Paul Graham February 11, 2020
Whether you do retail, event planning, or are part of an agency, project management is a necessity. Managing projects one-by-one not only saves costs, but it helps organise teams who are all working toward a unified goal.
The Australian Project Management Institute (PMI), defines project management as the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
When you hone in on an actual project, we’re talking about a temporary endeavor that will ultimately create a unique product, service, or result.
Perhaps it’s a project as vast as developing a new exhibit or designing a new retail storefront. Or maybe it’s something as specific as putting together a new flyer for your business.
No matter the scope, implementing project management techniques will not only help you get organised, but it’ll save you time and money in the long run.
Irving Goldfinger, Project Manager at Actualize Consulting, a financial services consulting firm, says that Project Management is as much an art as it is a skill. He explains, “A Project Manager has the eye of an artist and can see the final product. They envision the final deliverable, start with a blank canvas, and transform it into a finished work of art.”
In this article, that’s what we’re going to show you. We’re going to cover everything you ever wanted to know about being a stellar project manager or producer.
Whether you’re in a creative, artistic, or entertainment-based profession (producer), or an IT, engineering, or science-based profession (project manager), you’re going to glean at least something from this!
Feel free to jump ahead at any point:
Let’s get right into it!
As a project manager or producer, you’re constantly working with others to reach a common goal. That’s why some of the best project managers and producers know how to get the best out of their colleagues while simultaneously doing all the things it takes to successfully complete a project on-budget and on-time.
Mike DePrisco, VP of global solutions at PMI explains:
“Being a great project manager requires more than just technical skills. The most successful organisations seek project managers with a combination of capabilities across a variety of domains including: leadership, technical project management, strategic and business management, and digital skills.
This combination of competencies supports long-range strategic objectives, and through our research we’ve seen that 40 percent more projects meet goals and original business intent when project managers embody these skills.”
Dave Hatter, an IT project manager of over 25 years and holder of many project management certifications including Scrum, PMI, Six Sigma, and more, says that communication is the key to becoming a leading project manager or producer.
“Communicate clearly and regularly,” he says. “That, and maintain a sense of humor.”
You may have heard the phrase “communication is key,” but in the workplace, that’s an understatement. Good and constant communication between team members not only increases productivity, but it reduces turnover rates, makes employees feel valued, and ultimately develops a very efficient team.
Scott Perry, Sr. Project Manager for Catchers Home, says, “Intra-team communication that is frequent, transparent, comprehensive, and clear is one of the keys to excelling in project management.”
Celeste Hause, Project Manager for Portent, Inc., a Clearlink Digital Agency, says that overcommunication is your ally. “Try to establish a consistent approach when communicating details for any project so those involved are always informed of current status, owner, next steps, and timing.”
By consistently communicating these elements, you’ll avoid any miscommunications on expectations. It also opens up the floor for commentary – your teammates have the chance to speak up before that window has passed.
Ah, the micromanagers are shaking in their boots. Yes, the ability to delegate tasks is a skill that the best project managers and producers can do well.
First, you have to learn to let go. It can feel like you’re the only one who can complete that task well, but in reality, that’s not true! As long as you establish a system of accountability, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
As you start to delegate things off of your plate, you’ll want to take note of the strengths and weaknesses of your teammates. And of course, always include clear instructions when you’re delegating a new task. If the task or project isn’t done to your liking, ask yourself: did I set expectations and give enough instruction to achieve my desired result?
If you’re a producer in any capacity, there will be times when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
At the last second, you realise the venue forgot to set up the sound system. You forgot the presentation handouts at your first conference. You completely underestimated the budget or the timeline.
Whatever the case may be, great project managers and producers can handle pressure well, and they show it.
Whether it’s maintaining a sense of calm around you, focusing on solutions rather than the problem, steering clear of drama in the workplace, or simply knowing when it’s time for a holiday, it’s important to show senior leadership that you can handle the heat.
