There are many resources for aspiring or practicing project managers. A cursory internet search turns up a multitude of tools, theories, and certifications. While the inherent rigidity of project management is important, soft skills often play a huge role in determining the outcome of a project. The behaviors outlined below reflect learnings that I’ve accumulated over the years to improve my projects and provide the most amount of value I can to any project owner.
Immediately Begin Building Bridges
Most projects are not completed in a vacuum, so you must first determine all the players. Who are these individuals, what are their priorities and what are they being measured against? Understanding the goals your stakeholders are pursuing and how they are reviewed by their managers will go a long way toward obtaining project alignment.
Once you have the foundational understanding of the alignment, you can strategize how to manage differing personalities. Who will be the key go-to individuals? Who feels like they need to be heard? Are there group dynamics that need to be addressed from the beginning? Practicing empathy in your approach is a great way to grow your relationships to the point where you can lean on people to perform in the most critical times.
See the Bigger Picture
It's easy to get so laser focused on the project's end result that any adjustments that deviate from the original plan appear to be monumental obstacles. While sticking to a roadmap is important, being able to step back and observe the project from the highest level can help you to identify any unforeseen issues before they happen.
Stepping back is the first step to discovering bottlenecks, repairing broken processes, and negotiating potential personnel conflicts. Take a few minutes to think past the day-to-day executional tasks and understand the dynamics at hand. Often, it’s the best way to further refine your processes and drive efficiencies throughout the project.
Follow Up and Follow Through
Many project disasters can be attributed to a lack of attention to detail. There are many ways to avoid this, but two of the most important are following up with individuals and following through on the commitments you've made to others.
Follow up meetings with discussion notes and list the tasks that were assigned to each participant. This is an excellent way to strengthen the group by keeping everyone aware of how their work fits into the bigger picture of the overall project. Plus, you’ll be surprised at the responses you'll receive from individuals that had forgotten a commitment they've made – a commitment that may be critical to the team’s success.
Commitment works both ways however, it’s not always demanding output from others. Following through on your assigned tasks may seem obvious, but even the smallest effort may go a long way in gaining other’s trust. Something as small as not knowing the answer to a question, but committing to finding and answer and following through on the delivery will set the tone for group expectations.
Own Your Failures
Hey, nobody wins 'em all. There are almost always aspects of your overall project that do not go as planned. Hopefully you've taken the necessary steps to minimize any disastrous risks, but when you hit the inevitable bump in the road answer it with a strategic plan to get back on track.
Panicking and immediately escalating problems to the project owner or manager usually just adds to the pandemonium. Instead, understand where and how the failure occurred. Is it a one-time hit or are you on track for a recurring issue? What are the steps for repair and how have you removed the chance for it occurring again? When alerting others to a problem, always package it with a potential solution. It demonstrates control, and may prevent the project from spiraling out of control.
With these core behaviors in mind, you can improve the delivery time and success of your projects through just a few simple adjustments in how you run your project.