4 Things to Keep in Mind as a Project Manager

Any significant project has a variety of requirements and dependencies that call on numerous individuals with varying skill sets. But, ultimately, when push comes to shove, the success or failure of any project rests on the project manager’s shoulders because of the authority and overall project visibility they have. In other words, the buck stops there.

So, whether you work as an internal project manager for your company or provide consultative third-party management, you need to stay on top of critical aspects of the job at all times. Let’s take a look at some of the most important things to keep in mind heading into any major undertaking:

Understand the Business Goals and the Landscape

If the project manager—and the entire team, for that matter—does not have a clear idea of what the project should look like when it’s finished, then it is essentially doomed before it begins. If you are in the process of a website redesign, for example, you should know what benchmarks you want to improve on and what kind of user experience you want to create. These goals ultimately drive the discovery process of the project and all decisions along the way.

In evaluating the business goals, ensure that those objectives sit within the company’s overall aspirations – not the “loudest person in the room.” For example, if some of the decision makers involved in the process are heavily involved in customer service, the project may begin to tilt toward emphasizing that aspect over others, rather than relieving technology-related employee pain points, which are equally important to what the company is trying to achieve. As such, project managers should keep the project’s ultimate objectives top of mind at all times.

Create a Road Map

The only way to get to a destination is to know where you are going ahead of time. Once the business goals are agreed upon, it is important to lay out all of the relevant plans: create a stack ranked list of deliverables, assess the competition and plan on how to differentiate, construct a tentative time frame for completion, and evaluate the potential risks involved in the undertaking.

Evaluating risk is particularly important, as it is impossible to mitigate potential setbacks without understanding where and when they could occur. For example, if certain aspects of the project could potentially create and overlap in duties between two team members and result in discord, the project manager must be decisive in clearly defining each team member’s role or “swim lane.” It is also important to set realistic expectations for a time frame before launching into a project. Trouble often arises when somebody makes a declaration that the project must be completed by some random date without really measuring the level of effort.

Take a Step Back

If you have been working on a project for an extended period of time, it is easy to get so close to the project that you lose some of your objectivity. Project managers, after all, are often heavily invested in outcomes and, as such, can begin to lose some of the perspective they had when the project began. For this reason, it is critical that these leaders regularly take time to step back a little from the granular process to ensure that the team’s overall trajectory is in line with the road map.

In some cases, a project manager is brought on midway through a project, usually when something has gone awry. Whether that new project manager is an internal employee or an outside consultant, he or she can help remove any confirmation biases on the project with a fresh set of eyes and new perspective. As a result, they may find it easier to identify any gaps in the initial goals or strategic planning.

At the same time, it is critical for the new project manager to display a sense of empathy to those who have been involved with the project from the start. These team members have already invested significant time and effort and may be frustrated already; the last thing they need is to see a new face come in and start pointing fingers. In these cases where there may be some resistance to change, it can be helpful to frame any suggestion as integral to improving the user experience, as this is a goal the entire team is usually comfortable rallying around.

Stay Flexible

Generally speaking, if a project manager has followed the three suggestions above, the team will avoid having to make extreme course corrections during a project. But don’t be too rigid, because most projects make small adjustments. Review the request, trust your team’s feedback and discuss with your client. If possible, you should build some wiggle room into project schedules with the understanding that no undertaking is static from start to finish.

As Scott Berkun suggests, tolerate ambiguity, pursue perfection.

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