Last month, I looked at 3 areas where project managers can mentor and support their team members: risk management, task management, and managing multiple projects. Today I’m looking at 3 more areas where I know people struggle – and where project managers are uniquely placed to be able to help them do a better job.
1. Managing scope
Project scope changes regularly – we all know that having a change management process in place is good project management practice. But dealing with constant changes is hard work for the team, even if the right process is followed.
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Project scheduling is more than simply putting tasks in a list. It’s about managing dependencies and the resources to do the work. It’s understanding how to crash the schedule when you need to save some time and what risks that presents to your projects.
As a project manager, you’ve got a great set of skills to help others on the team understand how to schedule their own work. If they aren’t confident at scheduling you can coach them through it.
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Help them use the right tools. You can’t build out a schedule in Excel, not a proper one. Get them access to the right software and show them how to use it.
Understand the flow of the project and what has to happen in what order. Help them understand the dependencies and the different ways tasks link to each other.
Make sure estimates are accurate so they are scheduling with data that’s actually going to stand up.
3. Budget planning
In my experience, project managers tend to worry about handling the financial aspects of projects, and that isn’t necessary. If you manage your household budget, the principles are pretty similar! It has also been my experience that we are expected to pick it up as we go. I don’t think I’ve ever had any specific, company-relevant training on how to work with Finance and do project budgeting.
However, junior colleagues or those who haven’t had to manage big numbers before might need a confidence boost and some support with this skill. Especially if they are in the same situation of never having been shown how to do this before.
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There are lots of ways we can help colleagues and mentor them; these are just 3 areas that I find come up time and time again. What about you? What do you get asked about the most? Let me know in the comments!
These days, project teams are expected to do so many different things, from deep dive root cause analysis to making sure that projects align to strategy. As a team, you’re both in the weeds of the project and also trying to communicate the big picture to stakeholders.
Let’s face it, it can be difficult to have all those skills – I mean, have you seen the latest PMBOK® Guide?! Between that and the Standard for Project Management there are hardly any management and leadership skills that a project manager is not supposed to have.
However, we aren’t able to say, “I’m not very good with PowerPoint so we won’t create slide decks for status reporting.” We have to be all-rounders, even if we aren’t very good in some areas, or don’t enjoy those tasks.
Here are 3 skills for project managers that I know from my mentoring work that people in project roles have difficulty with. I’ve also included some tips for how to improve, if you choose to do so. If you lead a team and find your colleagues struggle in these areas, perhaps the ideas will help them.
1. Risk management
Large programmes may have a dedicated risk manager on the team, but if that isn’t you then you’ll have to get stuck in with risk identification, analysis and management yourself. In my experience, there are several areas that people struggle with:
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2. Task Management
This skill is all about managing your To Do list and making sure tasks have owners. It’s also time management overall on the project, so it encompasses resource levelling and capacity planning so you don’t overload people with too many tasks.
People seem to struggle managing their workload and time, and that leads to them feeling overwhelmed and overloaded.
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3. Managing multiple projects
These days, most people are managing more than one project. There are still people who lead one large, complex project, but many people are finding themselves running several initiatives at the same time, sometimes with the same resources.
This can lead to each project inching forward at a snail’s pace, lack of understanding about which project should be worked on, feeling overwhelmed as your To Do list encompasses several projects, dealing with conflict between stakeholders, all of whom feel their project is the top priority.
I wrote a book about this exact problem, which came out last month, so check out Managing Multiple Projects from wherever you buy your books if you are struggling with the juggling.
Meanwhile, here are some tips to help.
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What other skills do you think are key to project management but are actually pretty hard to do? Let me know in the comments!
Data is a differentiator. Companies that can capture what customers buy, like, and use can interrogate that data to provide insights that help them stay ahead of the curve. Big data is the term given to the storage and analysis of workplace data for the purpose of creating meaningful management information.
The data from collaboration and project management tools is a subset of all this data. Real-time project analytics can add huge value to streamlining project management processes and in identifying early warning signs for projects.
Being able to parse a discussion thread from your collaboration tool and single out potential risks and issues could change the role of the project manager in the future. Furthermore, natural language searches will make it easier to include narrative discussions, meeting minutes, and more in the data analysis, saving hours of time when investigating or predicting problems. All of this data could be used to predict the future success (or otherwise) of projects.
