natural memory, there are tasks and deadlines as a PM that you simply cannot put on the line. Use project scheduling software, private or shared calendars, reminder apps, sticky-notes, and any other myriad ways of ensuring that nothing falls through the proverbial cracks. As a project manager, you are the safety net that prevents project items from being left in the dust. Even if you have a photogenic memory and can recite exactly what you ate for breakfast three weeks ago, your whole team will benefit from scheduling software that they can tune into when needed.
2. Do: Track Everything
There are plenty of business intelligence tools that can help you do this. Productivity is not a static trait and may be affected by your office environment, type of task, mood, and even the weather (for those who lose focus when it’s warm and sunny out and the beach starts calling to them). No one can fire on all cylinders at all times. You will have up days and down days and that is normal (it also prevents burnout). However, tracking your productivity ups and downs will provide you valuable data for the future, when you need it most. Let’s say you have noticed a trend that your phone call sales pitches suffer when you know other people are “listening in” in a shared space. Next time you have to make a serious conference call, you can make note of that productivity details and be sure to assign yourself to work remotely or at home for the day.
3. Don’t Hesitate To Delegate
Delegating is hard. Letting go of control is hard. Micromanaging is a bad habit that every PM has been guilty of at least once. This is particularly useful when you are working with remote colleagues, who may even be in a different timezone and therefore impervious to your helicopter managing. If something needs your attention, give it your full attention. But don’t fragment your attention into a million little pieces just so that you can have your fingers in every honey pot. Your team will start to sense your mistrust and their work quality will suffer because of it.
4. Do: Use Problems To Help You Build New Skills
How you manage people should not be a one-and-done learned skill. It is something that takes work, like a muscle you must constantly flex in order to keep it strong. Not to mention that social, political, and workforce trends change and sometimes these factors will have to influence how you deal with people. Not only is formal training valuable (a project management course, for example) but informal training through podcasts, reading books from industry leaders, and following expert bloggers in your field will keep your knowledge sharp.
5. Do: Make Sure You’ve Outlined Your Success Criteria
How will you know when (and if) you have completed a job to the best of your ability. Understand how to establish project success criteria before you fully dive into any project. And understand how to “check in” with your project success criteria along to way to ensure everything stays on track. Know the problem you are trying to solve and be able to succinctly “elevator pitch” your desired outcomes. Some things you will want to share with your client, like reaching certain goals or achieving certain measurables. However, other indicators will be more for your personal note, like: Do you and your client have a good working relationship by the end of the project? Would they be likely to recommend you to others? Were you paid in full and on time? Different success criteria markers will tell you different things about the health of the overall project.
PMs needn’t be corralled into a strict list of what they can and can’t do; in fact, the nature of their job usually means that’s impossible. However, understanding a few best practices, like those listed above, is going to elevate your performance and make sure that you are more than just a “manager”—it will make sure that you are a leader, too.