A Project Manager Perspective on Project Management
Do you remember when project management was viewed as strictly a science?
This began to change over the past decade as the ‘art’ of project management increasingly became a topic of discussion. Until this point, the profession was measured through conventional tools, or as Project Management Institute (PMI) refers to them, the “mechanics” of project management. But what was missing from the manuals of the past was an acknowledgement of the art of project management.
In fact, PMI estimated in 2012 that the success of a project manager (PM) is dependent on using 20% science and 80% art. And although this “art” has ever so slightly shifted focus in subsequent years, and can be interpreted differently across organizations, we believe the following three aspects of project management are critical to effectively mastering the ‘art’ of project management.
PROJECT MANAGER PERSPECTIVE
Getting the Job Done with business-oriented results. That’s the main objective.
In the words of our own Senior Project Manager,
“The very definition of a project infers that it has a start and end date, which means for those of us that need to see an end-product through, we can keep our eyes on “the prize” and physically see (or experience) the results of our labor upon completion.”
Yes, budget, time, and successfully meeting requirements is important, but it’s not the entire equation — these operations are only half of the larger picture.
In order for a project manager (PM) to “see” the fruits of their labor they need to thoroughly understand the business objectives at stake i.e., how will this project impact the organization and all stakeholders involved (customers, shareholders, and the team). So, although getting the job done is still a true indicator of project-management performance, it must be balanced with an understanding of business objectives if a Project Manager wishes to perform and experience long-term success.
There’s another important factor which allows a project manager to get the job done with business-oriented results while also allowing them to “see” the end result: planning.
As children we repeatedly heard the saying, “practice makes perfect,” but project managers have learned to substitute in a new p-word to slightly alter the saying: ‘planning’ makes perfect.
As a project manager, when you hear that a team needs a leader who can ‘get the job done,’ it’s important to recognize that this means something different today than it did just five years ago. From the perspective of sustainability-driven professions (having a reputation for innovative ideas), the International Society of Sustainability Professionals breaks planning down into these components:
- What are the requirements — what needs to happen for successful completion?
- How will you manage change during the project?
- How will you ensure that the project is delivering a quality solution?
- What communication strategy will you implement? How will that look for each team member?
- What risk is there for this project — what could go wrong (and if it does, how will I fix it)?
- How do you break down the project into a schedule to avoid delays and manage the workflow?
In many ways a good project manager should be able to manage any type of project, be it building a bridge or creating a mobile app. But how do some PMs become good with such diverse project environments? The answer lies in mastering the art of communication. And as PMI expresses,
“Nothing is more important to the success of a project than effective communication; more effective communication = Better project management.”
Much like the strategic communication plan for an organization, an experienced project manager should be able to identify all stakeholders involved in a project, and develop a communication plan with their interests in mind. It’s this skill in particular which establishes a mood, tone, or ambiance supporting collaboration among a team. Additionally, there will be times when a project manager will work with managers from across the enterprise, or interface directly with customers. This positions them as a direct extension of the company, its image, and reputation with stakeholders — not a responsibility to take lightly, and one which is entirely dependent on communication.
Other than personal communication, there are technology tools that allow a project manager to maintain contact with the team. Virtual meeting spaces with video and chat allow teams spread across the world to feel as if they’re in the next room over from each other. And the same is true when working with customers and company management, which is why the art of communication for project management emphasizes voice, tone, vocabulary, and body language. Combined, these factors either create challenging barriers or functional relationships, and performance is optimized with the latter of the two.
From the perspective of an experienced PM, communication starts with identifying the unique needs of all stakeholders through dialogue and establishing a process to facilitate interaction. The ‘art’ of communication then functions to add context to the project: answering questions such as who, what, where, when, and how. And finally, as teamwork cultivates production the unique environment of the project is realized, allowing the PM to assimilate with the organizational culture and norms.
Communication is hands down the one skill that can make or break the success of a project from the very beginning. If a PM can’t communicate then it doesn’t matter how good he/she is with the remaining aspects of the project. The project in all likelihood will fail. All the more reason to realize your limitations, and trust/support your project team. These simple guidelines will help a PM produce great products and solutions.
BE A BRAND EVANGELIST
That said, the more subject matter experience (and therefore knowledge) a project manager has the better they will perform on the job (or, at least their odds of success are greater). This leads us to a differentiating factor for many PMs today: for certain projects, being a brand or product evangelist can be more impactful than simply being an expert.
Let’s refer to it as “passion for the project.” In other words, a leader who believes in the project and team with confidence and excitement. It’s a very good sign if the PM is the project’s biggest supporter, and is effective in spreading this passion and commitment to other team members.
Supporting the project with enthusiasm should compliment the experience that a leader carries with them. Once the PM forms a strong understanding of any given project, they will better identify pitfalls and establish success indicators early on within the project timeline, better serving all stakeholders. In reality, they are better off acquiring this experience prior to searching for or landing a new project to lead. And as a candidate, they will be much more competitive, either as a consultant or employee.
A caveat to embracing the evangelist role, the project manager should never try to be a “know it all.” Instead, they should be the pulse of the project; build a capable, enthusiastic team of appropriately skilled people that can craft something great. Beyond that, understanding the needs and mentality of individual team members and making sure they’re able to work on what they know best without being distracted by tasks someone else may be better suited for is a priority.
Remember, not everyone is going to be the “A” type personality–go-getter, make-it-happen type of person. In the end, studying the fine balance of team dynamics and trying to build a balanced team according to the type of project will pay dividends.
In 2017, the ‘art’ of project management may be even more important than the science. There, we said it, but let’s not get carried away, the mechanics of the profession remain very important and serve as the foundation of a product manager’s skill set. From getting the job done to being the team’s biggest supporter, the modern PM must be ready to adapt to people.
Shenhar, A. (2012). What’s the next generation of project management? Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2012 — North America, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Rajkumar, S. (2010). Art of communication in project management. Paper presented at PMI® Research Conference: Defining the Future of Project Management, Washington, DC. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.