Perhaps the title Project Manager is not written all over your CV, but you are most likely doing that job every single day. Regardless of your profession, you are probably involved in running and managing one, two or several projects at work, not even being aware of it. You have a report to finish and submit, but you wait for the inputs of 3 other colleagues, and the deadline is until the end of the day? There you go - you have one small project on your hands. You are planning a business trip for your boss, and you already have the tickets, but he changed the travelling time, included few more people to go with him and all the hotels in the destination city are fully booked? Another project and I must say, a challenging one.
Maybe this sounded a bit too simplified, but joking aside, those who deal with project management daily know that juggling several tasks and people within a set budget and a defined timeline is rarely fun. I remember the times when the master Excel file was my only friend in fighting the battle with tasks, time, money, some demanding people and myself. And very often, all at the same time.
Nowadays, luckily, we have so many different project management software that makes project planning and executing much easier. However, even if this technical side is, let’s say, mostly sorted out, the road between starting and finishing successfully a project still does not look less stressful than before. So, how would it be possible to make this road less bumpy? No matter whether you are in charge of a large and long corporate project or of one with a much smaller scope, some things always apply:
Know your objectives and resources well. This might be the obvious one, but if you don’t keep your eye closely, objectives you diligently set once can morph into something you didn’t expect coming at all. Not to mention that, over time, some new objectives could be added, the project could be extended, the budget could be changed, so having the full grasp of what your project is and what the deliverables must be, makes the implementation much easier.
Own the project. Brake the project into smaller sections but be able to keep the macro-level insight all the time. While trying to be flexible as much as possible, prepare yourself to say “no” a lot. Yes, you might hate this, but sometimes staying on track means being firm and saying “no” to your boss or your client’s last-minute changes and "bright" ideas, if you estimate that their requests are not adding value to the project, of course.
Communicate, communicate, communicate… Clearly define communication channels with the project team members, your supervisor, your client/donor or anyone involved in the project. Don’t hide problems and mistakes, and do ask for help when you need it. No, you will not seem weak and incompetent, you will be a team leader who respects and relies on his/her team to overcome the inevitable project obstacles. And keeping your client/boss/donor well informed will spare you from hours and hours of their unnecessary interference when you need it the least.
Be accountable and demand responsibility from your team members as well to avoid all too familiar blaming game when the project problems start. And, believe me, they will always start sooner rather than later, so with clear goals, good communication and trust within a team, any unexpected scenario has more chance to be quickly solved and aligned and project saved. It wouldn’t hurt to define the critical parts either, so you know in advance the greatest risk of going astray with the project.
Get a life. Yes, go outside, take a dog for a walk, take your kids to a playground or your significant other out for a dinner. I spent too many days in the office working late just not to miss a deadline, not to miss that important business call from New York, not to disappoint the boss, not to [feel free to finish, I know you can relate]. And guess what? I realized I had more energy, and I was far more productive when I finally found the time for myself and the people I love. You don’t need to be in the office until 11 pm for your project to succeed, no matter how demanding and complicated it is. But you surely need a daily distance from your work o see a bigger and clearer picture. Maybe this is just what your project needs, after all.
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