Things I wish I knew about project management a couple of years ago
They say it’s better to learn things the easy way. But sometimes, a hard way is the only way. The easy way being — learning from others’ mistakes. The hard way (which is the typical way), is learning from your own mistakes. And that’s the story I’m going to share through this post. The story of the lessons I learned the hard way during the last two years of my project management career.
I do wish I had someone to guide me, so I could avoid some of the classic mistakes that most project managers tend to make. But, now that I’ve been into the industry for more than a couple of years I would love to share my experience with you guys so you could avoid those mistakes. Take a look at the stuff I wish I knew when I first started out in project management -
Every project is unique
There is no one-fits-all approach in project management. As a matter of fact, no two projects will ever be the same. A common mistake that a lot of managers make is using the statistics from past or currently running projects as the basis for upcoming endeavors i.e. using the details of one project as the template for all others.
Every client is different. Timelines, expectations, task divisions, the people involved in it; everything will vary from one to the other. Always know that even if two projects share the same goals, they are still going to vary.
And so, you’re going to need to alter your working style depending on the nature of the project. This is the first lesson I learned in my career.
You cannot handle everything on your own
Perhaps you are a developer turned project manager who is overseeing a development related project. But that doesn’t mean that you can handle everyone’s work. That’s humanly impossible. A lot of managers are tempted to avoid facing the delay in work by trying to do everything on their own; just because it happens to be their area of expertise.
Maybe your team members are just starting their career. They may not be as great at something as you. But, there comes a time when you need to stop trying to handle everything on your own and start trusting others with their work.
That’s the only way they are ever going to learn and become the master of their field. If you keep interfering and micromanaging, they will never reach that stage where you could just hand them a piece of work and trust them with it, even when nobody is there to monitor them.
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Stop thinking about WIIFM and start thinking about WIIFT
What’s in it for me (WIIFM)? That’s the question we all ask whenever we start something new. If there’s nothing in it for me, why would I want to do it? The same goes with managing a project. Every manager sooner or later realizes that they need to stop thinking about ‘what’s in it for me’ and start thinking about ‘what’s in it for them’. And by them, I mean the team members.
Tell them how it will improve them; both professionally and personally, and how it will broaden their horizon. That’s the only way to get your employees to bend over backward to get something done.
If only someone had told me that people we deal with on a daily basis are more important than tasks (considering they are the ones who execute the tasks) I could have gotten things done more easily.
Don’t be in just for the glory
Another thing that every project manager eventually finds out is that managers don’t receive all the glory. Sure, they are the ones answerable when things go south. But, they don’t receive all the accolades if the project comes to fruition with flying colors. It’s because a project is always teamwork.
And so, if you’re working with the mindset of receiving the praise and the glory of having managed things like a pro, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. The praise may come, but mostly from outside such as from the clients. But don’t be too shocked if you don’t get so much credit from within the organization.
Sticking to critical path is actually critical
Project managers are trained to stick to the critical path at all times. The critical path, as we all know, comprises the most important tasks that are integral to project’s survival and timely completion. If deviated from this path, the entire project could delay or come to halt.
But, sticking to critical path works on a basic assumption that you actually know exactly which items to stick to. It’s easy for project managers to get sidetracked by being too detail-oriented on less important things while ignoring the things that really do matter.
Speaking from personal experience, it’s tempting to get involved in the littlest of things. So, you need to make sure you don’t end up deviating from the important tasks that might set the course of project back. Now that I look back, I wish someone had told me just how important it was to identify what is essential and what’s just a distraction.
You may not always see a project finish
This applies primarily to those organizations where managers juggle multiple projects(sometimes five or six projects simultaneously). Just when you are nearing the end, they will hand over the final phase of a project to some other manager and you will have a brand new project in your lap. This can sometimes leave you craving for closure.
This is another important lesson managers need to learn early in their career, so they don’t end up feeling that way. You may not always get the chance to see every project finish.
It’s ok to not know everything
You are a manager, not Google. Your job is to manage and monitor things. And so, don’t think you’re supposed to know anything and everything that makes up a project. Most managers feel inefficient and unconfident because they feel they’re not knowledgeable enough. I know I did. The key is to surround yourself with smart people and ask for their help should the need be. Don’t let your lack of knowledge in certain areas make your feel any less of a manager. I know I did at times, and if only someone was there to tell me it’s completely okay to not know everything.
Those were a few lessons I have learned so far as a manager. I know that learning is a continuous process and there’s plenty of stuff I am yet to learn.
What has your journey been like as a manager? Do share.
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Originally published at www.linkedin.com.