There is already work happening in this sphere: The PMO Flashmob here in the UK held a session recently looking at the role of AI in the project office and project management domain. While I didn’t attend, they did publish some interesting Inside PMO report on the topic.
There’s also been a discussion around RPA – robotic processing automation (in other words, using algorithms to process info instead of humans – it’s not ‘real’ robots sitting at a desk next to you doing PMO work). There is a lot of scope for development in this space, freeing up knowledge workers to – you know – actually use their brains for stuff and building relationships to help get projects done.
Data presentation techniques
Allied to the big data revolution is the rise of data presentation techniques, because the trouble with all that data is that it is very difficult to understand. There is a trend toward simple, clean designs for websites and tools with high usability and a very visual impact. The growth of social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest, plus the sudden, recent spike in the number of infographics doing the rounds on sharing sites shows that users are gravitating toward images.
This is relevant to project management collaboration tools because project managers have to adapt the way they communicate to suit the needs of stakeholders. If the needs of stakeholders are evolving to include a requirement for more visuals, then project managers will need to move away from text-based project reports to a more engaging way of sharing status updates.
Visual data presentation is not new to project management—after all, that’s really what a Gantt chart is. Kanban, too, is a visual project management approach and many agile teams work with visual plans. We could well see the visual preference for presenting data manifesting itself in more tools that use images and visual workflows in conjunction with traditional Gantt charts.
This article includes a few points that were made in my PMI book: Collaboration Tools for Project Managers. Given what we’ve been going through and seeing so far this year, it felt appropriate to try to pick out some comments on tech for teams and where that might be taking us – because it seems to me that virtual working is here to stay.
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Virtual meetings can be a huge time and cost saver, but the last thing you need is to be stuck on project calls that take up all day.
If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you will have been on calls where you’ve sneakily gone on mute because the meeting isn’t relevant to you, or you have nothing to add, or some other reason. While it’s better not to multi-task during a virtual meeting, and even better to not go to meetings that aren’t relevant for you, sometimes virtual meetings are a must.
You can make virtual meetings better. This quick video shares 3 easy tips for making virtual meetings that little bit more productive for everyone.
These tips came from a fantastic presentation on virtual meetings at a PMI event by Dr Penny Pullan. You can read more about that presentation here.
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Managing virtual teams is a skill. You can learn how to do it better, but getting the best out of a virtual team takes practice.
Let’s give you a head start. I spoke to five experienced project managers about how they manage virtual teams.
Here is what they had to say about making working virtually a success.
I have gone to great lengths at times to actually meet someone in person. This is particularly true of suppliers that don’t want to come in. I go there instead. The cost is worth it, especially if they are international.
We are increasingly working with European suppliers. Meeting them seems to be the key and conferences are good opportunities for this.
Paul Nicholson, MBCS, UK
Keep the lines of communication open. Meet face-to-face either in person or via video conferencing as often as possible. Even conference calling is better than relying solely on emails.
Listen carefully to what the team are saying and seek clarification if things aren’t crystal.
Helen Curel, UK
Oooh, difficult one... This is a subject where I know I have lots to learn, but:
Communication is key. Regular update calls, followed up with action task lists specifying who is doing what and by when. Don’t assume anything is being taken care of. Always double check.
Claire Sezer, FCILEx, UK
One-on-one calls are important when you have a virtual team. Dealing with a problem or individual task follow-up on a team call that you could have resolved with a phone call to one or two team members wastes everyone else’s time.
The Common Theme: Communicate!
Virtual working is often chosen because it has a stack of benefits, not least that it can be cheaper as there are no office overheads, less requirement to travel and you can use outsourced (i.e. cheaper) resources from wherever in the world is best placed to provide them.
As you can see, communicating is a key strand that runs through all these pieces of advice. A virtual team needs as much, if not more communication than a co-located team. Reducing the ‘virtual-ness’ of a team will help them gel much faster and give you a greater insight into how to get them working together productively so that the work can progress at pace.
Got any other tips for making virtual teams work successfully and not just turn into a cost-cutting exercise? Let us know in the comments below.