How to execute a successful project
You don’t need to be a Project Manager to benefit from the project management skills: the core skills that you’ll see a great Project Manager utilising will benefit most roles. Like so many things within the workplace, it’s about transferable skills - once you’ve learnt them, you’ve got them to reuse as often as you need them.
Let’s identify the skills a good Project Manager will use to deliver successful projects.
What are the core project management skills?
Effective communication is the lifeblood of most successful professionals. When managing projects, there are particular skills around this that are essential to drive success:
Stakeholder engagement - this might be your boss, your client, your supplier(s) or any combination of all of these. Essentially, a stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in how the project is progressing and the outcome. Often, it’s because it’ll affect them in some way. This means you need to balance out how much and how often they’re updated on progress as they’ll probably have a view on what it’ll take to keep them comfortable.
Listening and clarifying - this is particularly important during the initial scoping and planning stage. Taking the time (even if you’re running an AGILE project) to ensure that you fully understand what you need to deliver, asking some seemingly obvious questions and ensuring that you’re clear on the end vision will save a lot of time and confusion down the line.
Clarifying questions such as ‘When you say ‘X’ do you mean ‘A’ or ‘B’?’ or ‘What about if ‘Z’ happens instead?’ can be your best friend.
Written vs. verbal - This is always an interesting one: how much should you get down in writing versus sharing verbally?
It’d de-risk the project to have the following down in writing:
- Legal stuff - contracts, agreements etc.
- Scope, project plan, specification
- Task lists
- Bug tracking
Verbal communication is better used for informal updates, quick requests etc. rather than anything that you might need to refer back to at a later date.
And with the amount of tech readily available to help with tracking all of this, the question is really why wouldn’t you?
Unsurprisingly, this is a paramount skill given that one of the core deliverables of any project is ‘on time’. Planning involves understanding what needs to happen to complete the scope of work and in what order. Sometimes, it’s about knowing that a delivery date isn’t possible and having to have that awkward conversation with your stakeholders.
Who needs to do what, when and in which order? Answer that.
It follows on that organisation is needed to ensure that your plans are delivered and any changes are factored into the plan. A lot of the time, organising refers as much to the practical elements, for example, files, assets, documents etc. Is everything stored and filed in a coherent way for the entire team to access? As it does to the overall organisation of the project.
Sometimes, people confuse creating a Risk Register with Risk Management. You shouldn’t as creating a Risk Register is focussed on only one part of Risk Management process i.e. identifying risks.
The wider risk management process involves:
- Identifying risks and understanding the likelihood of them occurring
- As far as possible, mitigating those risks
- Sometimes, it’ll be about maintaining those risks as some things can’t be de-risked
- Monitoring those risks to see if the assessment is still right
It also involves understanding the risk appetite of your stakeholders - if they’re really risk averse (ie can’t stand the idea of any risk) then it’ll be a case of ensuring greater focus goes onto de-risking the project.
It’s fairly common that everyone thinks that the issue/task they’re working on is the number one most important thing ever. Most of the time, they’ll be wrong. Sometimes they’re right and it's even more challenging when 2 people are probably right about this at the same time.
Your role when this happens is to decide what is the absolute priority for the project. This can be particularly tough, especially when you’re working under pressure.
Not necessarily a skill unique to project management - it’s something that we have to deal with across various personal and professional scenarios. Some people are naturally stronger at this than others - again, though, that’s pretty much like any skill. It’s important to raise it here because projects are rarely perfect; they are invariably short on time, money or both. There will be an unforeseen complication. For a lot of projects, there is a point where it feels as if it’s all going wrong. What will make you excel as a Project Manager is knowing this, gritting your teeth and ensuring that you focus on these skills to get you through.