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6 ways to be a better project manager

Sharon Florentine | June 6, 2016
Project management is a complex -- and critical -- function. Here are six pieces of advice to help project managers improve their craft.

Project managers wear many hats: facilitators, managers, problem-solvers and even interpreters -- translating business needs into actionable plans for teams and aligning resources. They must work around constraints, map skills and set timeframes to ensure positive outcomes for the business. In a “do more with less,” digital era, project managers are critical to the success of a business, especially in the fast-moving world of IT and software.

Project management software firm Workfront recently polled project management (PM) professionals across industries and from various business sizes -- from small businesses to large enterprises -- to glean the best tips and tricks for improving project management skills and experience. Eighty-one professionals weighed in, sharing responses to help PMs improve in five areas: communication; time management and productivity; building community; framework, workflow and project scheduling; leadership and collaboration; and management tools. Here are the best pieces of advice based on those results.

Communication

This is one of the most important skills project managers can have in their arsenal; communicating with C-level executives, technical project team members, the finance department, human resources and external customers. Without frequent, open and candid communication about goals, obstacles, workarounds and expectations, projects could more easily fail.

Priorities and project plans will change. Deadlines will be missed. Scope will increase. But communication must stay consistent. Emails, meetings, status reports, project plans -- these are all just tools for facilitating effective communication, says Liz Helbock, senior director of program management Events.com. “As project managers, we must work to keep those lines of communication open to ensure we have all the details to report back to executives and stakeholders,” she says.

Time management & productivity

Endless distractions abound in the modern workplace, and project managers have to be especially skilled at keeping teams and their projects on time and on track. Effective time management and productivity are critical skills. Career and small business strategist Mike McRitchie suggests you note the tasks that must happen in a particular order, the project’s “critical path,” making sure to tightly manage those handoff points, he told Workfront. These are the places where projects can be delayed and where the cumulative effect is a missed project deadline.

“Every project needs a clear end-goal. What is the need for this product/project? What problem are we trying to solve? When you identify the problem, you must also identify a clear definition of what it looks like to solve the problem. Defining success metrics means measurable goals and a clear finish line,” says Cindy Calvin, marketing project manager with Veterans United Home Loans.

PMs also should track their team’s time. By tracking your team’s time for the project, you’ll have a solid estimate on the average time specific tasks take. You’ll know how much time projects took in the past, and you’ll be able to use that information to gauge the average speed of each team member for each project. This is important when deciding how much time to allocate for each team member in the future, according to Workfront.

 

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