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Being a project manager can be a very challenging and rewarding job, actually it can be a number of challenging jobs all rolled into one. This is because there are many facets to the project, such as initiation, planning execution, controlling and the project closure. Even more difficult, at times, the project manager may have a team delegated and is not afforded the opportunity to choose who should be included.
There are a number of skills a project manager needs to portray in order to be successful, there are the obvious ones such as technical, business and management skills, but there are also soft skills which are required. Project managers don’t only deal with governance, processes and systems but there is the human factor to consider. It can be said that to be a successful project manager, building and maintaining strong relationships across the organisation is a requirement.
There are many other aspects necessary in the project manager’s arsenal to ensure they keep on top of the daily challenge and are successful in their careers. In short there are a number of necessary skills a project manager must have in order to be successful; the following are just a few.
As a project manager you’re responsible not only for seeing the project through to a successful completion, but you’re leading a team to achieve that goal. This requires you to motivate and mediate when necessary. Remember that project leadership comes in different styles, one of which will suit your personality. It’s more than managing tasks; it’s managing people.
Effective leadership can only work if points can be articulated well, that is being able to communicate with the team for task allocation. To achieve this clear communication with vendors, contractors to stakeholders and customers is needed. This can be achieved through reporting tools, collaboration via chat, file sharing, and other means to tag discussions at the task level, both systems should be in place to facilitate communications. These tools also help connect people one-to-one and in group settings, such as meetings and presentations.
It is essential for a project manager to understand, create and interpret project schedules. The only way to achieve the milestones of the project within the time frame that has been decided is to breakdown those milestones into tasks on a timeline. That’s scheduling, and it’s the heart of what a project manager does: setting up a realistic schedule and then managing the resources to keep on track so the project can be successfully concluded on time. There are many tools that can help with this process, the main one being Gantt Charts which provides a visual of the schedule with tasks, durations, dependencies, resource allocation and milestones.
Planning a project, regardless of size has an associated element of risk. It’s part of the job to see those issues before they become problems. Therefore, before executing the project, its identification, access and control must be considered. The more a risk can be managed, the more likely the project is going to succeed. During the life of a project unexpected risks can eventuate, this is normal, to alleviate the impact of the risk a process should be in place to handle those when they come up.
Financials is a very important part of any project, as nothing can be delivered without an allocated budget. Ensure the budget is realistic and can meet the financial needs of the project, and, secondly, controlling those costs through the execution of the project. There are normally constraints applied to any project, understanding how to squeeze out every cent of those funds is a great skill to have.
The ability to negotiate, considered part of communication, hence why being able to communicate on all levels is a must have skill. Regardless negotiating has its own place; it is more than just trying to obtain the best price from a vendor or contractor. Negotiating the scope, timeframe and budget from the stakeholder is just as important. To some degree the need for diplomacy is also needed, so all parties involved have a sense of satisfaction on the outcome. Having strong negotiating skills can resolve disputes before they blow up and threaten the project.
Avoid being reactive should an issue arise, critical thinking is being as objective as possible when analysing and evaluating an issue or situation. Forming an unbiased judgement, avoiding acting on emotions or from perceived knowledge. Problems can occur from anywhere at any time when working on a project, understanding how to be impartial during decision making can only assist with the project.
A project is made up of many different tasks, which need creation, resource assignment and managing, this goes hand in hand with scheduling. Mismanagement of this process can severely impact a projects success. Composing a to-do list is normally beneficial, where complexity can be added as tasks are identified. Using tools to manage these tasks more efficiently features in your task management tool that foster team collaboration, help with prioritization and provides instant status updates when tasks have been completed or are running behind.
Quality Management shouldn’t be overlooked, as it relates to the ability to oversee activities and tasks. Which are required to deliver a product or service as indicated in the project scope. Staying on schedule is important, but that schedule is pointless if it produces something that is subpar.
