I was recently chatting with colleagues about my work history in project management and was struck by the diversity in the projects and roles in which I’ve worked. I’ve managed the implementation of a Salesforce CRM and a Dispatch process improvement project for a consumer goods (FMCG) business. I’ve set up an advertising operations function for an online restaurant aggregator, and I now manage the implementation of applications in a fast-growing insurance broking business. Across these projects and various industries, I always return to a core set of project management principles I’ve learned along the way, which anyone – no matter the role – can adopt for success.
1. HAVE A CLEAR GOAL IN MIND
A project is technically defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a specific result, service, or product. Any successful project has an overall goal statement outlining what will be achieved as the end result, and it will typically align with business strategy.
In my experience, projects are derailed due to a myriad of reasons – issues with resources, budgeting, timelines, and technology. Scope creep (when new requirements are uncovered) is a common problem that can make your project seem never-ending.
Always remind yourself and key stakeholders of your goal. Ask the project team if the new requirements will aid in achieving the goal, or will they drive the project in a new direction, away from the original vision?
No matter what job you are working on, constantly revisiting your goal will ensure you do not stray too far in a different direction.
2. BREAK LARGE TASKS INTO ACTIONABLE STEPS
Often project goals can seem unachievable, so it’s important to support them with clearly defined objectives; the specific measures outlining what you will do to achieve the broader goal.
For example, if your goal is to provide a better customer service experience online, one objective could be to reduce the response time of all customer support requests to 12 hours, by implementing CX software with SLAs to manage all email requests, by September 2021. This seems like a daunting task, so this is where your project plan is essential. Outlining detailed tasks in your plan allows you to identify the steps you need to take, painting a clearer picture of what lies on the path to success.
3. ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
Any good project will include SMEs to provide the technical detail – the information the Project Manager cannot realistically be exposed to or understand (nor should they have to). However, there is always value in delving a little deeper and making a concerted effort to learn more. One of the most personally rewarding aspects of project work is learning about an industry or business function you’ve never worked in before.
When I began my current role in tech projects for Honan Insurance, I was the first to admit I knew nothing about broking, let alone Insurance in general. I did not think it would matter too much, as my knowledge of managing projects would prevail. I have realised that making an effort to further your subject knowledge will not only help you to understand the project; it will earn you the respect of your team.
Always ask questions – no matter how foolish you think you might sound. If you do not want to interrupt the flow of a meeting, note everything down that you are unsure of and ask about it later, so you can always refer back to the answer. Keep listening and be open to learning – you never know where it might lead.
4. ALWAYS CONSIDER THE LESSONS LEARNED
You’re nearing the completion of your project – the software has been adopted, you’ve delivered a new product, or you’ve launched a website. Do not stop there. Ensure you spend time identifying your lessons learned to strengthen any projects you or the company undertakes in the future.
Not only is it important to identify what went wrong and what could be improved, but it is also important to emphasise success, and ask which strategies and procedures you should keep doing, or start doing, to contribute to your future successes. Collect and document these lessons and make them available to the rest of your business, with clear actions for the future.
5. THINGS WILL NOT GO TO PLAN
While this final lesson is not so much a Project Management principle as it is a piece of advice, you can be certain that your project will not go to plan, so resilience is essential. You might encounter a change in business strategy, the unforeseen departure of SMEs or project resources, or a sudden cut to project budgets – all entirely outside of your control and likely to delay your success.
In these situations, manage the elements you can control. Communicate with your stakeholders, reprioritise your project tasks, record any changes and always focus on your goal.
As meticulously organised as Project Managers strive to be, you cannot plan for everything. A lesson we all learned in 2020.
A FINAL NOTE
I would highly recommend listening to the Project Management Happy Hour podcast, specifically Episode 033: Lessons from Interviewing 50 Women PMs in 50 days and Episode 018: What I wish I’d known when I started Project Management.