Even experienced, professionally qualified Project Managers can struggle with complex and challenging projects. In the last 4 years Greenbank have worked extensively with groups of highly talented, hardworking and technically skilled project managers – helping them deliver their projects on time & within scope and even keeping their customers happy whilst also delivering their targeted profit margin! As a side benefit, we have discovered a few reasons why some are more successful than others and offer our top 5 tips here for those of you wanting to go ‘beyond Prince 2’…..
Tip 1 – Understand the end business goals for your project
Some project managers focus totally on the technical challenge ahead of them absorbing themselves in the details of architecture and process. However, the top PM’s also take time to understand the projects strategic business goals…
- Every project has a defined business goal – a reason why the client is investing in you and your company. If your immediate client contact doesn’t know what this is – then find it out from somewhere else! Getting this clear is vital when deciding priorities, identifying stake holders and delivering real value. For instance; when the client wants to change requirements rather than simply saying ‘no’ or ‘yes’ it will be far more powerful if you are able to link your view to the business goals and how the change could impact them.
- The end business goals also link of course to timescales and understanding the business context is vital here – both when initially defining their project plan and then when asking for extensions to deadlines. Phrases like “This extension will allow us to meet (overall business goal)….” can be very compelling.
- There is also a personal dimension here – when you are seen as someone who is actually interested in the overall business strategy you will be able to increase your personal credibility; you move yourself from being a competent technical PM to a Business Partner and as such will find you have access to more of the key decision makers and information about future projects and developments.
Tip 2 – Manage your stakeholders
Meeting stakeholders concerns is at the heart of the PM challenge and rarely do all stakeholders have identical visions for the same project. In fact it is more likely for them to have competing or even conflicting goals. But one thing is clear…if a stakeholder’s goal is not understood then it will not be met except by random chance. So instead bear in mind the following…
- Managing consensus is the Holy Grail of Project Management. You can usually detect the fault lines as soon as you start putting the requirements down in writing. But if you plough ahead without getting everyone to generally agree, you are begging for trouble.
- Consensus does not however mean that everyone has to be totally aligned – that may be impossible. What is more useful is to focus on moving the project on rather than allowing it to be blocked by disagreements. The PM needs to focus on getting the relevant stakeholders to agree to support the decision, even if they do not necessarily agree with the decision itself in the interests of progress.
- Where relevant, the PM needs to focus on getting the relevant stakeholders to support decisions which will allow the project to move forward even if they are not in total agreement. Where there is a complete disagreement on the direction of the project, the PM needs to call out that the Business Goals and Project Objectives need to be re-visited to get things back on track.
- Take time to understand what each stakeholder needs from the project- their goals, difficulties and the impact that the project will have on their operation. As one PM expressed it, ‘Usually when I take the time to really understand the other person’s point of view and their goals and the reasons this person is acting the way they are I find that I can work out a solution or a compromise that gets everyone what they want’
Tip 3 – Be a world class communicator
Recent research has estimated that PM’s spend 90% of their time communicating in one form or another. In fact given the very nature of most projects until the final product is in the customer’s hands, communication is the only deliverable. So getting it right will make all the difference to success.
What does this mean in practice?
- Understand stakeholders’ needs in advance, and then tailor communication to meet those needs. Do stakeholders want all the detail or an executive summary? What format is best for them and what is the best timing e.g. 2 days before the regular Project Board meeting?
- Make your communication as reliable and predictable as possible – so if a project update report is scheduled for 0900 every Monday morning it always, always happens at that time. This has the added benefit that it can greatly reduce ad hoc requests for information. As one PM put it… ‘People are less likely to bombard me with unnecessary e-mail requests if they know they’ll get their questions answered once a week in my standard communication to them and they know they can count on it being there’
- Asking questions but not really listening can be worse than not asking at all. Let your clients know that you have heard them and if as a result you make some changes let them know how you have taken their views on board.
- Consider all your communications and check it against two key criteria: Is it clear? Is it concise? Remembering that clarity is determined by the reader not the writer! If in doubt check it out – ask for feedback from your stakeholders and if necessary adapt the content.
Tip 4 – Assume authority, don’t wait to be given it…
PM’s regularly have to lead a project without a formal mandate or leadership authority – often having no permanent staff reporting to them. The best PM’s don’t let that stand in their way.
- The degree of authority a PM has on a project directly corresponds to how much authority he believes he has. PM’s who believe they are empowered and behave accordingly usually have a greater level of authority conferred upon them.
- One way to build that sense of authority is to emphasise the expertise you bring to the project. If you want to emphasise your expert status the best way to do that is to speak with enthusiasm about your subject. If you want to see how this works watch out for ‘experts’ being interviewed on television. When you listen to them are you really convinced that they are experts? What makes them more convincing is more often than not their level of energy and enthusiasm about their subject.
Tip 5 – demonstrate enthusiasm and a ‘can-do’ attitude but…don’t be a hero!
Even the most experienced and talented PM cannot do it all themselves. Although sometimes that may seem to be the case….!
We have often listened to PM’s describing the long hours they work, weekends interrupted by crises and the huge levels of energy and commitment they make to deliver their projects. Interestingly we have often asked ‘Are the rest of your team working at the same level and the same number of hours?’ and the answer is almost always ‘No’. So how can you be successful and build your reputation without becoming the long suffering hero of the PM story?
- Use the project launch to start to build your team. Make sure they understand the business drivers, priorities and critical success factors behind the project. Make sure they understand their roles and their part in the overall success of the project.
- Flag your expectations in terms of energy, time and commitment that you need from them …and remember to recognise their efforts when they go above and beyond to get deadlines met.
- Check out the limits of your decision making authority – what do you have authority to decide and when do you need to escalate.
- Keep your boss up to date with progress, risks and any changes-or potential changes within the project. This means that when you do need to escalate an issue you are not creating a sudden surprise and will be seen as being in control of the project.
The Greenbank Project Management Diamond Standard
This article of course is only the tip of the iceberg; there are many more ways to strengthen your PM skills and share the best practices of the most successful Project Managers.
At Greenbank we have developed what we call the Project Manager Diamond Standard that incorporates 10 key Success Drivers for PM’s which is highly aligned to the APMs own new competency set. We use this as the basis of a series of our Project Management training modules and have also developed a special 360o survey to help PM’s get a better understanding of how they are seen by their teams, peers, stakeholders and their own manager . If you are interested in learning more about the Project Manager Diamond Standard please contact us…
Meanwhile, we also want to hear from you…
What would be your top 3 tips for any Project Manager as they set out on a new project that will help them to deliver success for the project and themselves?
Article by Laura Van Weegen
Laura is a Business Consultant and Prince2 Practitioner with experience across a number of different industries: financial services, government, utilities and communications. She has carried out various roles during her career to date so has experienced the full Project Lifecycle on numerous occasions both as a Project Manager, Business Analyst and Consultant. This has given her first-hand experience of what makes projects successful and how to navigate the problems and dangers along the way.