Ability to smile
Project management can be a stressful profession, the ability to take a breath and smile provides a different perspective on the job, people and issues. It can relieve stress and tension, when lifted can enable smarter actions, ideas and lift morale. Avoiding a stifling environment can get the best from the delivery team. As the leader, the project manager can set or at least influence the culture of the workplace, a lighter mood can remove tension from the work place.
Having the right tools available can enhance skill set and make the project team more efficient and productive. Projectmanagmentcompanion.com has tools available which help schedule, manage tasks, budgets and team collaboration. Try one of the tools for yourself by taking a free 30 day trial.
There is risk associated with every project regardless of the size and complexity. The seasoned project manager would understand that while risk is inevitable, the ability to forecast, prepare a strategy and subsequently correct any wrongs, is part of what planning for a project is all about.
It takes more than just conducting due diligence. Detailed preparation is required to deal with that risk. It is crucial to have a mechanism in place to track risk throughout a project’s lifecycle. To not identify a risk in the first instance can be a problem, but not to track it once known can become catastrophic.
Systematic tracking and evaluation of actions should be taken to mitigate risk against established metrics. This occurs throughout the acquisition process while developing other options. To assist in tracking a risk, the use of a template would be beneficial. As it provides places to collate the needed data to follow that risk and see how actions to remedy it are working.
There are many available and free Excel templates which can be downloaded. Each would assist with the creation of vital documents in a project manager’s arsenal. It should contain everything needed in the one place. A project is only as good as the tools on hand to complete it successfully, that is on time and within your allotted budget. Templates similar to those available in the project management companion website which are all free for the project management community.
The use of a risk tracking register will assist in the identification and outlining when the impact is likely to occur. It should also provide the ability to tag the person who identified it. There’s also space for determining how likely the risk will in fact impact the project, estimate that risk and then better identify it if and when it occurs.
It will also assist with providing a space to fully describe the risk and how it might impact the project, as well as assigning an owner to that risk. This is the person who is responsible for monitoring the risk and implementing action to mitigate it. That is an owner to action resolution which will avoid any ambiguity.
Once a risk is resolved, then there is also a mechanism to close it out. Once the risk is not impacting the project and has been resolved, the tracking is no longer required and resources can be allocated to other tasks. Here is where you can also describe the reason for closing the risk, which is a great way to communicate with your team and stakeholders.
How to Use a Risk Tracking Template
It’s important to prepare for risk, and when it happens, have a plan in place to resolve it. There must be a method in place to track that risk. The first step is access to a free template, next is how it should be used.
The steps on how the template should be used are as follows, although not an arduous task, a thorough understanding will assist in achieving the end goal.
Description of Risk and Impact
Begin by listing each risk with an identification (ID) number, normally located in the first column. Next would be the column for the description where the potential risk is stated. Describe the risk; be thorough, by outlining the essential concern. Specify the various impacts such a risk might have on the project, and be sure to include as much detail as possible. Understanding the impact of the risk to the project is paramount, without this, a strategy can’t be developed, if and when it arises.
Risk response, the Priority and owner
Completing the risk response column, focus on this part, the description should be a short and decisive response to the risk. Following is the section to prioritize, where the decision is made on the level of the risk. This is high, medium or low, by marking one of either here. This would then make it easier to filter the spreadsheet to determine the number of each risk. Once known then a priority on how to deal with it can be made.
Assign an owner to each risk, otherwise it will get overlooked and has the potential to become a major problem. The notes column is used to write down thoughts that don’t fit into any of the previous categories. Having a place to document ideas is useful; otherwise they may fall between the cracks.
It is important to use a risk tracking template when delivering a project regardless of the size and complexity. It should be understood that while risk is inevitable, the ability to forecast, prepare a strategy and subsequently correct any wrongs, is part of what planning for a project is all about. This is achieved with the use of a risk tracking template which provides identification, description, rating, owner and mitigation of a risk. Remember, not using one will make any sized risk into a major problem if not identified.
