This feature first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Effective project management is critical to business growth. Completing a project within agreed timelines, on budget, and to the client's specified standards requires mature and astute stewardship. No enterprise today can afford to be without good project managers.
A smart project manager is one who ensures a project is successful and that all stakeholders are satisfied. No wonder, then, that effective project managers are always in demand.
According to an Anderson Economic Group research report, a study that was sponsored by leading project management association PMI, the global economy will create 1.5 million project management jobs on average each year through 2025. Industries that are likely to see high growth in demand for project managers include infrastructure development, healthcare, and green technologies.
The essence of project management is taking full charge of a project and ensuring successful completion of all deliverables. Successful delivery necessarily means fulfillment of expectations within a specified timeline and budget. In effect, the project manager takes charge of a project that is ready to be executed and sees it through.
The project manager monitors processes and addresses all changes, uncertainties, conflicts, and glitches that might occur, so that project outcomes are not affected and the client's plans are not upset. After all project objectives have been met, the project manager closes the project.
In today's fast-changing environment, a host of variables can get in the way of a project's completion. A project manager must constantly address challenges. A project can be disrupted by anything from rapidly evolving technologies to changes in client expectations, or stakeholder demands.
Sometimes the team assigned to the project may have difficulty communicating effectively, or may get in each other's way through differences in work styles. Any of these issues, left unaddressed, can derail an established project schedule.
Project management is a delicate balancing act, requiring the person in charge to keep a cool head, be fully in the know, deftly navigate complexities and surprises, and continually keep processes moving in the right direction. If circumstances and human beings were perfectly predictable, projects would cruise along and accomplish their goals on time, within budget, and to the client's expectations.
In such a situation, you might not even need a project manager. Things are actually quite unpredictable, however, in the real world. Some say a project manager's job is a lot like "herding cats." The days are absolutely filled by keeping the project moving along in a positive manner. In order to deliver optimum results, a project manager has to have his or her hand on the pulse of the operation at all times.
Because a project manager is also responsible for a project's final delivery he (or she) needs to focus on what is most critical to fulfilling the client's expectations. Throughout the project, the manager constantly monitors three parameters: quality, budget, and schedule.
It's probably clear from all of this that being a technical expert alone will not make one a good project manager. A truly suitable individual must also be a self-starter with the ability to think strategically, superior communication and negotiation skills, foresight, and emotional intelligence.
Does that sound like a lot? To help define the role a bit more, I've identified seven crucial attributes that I believe a project manager must have to succeed. Not all of them can be taught in the classroom. Several come about only through experience, and experience includes making mistakes.
Conceptual Ability and Farsightedness
The ability to visualize an entire project from start to finish is critical to successful project completion. A good project manager is clear about objectives to be achieved and how the team will work together to accomplish them. The project manager must clearly visualize all deliverables in order to formulate a viable plan, and make changes when required.
An effective project manager needs to be very specific while communicating his project vision to the team so that team members have a clear picture of project deliverables. A project manager has to have a clear vision and initiate and facilitate action with the future in mind. He can't wait for things to happen and then react, but must plan proactively so that the team is prepared for future events.
Strategic Thinking Skills
The importance of strategy can't be overstated. A project manager needs to be a strategist who has the big picture before her, knows what is most important and prioritizes tasks in their order of importance.
While it is important to have a detailed plan, implementation details need to be left to technical experts and other team members. Micromanagement can prove counterproductive. A project manager should not get so caught up in details that she loses sight of the big picture and fails to prioritize. Her focus needs to be on evaluating milestones and proceeding in order of importance.
Foresight is an integral aspect of strategizing. If something is not going according to plan, team members must be able to detect this as it is occurring and report it to the project manager. Indicators need to be embedded in project processes so that managers receive simultaneous information about any deviations. Also, every team member should feel empowered to alert the project manager if something is wrong.
A true leader ensures that team members aren't afraid of speaking up when things are not going as planned. Training members to view failure as something that can be reversed if attended to immediately — rather than something to be afraid of — results in early rectification of errors and minimizes project delays.
Since projects typically involve more than one person, being an effective communicator is imperative. Communication involves both conveying information and listening. People work and communicate in different ways.
An effective project manager listens to his team, tries to understand each team member, and takes care to communicate with each team member at that person's comfort level. The project manager should get to know team members, understand their approach, and deal with them accordingly.
It is the manager's responsibility to facilitate communication between team members so that they can collaborate better. Team members need to feel free to voice their concerns and ask questions. There should be no let-up in communication about the status of the project. The project manager should require team members to submit weekly status reports. Regular status reports need to be given to the client as well as to senior management.
Due to changes in specs, technical and other snags, as well as contractor-related issues, a fair percentage of projects will take longer than planned. In such cases, the project manager should notify clients as soon as one knows that delivery dates will likely change.
Relationship Management Skills
A project manager who cares about her team members can better motivate them to work together. Empathizing with everyone on the team and trying to understand things from their perspective helps to build trust and team spirit. When spirits are high, people perform better.
The project manager should take responsibility and support the team. A project manager needs to acknowledge and appreciate the work of individual team members, making them feel like an important part of the project and inspiring them to give their best, all while synchronizing their efforts to work together toward a common goal.
Being even-tempered and able to get along with different personality types is a huge positive when managing a team. Effective project managers make decisions that work out well for all members, not just for themselves. A team member shouldn't be left with the feeling of having lost out. A mature and balanced manager is able to keep all stakeholders — client, boss, and team members — happy and involved.
Highly Organized and Methodical
It is necessary to set expectations while keeping all variables in mind. The onus for setting realistic expectations and managing them is on the project manager. He needs to scope the project so that the team knows what is expected of them and deliver in line with the client's expectations and within the deadline.
The project manager should define the scope in consultation with the client at the onset. Both the manager and client need to agree on what the team will deliver. It's important to be specific while defining deliverables. All variables need to be tracked on a weekly basis so as to be aware of the status in relation to costs and delivery schedule.
A leader recognizes that he doesn't know everything and doesn't hesitate to consult subject-matter experts on the team whenever necessary so that issues are dealt with promptly.
Because no plan survives first contact with reality, a project manager needs to be comfortable with change and agile in her responses. In today's fast-evolving environment, it's vital to be flexible and adapt one's project management practices in line with changes in technology and business.
Committed to Continuous Development
For a good project manager, development of project management capabilities is an ongoing process, whether one is working on a project or is between projects. This happens both formally, through professional courses and company-sponsored training programs, as well as informally, on the job and through interaction with colleagues, business partners, industry peers, and senior managers.
Self-improvement efforts also contribute significantly, because these have the potential to build emotional intelligence, develop balance, and nurture positive thinking skills. Meditation, for example, is not only de-stressing — it also helps one develop compassion and an even temper. A calm, empathetic, and confident person undoubtedly makes a better project manager.
Great work if you can do it
Carrying a project through successfully from inception to completion is a challenge. The challenge can be stimulating, however, for managers who have invested time and effort on developing the right skills and approach. If you possess some or all of the characteristics we've discussed, and are committed to developing them, then project management could be a great direction for your career.