There is more to project management than looking after the budget, timeline and resources. Much more is needed to maximize opportunities for success. Here are five things project managers can do to achieve great results and empower team members to perform at their best.
- Plan for the best and prepare for the worst
Any experienced project manager knows that projects rarely go as planned. Even the best laid plans can be fraught with risks which can manifest into costly and time consuming issues. Some of these issues can be anticipated but others cannot. For this reason contingencies are often included into the project plan. This isn’t bad practice but doesn’t always provide the most desirable budget and timeline. Instead, layout the best case scenario and identify all of the associated risks. This creates a baseline that can be used as the project progresses to compare to when things don’t go as planned.
- Spend more time preventing fires than you do putting them out
When things don’t go as planned, project managers can spend a great deal of time “fighting fires”, essentially dealing with unscheduled issues that are both important and urgent. This is obviously necessary but can overwhelm the work day and prevent important but not yet urgent tasks from getting completed. Essentially too much time is spent reacting to real time events and not enough time is spent proactively preparing for the future. It is therefore crucial to find time to engage and focus on tasks that are important but not yet urgent. This can help to prevent fires from starting by detecting and resolving potential issues before they arise and provides an opportunity for better decision making.
- Challenge assumptions and praise great ideas
Many decisions will need to be made during the course of a project but not all of them need to be made by the project manager. Empower team members to make good decisions by challenging their assumptions but not their ideas. This fosters constructive collaboration while preventing important details from being overlooked. A project manager should praise great ideas and ensure that team member contributions are recognized.
- Check-in with team members regularly but give them enough freedom to be creative
Project contributions often come from a number of different individuals so it is important for project managers to communicate regularly and effectively. This is required to make sure activities are progressing and to confirm that priorities and deadlines are well understood. At the same time, team members need enough freedom to be creative, especially when they are engaged in a highly innovative project. Each individual is different and so their needs and preferences will vary. Some prefer plenty of collaborative interaction while others dislike meetings and too many disturbances. Some desire verbal and direct communication while others are perfectly happy to work and communicate remotely. It is important for the project manager to identify these preferences, communicate with team members accordingly and provide enough time and space for individuals to perform at their best.
- Remind the project team of the successes
Innovative projects require team members to spend a great deal of time problem solving. There are always more than enough issues to resolve and challenges to overcome. Very little focus is spent on the things that do work, the problems that have been solved and the challenges that have been overcome. This can be discouraging to individuals and can lead to stress and anxiety. It is therefore vital for project managers to remind team members of all the things that have gone well and all the successes that have been achieved. This can motivate the project team during especially difficult periods and fosters enthusiasm to tackle current and upcoming challenges.
The best project managers prepare their project teams for the challenges that lie ahead and this requires much more than simply tracking project status. They define the best case scenario while identifying and mitigating potential risks. They spend more time proactively planning for the future than they do fighting fires. They challenge assumptions collaboratively but foster and praise great ideas. They communicate with team members effectively and provide space for creativity. They recognize achievement and motivate teams for success. Great project managers empower team members to perform at their best which maximizes the opportunity for excellent results.
Dustin Demontigny is a Technical Project Manager at StarFish Medical. He walks the talk and uses his own tips to achieve great results and empower team members on a variety of medical device projects.