Good risk management seems to be a challenge in most projects and can affect its delivery. The subject is often taught, analysed, spoken about, and reported within organisations EPMO’s. It then comes as a surprise when projects and programs fall well below their key delivery benchmarks and, more often than not, the reason is an unidentified risk manifesting itself into an issue that impacts adversely on delivery. Considering the number of projects conducted and the documents associated to risk, the effort that goes into quantifying the risks of a project should not be missed, but they still do.
The following are possible reasons why risks are still not always adequately identified, understood and how they can negatively impact projects large and small alike.
Emphasis on regular outcomes
Project teams are hard-wired to deliver, and never more so than in the current delivery environment that heavily favours agile techniques whereby delivery is an on-going cycle. This emphasis upon regular outcomes drives a delivery focused mentality within many teams. This focus can, however, have a negative impact on risk management as it is exercised within the team.
As agile continues to propagate the emphasis on continual delivery can make risk management seem like a handbrake to the speed with which teams are now working at and as such it gets put to one side in the rush to hit delivery deadlines.
IT Project Management within the business and IT world is relatively new, unlike the construction industry whereby project management has been taught and valued since ancient civilisations. The relatively recent introduction of project management within the white-collar sector has led to the rise of tertiary qualifications. There are also many stand-alone bodies providing varying degrees of project management qualifications and risk management.
The mechanics of managing risk can seem straight forward from the comfort of a textbook or course. The reality of the effective application of risk management can be varied when delivering a project. Possibly for two reasons;
Firstly, good risk management requires the ability to identify potential risks. This requires imagination or experience which is often formed heavily by past experiences of what can happen in certain situations. The lack of imagination or experience can and normally does affect the risk assessment. For example, when laying fibre cable, time should be added when dealing with Government bodies, such as councils or heritage listed environments, all adding time to project delivery.
The second issue and how to avoid potential risk, is the input or buy-in from a wide range of people. Some of whom may be time poor or they may actually be hostile to the project. This is where stakeholder management becomes critical. If a project manager does not have the ability or experience to get all the right people engaged then running through the risk management process per the textbook will not be enough.
Only positive news
Many organisations expect or want only good news, which is valued by the executive over the ‘real’ news. This drives certain sub-optimal behaviours in an organisation that will work its way down into project delivery. Calling out risks frequently and possible issues can be seen as antagonistic to an executive who just wants to hear about what is going well.
This dynamic can lead to the less experienced or robust project manager to prioritise the good news over the possible bad news and keep the risk and issues toned down or off the agenda altogether. This is a head in the sand mentality that does not promote good risk management practices.
The list above is not exhaustive but is a good indicator of why risks continue to surprise some projects to their detriment. Of course, identifying the risk is just the beginning and does not mean they will manifest themselves into significant issues. If nothing else it provides the team with the ability to have robust mitigation plans for them if they occur.
People interact and drive the day to day strategy, operations and tactic which provide the life line for every institution. Nonetheless, people especially regular employees are not accorded the respect, nor given proper treatment in most environments they work.
Now, people are found at all levels of an organization and play different roles with varying responsibilities that either places them as leaders or as followers. Apparently not all leaders are leaders, however the reality remains, most organizations fail at Agility adoption because of leadership ideologies. Here are some reasons why agile teams may fail;
1. Wrong people in the right position.
2. Entrenchment factor.
3. Understanding of concept.
4. Politics of Things (POT)
5. Ecosystem readiness.
Below is an explanation of each.
1. Wrong people in the right place: Organizations make the mistake of creating the right positions but place the wrong people to drive the objectives of such position. Sometimes the POT mind set and the whole idea of perceived competence tend to erode the placement of right people in the right place within organizations. Organizational misalignment are typically caused by people not understanding the vision and how it syncs with their roles. The issue with the wrong people in right place is;
- No knowledge of employee skill set; Lots of managers or middle management have no understanding of what training their direct reports have, looking to have and how it can be leveraged.
- Single point of failure; Creative leaders or managers re-create knowledge and diversify source. Having a single go to person with a lot of knowledge and no evident sharing knowledge transfer mechanism creates potential process stalling or delayed access to project requirements.
