Effectively managing projects requires several skills and characteristics. If you’re already a project manager you know that communications, scheduling, leadership and command authority, and the ability to set, observe, and revise priorities frequently are just some of the abilities the successful project mangers employ for success. While these are important, there are 5 skills that you absolutely need to hone to ensure you’re successful in managing your projects.
1. Streamline your work processes. Nothing saps energy from you and others like poor work processes. What do poor work processes look like? Meetings without agendas, run entirely from slide presentations, or held without a clear objective. Multiple email accounts, calendars, or task lists. Lack of a process for accepting, vetting, assigning and scheduling tasks. In short, being unorganized. Successful project managers are efficient at what they do, why they do something, when they do it, and how they accomplish it.
2. Focus on one task at a time. (a.k.a. no multi-tasking!) Multi-tasking is a fact of life you need to drop TODAY. It may be hard to break the habit, but you need to put yourself through a 12-step program starting now. A quick look at recent studies (while I was focused on writing this piece) revealed as much as a 40% loss in efficiency by people who were multi-tasking versus those who were focused on a single task. Do you multi-task? If so, how would your boss treat you if she knew you were wasting 40% of your time on the clock? If you were the boss, would you keep someone around if they were wasting 40% of billable time?
3. Be persistent and diligent in your personal disciplines. Jack Canfield, creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul, sums up the reason for persistence and diligence: “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze”. Let’s say you’re committed to streamlining your meetings by generating agendas and specific deliverables to be achieved. You know that you’re going to hear the voice in your head tell you it’s okay to skip putting out an agenda/deliverables the first time you have a time crunch. That’s 99% talking. Once you skip the work, it’s easy to do it again and again. When 100% is in charge, you crank-out the agenda/deliverable document quickly, efficiently, and email it out. Soon 100% becomes a habit, it becomes non-negotiable.
4. Do what you can as early as you can do it. Procrastination is not one of the desirable traits of effective project managers. Depending on the complexity of the project you’re working, the number of issues that can go wrong require that you do what you can as soon as you can do it. This can provide you with float to cover unknown contingencies that might happen later in the project. And if none do occur…well you might just deliver early.
5. Know your project team and key stakeholders. Humans are social animals, even engineers. Even project managers. The successful project managers and engineer leaders understand that truly knowing the people whom they work with is worth more than money can buy. What do they know that the non-successful don’t? That people perform better when the environment in which they work is collegial, that the people working with them actually care about them (beyond just getting their work done on time), and when a person feels valued they’ll contribute both their mind and their heart to the work.
Successful project managers and engineer leaders alike are also constant students of technical and non-technical content alike. This is a skill that I learned early on in my career and that I continue to this day (and plan to continue until I check out). Be smart, or get smart, about both the technical aspects of the work and the people and you’ll be successful on every project you take on.
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra.” H.E. Luccock
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute
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