Project management is a job that’s easy to underestimate, with project managers themselves often inaccurately lowballing how much coffee they’ll need to get through to project completion. With the wide array of workload that falls on a PM, it becomes important to master several key skills to help you manage it all.
So without further adieu, let’s take a look at that project management skills survival kit.
1. See the Big Picture
It’s easy to get bogged down in details. While it’s important to understand the minute details, one of the most important project management skills is to take some time to understand the big picture as well. This will help you ensure the whole project stays aligned to the company’s actual needs and will help you prioritize any project change requests you may get. When you can visualize how the project fits into the whole puzzle, you’ll know whether changing the scope of the project makes sense in terms of cost, timing, and contractual implications.
To understand the big picture, keep in mind how your project fits into what your company is trying to accomplish. Here are five ways to achieve that :
- Read the annual report to understand exactly how your company makes money.
- Go to internal networking events—or start some, if there aren’t any already.
- Read what the media is saying about your company and industry.
- Join a professional organization for some industry-wide context.
- Ask questions. It’s better to understand details than it is to appear confident.
2. Be Flexible, But Stay Focused
It’s important to keep in mind the difference between tactics and strategy: strategy is focused on the long term goals, while tactics are about tackling immediate short-term objectives.
The key, is to be flexible with tactics, while staying focused on the overall strategy. How can you do that? Read these tips:
- Plan for flexibility. Always factor in time to allow for last-minute changes.
- Assemble a team you can trust to think for themselves. You shouldn’t need to micromanage your team to get them to adapt to changing conditions. Hire one that’s capable of doing it themselves.
- Watch what’s happening in real time. Using work management apps like Asana, Trello, or Wrike, and syncing them via Unito, will help everyone on your teams stay in the loop on project progress. It’ll also ensure seamless communication, and keep stakeholders updated at all times.
- Break down big tasks. Checking off small deliverables one by one creates a sense of momentum and can help you spot problematic steps before they get baked into the process.
- Try flexible contracting. The more granular the outcomes you’re contractually obligated to deliver, the more likely they’ll fail.
3. Listen More to Collaborate Better
Having good project management skills doesn’t mean being a dictator issuing unquestioned rulings. You need to be down in the trenches, talking to your team—not just so they can keep you abreast of all the great work they’re doing to make you look good, but so you can really understand what’s going on and collaborate effectively.
That said, active listening doesn’t mean you should be a doormat, but it does show you respect your team’s input. Here are four active listening tips that’ll help you collaborate better:
- Don’t assume everyone is on the same page. A project that requires multiple stakeholders and experts from multiple teams to work together, will have multiple lines of communication. This means that information often falls though the cracks and doesn’t reach the people it’s supposed to. Keep everyone in sync and aligned by managing work out of tools like Asana or Trello or employing daily scrums.
- Keep a consistent sprint planning schedule. One of the best ways to keep your project team aligned, is to host regular sprint planning meetings. Doing so regularly will ensure your team understands what’s been completed, who’s working on what, be aware of and avoid potential blockers, and prioritize upcoming tasks.
- Avoid groupthink. Nobody wants to be the lone voice, but sometimes, agreeing with the consensus is easier than pointing out with reality. Make sure you consider everyone’s opinion, even those who do not agree with you.
4. Communicate Clearly But Precisely
When communicating with your team, you have a fine line to walk. While it’s important to be concise, you shouldn’t oversimplify information either. Finding a balance between telling your team what they need to know without overloading them with unnecessary information is one of the key project management skills you need to have.
The elements of good communication are a huge topic to unpack, but these four tips provide a pretty solid foundation to start from:
- Give the right people the right info. Take time to think about who needs to know what, and communicate accordingly
- Understand any obstacles to communication. Are there political, cultural, or linguistic barriers making it hard for you and your team to really stay aligned?
- Use the right platforms. Depending on on your team’s needs —email, work management tools, or video conferencing—might facilitate communication better than others.
- Consider tone, body language, and other factors. On one hand, communicating solely via messaging or email means these factors won’t be take into account, and you may be misinterpreted. On the other hand, face-to-face communication means you have to make sure your body language is sending the right message.
4. Take Responsibility
You’re the project manager, and a good deal of the credit—or lack thereof—for the final result of the project falls on you. Whether things are going well or not, your credibility depends on whether you take accountability for strengths and weaknesses of the project, your team, and yourself. According to the old saying, success has many parents, but failure is an orphan—and as project manager, you can’t completely disown your orphan.
- Don’t transfer blame. Even if a project is falling behind because of one terrible team member, you can’t simply slough off the responsibility on to them and move on. Instead, identify the source of the problem and a brainstorm a solution.
- Build a culture of honesty: It can be tempting to disassemble when things aren’t going the way you want, but in the long run, you’re better off doing your part.
It Takes Effort To Make Project Management Look Effortless
Project management isn’t easy, but too often we forget that. When you’re working under a really good project manager who’s mastered all these project management skills, you don’t always see the amount of work they’re putting into tasks that don’t directly involve you.
If you want to become one of those project managers who makes it all look way too easy——then keep in mind all of the tips we mentioned in this post.
Got any other project management skills you’d like to share? Tweet us at @unitoio!