- Ability to listen; though simple but very hard to do. Most leaders listen but do not hear. The ability of listening and hearing someone must be inclusive of taking innovative opinions and implementing them.
- Authority drunkenness; not something people will worry about too much since the leader or manager has the authority to give directions. But the truth remains. Leaders who worry about controlling others often end up with health issue most of the time. Wrong people in the right place always worry about the authority of the position versus its output requirement.
2. Entrenchment Factor: The idea of if it works don’t fix it continuously truncates basic adoption of Agile best practices by most teams. Below are some of the reasons why entrenchment factor fails agile teams;
- Out dated knowledge: Entrenchment encourages people to remain in a purse in so far as acquiring new skill or knowledge. Usually there is no visible challenge on the job that creates a need for an individual to think more creatively.
- Culture positioning: Entrenchment factor walls off ideas and creates a myopic view of problem context as well as late adoption of standard practices. As a result, innovative cultures and ideas is conditioned and boxed into a corner making creativity almost invisible.
3. Understanding the concept: A lot of teams do agile as against be agile. The idea of agility is focused around mind set, pro-activity, creativity and above all collaboration. Agile is not Scrum and neither is scrum agile. Scrum which is the most practiced flavor of agile application is often understood as the centre piece of agile thinking but that is far from true. Better put, agile is the practice and principle around aligning people, culture and process to deliver value to the end client while scrum is the model of applying agile thinking. Incrementally developing a solution and having ceremonies like daily standard up doesn’t make teams agile. This misunderstanding of the agile concept greatly limits teams and results in eventually failure of the team.
4. POT (Politics of things): The POT factor continues to plague organizations and decision maker’s alike.in many ways. First, human beings are political animals guided by the idea of interest, perceived shaped by perception and grounded in rational or irrational actions or responses. Decision makers often are clouded in bias when decisions are made around appointments or specific assignments. Bias is real and brings out the worst in human beings even when it’s at the cost of the organization. Certain individuals viewing others as intellectually inferior and never allow their views to come to light. And even when such ideas are allowed they are treated like not so smart but applaud when presented in a different way by the so-called innovative minds. The POT effect continues to slow down adoption of agile as well as innovation in and around any organization. You will be amazed how deeply rooted the POT effect is in most organization.
5. Ecosystem Readiness: A lot of leaders and organizations want to introduce agile but do not have the infrastructure to support the practice. The agile approach or mind set is a known disruptor of the existing. In most cases it changes the entire mind set and approach and requires a receptive ecosystem that is ready, they are;
• Adopt a mind-set
• Adapt to a mind-set.
• Accept a mind-set.
In summary, agile teams fail because of people and the decisions they make. Deciding to be agile is always a clear difference from deciding to do agile.
There are two popular types of project management styles which can be used when delivering a project. These styles are not just the domain of project management but throughout managerial principals around the world. Regardless of which style is used, it is best to have one of the disciplines in place when executing a project. The two of the most popular approaches are top down and bottom up management, both of which provide a good introduction to greater management.
There are many considerations when choosing a management style. For instance, what is the culture of the company, the personality of the executives and the business environment? What kind of project management tools are being used, that is, are they collaborative or planning based. Choosing a style is a personal decision, one of great importance. The decision will influence every aspect of the project and team.
What is Top down Management?
Also called autocratic leadership, top down management is the most common form of management. It is hierarchical, with a chief executive officer (CEO) who sets the course for the entire company. Their leadership is then carried out through a succession of executives, middle management all the way to the core operational resources who perform the day to day duties.
In top down management, everything from the workplace to the business systems are all determined by upper management, and then it’s passed down the chain of command. Each role is responsible for carrying out the mission as stated by the higher-ups, without much room for comment or criticism. While some lower-level managers might join the decision-making process, ultimately the final decision rests with the C-level executives.
Examples of Top down Organizations
As noted, most organizations use top down management. Any company with an executive ladder (with a CEO on top, then middle management, then team leaders directing team members) is structured in such a way.