However, knowing when it’s too much to bear is also important. The Australian Psychological Society explains that when occupational stress becomes chronic, it can cause issues with not only your physical health, but also your risk of anxiety and mood related problems.
Prolonged, chronic stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health, so recognize when you need to take a walk, and when you need to sit down with your supervisor for a heart-to-heart.
You’re the leader for your team, and they look to you for support, motivation, and guidance. A positive, upbeat attitude has the power to not only increase employee morale, but it can also increase productivity levels.
A negative attitude, on the other hand, can permeate an entire building. A study done by the Harvard Business Review revealed that 80% of people who experienced a negative attitude lost time worrying about it, leading to nearly half of them either not working as hard or spending less overall time working.
The study went on to show that 78% felt their commitment to the organisation decline, and 25% of them took their frustration out on a customer.
The best project managers and producers know that team morale is the only way to complete projects well, so a positive attitude is a must-have attribute.
Hause explains that prioritization is key for success as a PM. “At any given moment, you need to understand what you should be working on and where you have flexibility. This not only applies to your work as a Project Manager, but more importantly, in providing direction to your teams.”
Prioritization should be your guide for how you approach your work. If you don’t understand what your priorities are, you can’t properly manage your teammates on what they need to do.
As DePrisco mentioned, technical project management skills are one of the most important components of a successful project manager.
Perry agrees, saying, “Technical expertise is arguably the most important element for project management success.”
That comes with experience and also education. We’ll get more into project management approaches, methodologies, and certifications shortly.
Perry says that to be a truly effective PM, you need both technical and soft skills. He explains, “A number of prominent thinkers, speakers and writers working in the Project Management space these days argue that soft skills are by far the most important elements of PM success today, enabling PMs who excel at this to grow their career at a far faster pace than those who don’t.”
He says that a few ways you can demonstrate outstanding soft skills include:
Perry says that executing these skills daily while leading your project to an on-time, on-budget, on-scope outcome is a recipe for advancement as a producer.
If you’re already a practicing project manager or producer, you’re likely familiar with the dozens of project management methodologies, including:
It would be impossible to give a full explanation of all of these methodologies here as many of them have entire certification courses behind them, but it is important to take a look at them with fresh eyes.
What approaches are the top producers taking?
Our own research has shown us that the best project managers and producers are well-versed in multiple approaches and methodologies.
For example, Hatter holds a variety of certifications, including three from PMI, two from Scrum, and one from Six Sigma. Hatter says, “Waterfall is best for projects that have very clear requirements, Agile is best for projects where the requirements are less certain.”
It just goes to show that knowing several approaches can help you tackle any project with the highest efficiency.
If we take a look at other leading project managers and producers, we see that Michael Moore, Sr. Lead Project Manager at Fifth Third Bank, holds certifications that span many, many PM methodologies including Scrum, Six Sigma, Waterfall, Agile, and Kanban.
If you don’t have any, or perhaps only or two certifications, it’s worthwhile to expand and tackle additional methodologies. Whether it’s getting certified, which is great to add to your resume, or reading up on them online, learning and growing your skills is a great step toward become an even better project manager.
In order to be the best producer you can be, you need access to top PM tools and softwares. However, Ethan Segal, CEO and Founder of Segal & Co Digital Marketing, explains, “Understanding what the goals, deadlines and expectations are for a project are critical first steps and mapping out efficient pathways to reaching these destinations come next. The many tools out there only help make this all happen more smoothly. However, being able to manage adversity that is inevitable with any complex project is more crucial than the tools used.”
Keep in mind that these tools are used to make your projects run even more smoothly, but they don’t do all the work for you.
Plus, you’re only human – Hause says that trying to memorize and recall everything is noble, but it’ll eventually lead to oversight somewhere. “Invest some time before the day gets hectic to organise yourself and leverage a tool that allows you to capture all of the items that will inevitably be floating around later.”
If we look at sheer market share, according to Apps Run the World, the top 5 project management softwares today are Oracle, Microsoft, ServiceNow, SAP, and Planview.
