Five Resolutions for the Modern Project Manager

| , SVP of Marketing

Now that the holidays are in the rear view mirror, January is over, and the Superbowl is in the air, it’s time for project management professionals to buckle down and focus. Many of you have already missed your resolutions or are off to a bad start (guilty as charged here), but it isn’t too late to scrap your old resolutions and challenge yourself with new ones.  If it makes you feel better, you can tell yourself that you are being “agile.”

Here are my favorite resolutions for any project manager:

Seek to contribute business value

As a project manager, you play a crucial role in propelling your organization forward through successful delivery of initiatives. You have likely mastered project execution through the effective use of plans, processes, and influence.  These efforts result in the completion of projects on-time and on-budget. On the surface this sounds like a win, but is it really enough in this hyper-competitive world? As a project management professional, you need to think beyond delivery or execution and look at how your efforts can make more business impact.

Understand how your project contributes to the business, so that you can make better decisions and recommendations during the execution phase. All too common we focus on the output (i.e. completing the project or task) without understanding why.  By understanding the desired outcome of the project work, you will naturally find yourself taking actions that will contribute more business value over the course of execution – not just completing something that was handed or assigned to you.  We will always be expected to deliver, but you can supplement successful delivery by looking at the bigger picture and asking the simple question: “why are we doing this (project/initiative/fill in the blank)?”

Increase communication & status reporting  

You may think that you are providing sufficient communication about projects and initiatives.  However, the reality is that most project managers only report out when things are going well or “in the green.”  While this makes us feel good and keeps us under the radar, it does not help the organization.  Your stakeholders and management are looking for ways to help you – by removing roadblocks, making prioritization decisions, and providing guidance.  If they are only aware of on-time and on-budget projects, then there is little opportunity for them to add value to the discussion.  So the result is you feeling like you are being “micro-managed” and a missed opportunity to take advantage of an attentive, supportive management team.

Don’t believe me?  Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a Gartner analyst.  Their research found that 80% of business executives believe that project managers should provide accurate status reports (the good, bad, and the ugly), but only 33% felt that project managers are actually doing it well. Reporting is simply a gap in most organizations and this gap directly impacts the organization’s performance.  By setting a goal to communicate more often, you will facilitate healthy conversations that foster better decision making.

Help optimize resources

If you are a mildly experienced project manager, then you know how to utilize the resources that are assigned to you.  Most of us take the resources, assess the project, make a project plan, and execute.  Very rarely do I hear of project managers assessing the skills of the team and making recommendations back to the resource manager or line of business.  You may provide feedback that you do not have enough resources or the wrong skillset, but what about helping the organization to make better resourcing decisions in the future? This might sound challenging as you may not have visibility into the entire workforce or have experience working with everyone.  However, you have one thing that the others do not – first-hand experience working with resources on a day-to-day basis.

Over the course of the project, you learn strengths and weaknesses of team members and may even observe certain behaviors like who works well together, which team member is a stronger problem solver, or who has more proactive tendencies. These are the softer elements that sometimes are not captured in a spreadsheet, project management software, or project portfolio management (PPM) system.  These are conversations that you must have with the appropriate members of the organization.  By having these conversations, you will demonstrate leadership and help the optimization of future resourcing decisions.  Remember not to sound like you are complaining or making a political move, but rather providing feedback to optimize resources with organizational goals.

Learn to say “no”

This is my favorite one.  As project management professionals, we aim to please.  We want to be the one that helped deliver that difficult project, overcame obstacles, and beat the odds; but sometimes it is okay to say “no.”  I’m not saying you need to defy your manager or stakeholders and refuse to follow directives, but it is okay to pushback when the directive does not make business sense or is not setup for success.

When is this the case? Several situations come to mind:

  • When you do not have enough (or the appropriate) resources to successfully complete a project, yet you still agree to the timeline.
  • When a resource is pulled and you are not clear about the consequences of the decision.
  • When the requested work is not urgent AND important. Many times important things can wait and things that cannot wait are not important.  Do not let disruptions distract you from achieving the goals or meeting business outcomes.

Learning to say “no” is about forcing the organization to prioritize and stay focused on the commitments.  Sometimes it takes a little pushback and conversation to keeps resources, stakeholders, and the organization accountable.

Don’t be an obstacle

This may sound contrary to the resolution above, but there are two parts to this resolution.  The first is that you do not want to have the reputation of being inflexible for taking on new work that was not originally planned.  The second, is when you do say “yes” to work that was not originally planned, don’t be an obstacle or make it difficult.  Even though we all know that PMO stands for project management office, many identify their PMO as the team who “passes more on” because of the added complexity and bureaucracy that project management processes impose on the organization.  Project managers need to increase agility and be flexible. Although processes for project approvals and governance are important, sometimes it just makes sense to do the right thing, even if it means not doing it “right.” Make a pledge this year to remove obstacles and help your organization complete more, even if you have to bend the rules slightly.

While the ideas above are not Earth shattering, I believe they are very relevant in today’s business environment. It’s not too late for you to adjust your resolutions – there are still 11 months left in 2016, focus on making them count.

 

A version of this post originally appeared in www.projectsatwork.com.