Pros and Cons of Top down Management
The pros of top down management aren’t always immediately clear to low-level employees, but they are there.
Knowledge brings clarity
One of the advantages of top down management is that it sets clear goals and expectations, as goals are delivered by one person, and that message is not diluted by committee or multiple voices. Because the direction is laid down from on high, the resources don’t have to be distracted by participating in the process of decision-making. This gives them more time to focus on their tasks.
The top down management style requires a strong leader, and there are benefits to this type of leadership. It makes it easier for middle management; they have direct orders and can act on them quickly without second-guessing or trying to decipher mixed signals.
These types of management structures work best when the leader has done the due diligence researched and considered all angles of how the decision will impact the project.
Weak or Dictatorial leader
On the downside, the idea of a powerful personality leading the project can veer from thoughtful and careful stewardship to something more dictatorial. If that happens, buy-in from resources suffers and morale sinks, which in turn impacts the ability for the project to be successful.
What’s Bottom up Management?
At times the project manager responsible for the delivery of the project may not have the formal knowledge of the product being delivered and how it will affect the outcome. It is during these instances that talent within the ranks should be considered. This would be wasted in a top down environment. Or, the leadership is not skilled and knowledgeable enough to lead decisively. In these cases, bottom up management is recommended.
The broad definition of bottom up management depicts a structure where the whole project team participates in the process of directing the project. This collaborative method gives resources a say in how to accomplish the overall goals and objectives of the project. Bottom up management utilizes their unique perspective from the front lines of the work.
Teams are autonomous and are assembled by skills and experiences, which are then trusted by managers. These teams are self-directed and decide on the best way to accomplish their tasks, rather than receive orders and only then act on them.
Examples of Bottom up Organizations
While still in the minority, more companies are embracing the bottom up style of management. The approach is seen in the way some businesses are approaching projects, if not in their overall administrative process.
For example, The New York Times and even well established businesses like Ernst & Young and IBM have all tried the bottom up management approach at the team level. Everyone should be a part of the decision-making process, at least in subsets of the project. As these experiments prove fruitful, more companies will come on board and even adopt the style for its full administration.
Pros and Cons of Bottom up Management
The advantages of bottom up management are clear to people who are at the core delivery of a project.
Gets the Most Out of a Team’s Talents and Dedication
One advantage is that bottom up management can retain talent, keep morale high and get project buy in, since it gives lower-level resources a voice. Because the whole team feels part of the process, then productivity is likely to improve. If everyone feels ownership in the overall goals and objectives of the project, they will likely be more dedicated to its cause.
Furthermore, the ability to get the most out of a resource is one of the great benefits of bottom up management: it allows for the full talents of resources to be used. Those resources that are performing more of the core tasks who are interfacing with customers and dealing with the nuts and bolts of what a project does. Therefore, their input, which is not considered in a top down management approach, is a competitive edge in bottom up management. Sometimes this even leads to business process improvement.
Too Many Voices & Ideas Slow Business Agility
In terms of disadvantages, having employees a part of the decision-making process can slow things down or have the project follow unproven ideas that lead nowhere. This can cost precious time, losing time to market, allowing the competition to take advantage.
A glut of ideas is not always the best way for maintaining high project agility. Given the high number of choices, it can be difficult to discern the best one. This may require more time for research in order to make an educated choice.
There’s also the issue of ego. If everyone is vying to get heard, they might be motivated by self-interest rather than the overall goal of the project and company. This creates division and conflicts that are not good for business.
The Choice is yours
The differences between top down and bottom up management are significant, each with their pros and cons. The decision, of course, is up to the project manager. Leadership knows that productivity can increase with dynamic software, regardless of the management style. Projectmanagercompanion.com provides a selection of cloud-based project management software with online Gantt charts for project planning, Kanban boards for team collaboration and real-time reports for better decision making. Whatever type of leader you are, try one today for free with a 30-day trial.