Oracle offers a lot of features to help you track your projects, including cross-project dashboards, portfolio analytics, automated task completion, collaboration, real-time performance monitoring, and more.
Microsoft Project features built-in templates, scheduling tools, integrations that allow analytics, and time management oversight. Microsoft Project also includes agile, which gives you visual task boards that support Scrum, Kanban, or custom workflows. You can choose the methodology that makes sense for your project, including agile, waterfall, or a hybrid.
ServiceNow is particularly geared towards IT teams as it improves collaboration with stakeholders and has process automations. You can organise development tasks into projects, programs, and portfolios. ServiceNow supports Scrum, Waterfall, Agile, and mixed development efforts.
SAP is designed to help project managers and producers develop new products and services profitably by optimizing resources and speeding up time to market. You’ll have real-time insights into project process and costs, you can prioritize projects according to business goals, and tie project management to financial processes.
Finally, Planview helps drive a strategic plan using program management and roadmapping to define top-down timeframes and financials. Using the software, you can optimize your resource capacity, manage and deliver all types of work, break down project budgets, and analyse project performance.
Keep in mind that there are a plethora of project management software systems out there. A few honorable mentions include Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Wrike, Zoho, Smartsheet, Asana, and Monday.
Hause recommends Trello for managing tasks, and she says it’s as flexible as you need to be. “Whether you organise by client, department, priority, or project type, having these different tracks sorted out ahead of time allows you to quickly capture and triage action items in their relevant lane to address later.”
Trello also integrates with email, which is a nice addition.
Hause also recommends Atlassian Jira for organisations with operations that are further developed. “Jira is an excellent tool to automate how work moves through to completion. Everyone on your team has visibility and can understand details, status, assignee, and where the project is within the project lifecycle all at a glance. ”
Also, tools like Slack will open up communication, particularly if any of your team members are remote.
When we think about the top project managers or producers, it’s a combination of skills, experience, and growth.
Hause says that being an awesome project manager isn’t just about the scope, budget, or timeline. She explains, “What’s more important is supporting the people you’re working with and creating a work environment that is conducive to productivity.”
Hause says that there’s an art to project management. Connecting people in order to achieve results is how you truly succeed.
The top producers have strong communication and leadership skills, but management skills also aren’t to be overlooked.
The best PMs admit when they don’t know something, they work as a team, and they’re always asking questions.
Producers who excel hold focused meetings with a purpose, they recognize their own weaknesses and the weaknesses of their team members, and they’re always clarifying the details.
The best project managers and producers understand the goals and risks of a project, they management expectations along the way, and they learn from their failures.
Hause says, “You don’t need to know everything, but you need to be able to balance the details and the big picture, have a clear understanding of expectations in a delivery context, and be able to communicate status and next steps.”
On top of all that, the top project managers and producers are constantly learning and growing. Whether it’s taking basic soft skills courses, being active in a Project Management LinkedIn group like this one, or getting new PM methodology certifications, growth is a key part of being an excellent producer.
That’s how you’ll stand out from the crowd.
Beyond that, there’s also something to be said for a honed-in work process. Dan Fradenburgh, CTO for Freeland Ventures, manages a staff of project managers and explains that splitting up your day into parts will help you ensure everything is done properly and on time.
He explains, “First, you should do the quick and simple tasks you can finish, and that should be roughly 20-25% of your day. Next, you move on to the largest project and focus on that for about 40% of your day. The rest will be set aside for administrative tasks like emails, meetings, and requests for the deliverables that you’ll need for the next day.”
The best producers have developed a system that works for them that allows them to be as productive as possible.
When all is said and done, Hause says that the real truth is this: “An awesome project manager is only awesome because they have an awesome team behind them.”
“Regardless of your industry, there are a number of really useful methodologies to help project managers and producers at every stage of a project from start to implementation to closure.”
"By implementing project management methodologies, businesses can gain control over the running of a particular project and always ensure that the project is on track and within budgets."
David De Freitas
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