Project team’s productivity can be influenced by a number of items which can affect the business and project outcomes. It is the project manager’s responsibility to identify these obstructions and keep resources on track. The project is in risk of falling behind, with deadlines impacted and, leaving teams scrambling to deal with the consequences.
A distracted workplace can cost more than a team’s productivity; it is likely to affect the organisations bottom line as well. If resources are focused on something other than their job, this will result in lost productivity in terms of billions each year. If this is the case within your team, then there are a number of factors to consider and how they can be resolved.
Technology is in place to assist employees with being more efficient and effective in their functions, but according to recent studies, has found that distractions occur because of technology and connectivity issues. To alleviate this, it is best to have team members use effective tools for project management and collaboration. Tools which will assist in the performing the job well where they can learn and leverage from those tools.
Surveys are a good source for determining where the obstructions are located. Once known adjustments can be made, as it is easy to get distracted by high level issues and disregards the daily time consumers that cost productivity.
When team productivity suffers, the project manager may have to take on the majority of the work or pick up the slack for others. While this may just feel like a part of the job, it doesn’t have to be. Ensure there is a workload balance; otherwise there will be resources performing double the amount of tasks, and others hardly being productive. This leads to resentment amongst the team, especially if the project encounters a rough spot. Being collaborative in this instance ensures a share in responsibility and the work load more equally divided.
Collaboration alleviates productivity struggles, allowing the project manager to be a better leader. By instilling this into the culture of teams, can ensure that projects remain on track, avoiding budget overages and angry upper-level leadership.
Meetings are beneficial for communication, but they can also be an obstruction to project progress. Surveys have been conducted with respondents stating that meetings can stop them from completing work, and at times are unproductive and inefficient. Finding a balance between unproductive meetings and ensuring the team collaborates and connects can be challenging. The following steps can assist in getting a better outcome during meetings.
- The use of collaborative tools that allows team members to report on their progress towards deadlines and goals without having to meet at a certain time and place.
- Encourage team members to schedule “off-limits” focus times on their calendars so they can dedicate distracted-free times throughout the day to get important tasks done.
- Set a time-limit for each meeting. If the meeting goes over, attendees are allowed to leave. This keeps everyone on track.
Lack of Organization
The search through old emails and computer drives can be time consuming and frustrating. It is important to have a central document artefact sharing mechanism in place. There are Cloud-based filing systems which are critical for keeping documents organized. Take it one step further by making sure the naming convention for documents and folders is simple and straightforward. Being able to find a folder is great, but if it is hard to work out what it is, then the value in having one is lost.
Teams should be empowered to develop a process that works for them, and then implement it together. This encourages them to take ownership of the organization, since they’re likely to be the ones adding to folders and accessing documents the most. As a leader, this takes one extra thing off the project manager’s plate enabling more focus on being as productive as possible.
Not Enough Training
Training has proven to be an effective way to increase workplace productivity. Proper training provides employees the tools they need to fulfil their jobs, but it also helps build confidence which in turn makes them more productive. When investing in training for your team, consider the blended learning style, which includes a mix of online and offline learning.
This type of training allows employees to learn in the format that’s best for them, whether that be in-person or individually, with online courses. With the online component, employees can also be most productive, doing their learning modules as time allows, rather than taking up too much time with in-person learning.
Overcoming productivity obstruction
In project management, productivity is critical. Use these ideas to figure out what’s slowing your team down and where improvements can be made. There may be a mix of issues which can affect cost and deadlines. Once identified they can be fixed and assist with the teams productivity.
Remember, it’s critical to lead by example. Don’t just have a meeting and outline all the ways the team is missing the mark. Implement these practices in day-to-day routines. Practicing what is preached is the first step to becoming a transformational leader, which is perhaps the most effective style of leadership for team productivity.
There are many tools available that can implement most of these productivity tips? They are cloud based project management software that fosters collaboration through online task lists, Kanban boards and Gantt charts. Team members can dialogue through chat and other channels, and store project files in the cloud in one accessible location. See how software can help your team productivity by taking a free 30-day trial.