Project Management for Normal People
While at SOBcon in Chicago, I was talking about project management with the folks at my mastermind table and I went on a quick riff about how I essentially project manage all my projects from book publishing to website launches and marketing plans to business plans and nearly everything in-between.
The discussion was quick, but it’s a great topic to elaborate on.
This article is about project management and includes:
- A video on what I believe makes a great project manager
- A basic outline of what a project manager does
- A few resources to really dig deep and learn about project management processes
This article is based on the past 15 years of launching websites, books, newspapers, magazines, and managing video and photography shoots as well as the management of advertising campaigns among other things link events, business plans, marketing plans.
NOTE: I am not a “Project Manager” by title. I consider myself to be a Champion for the project and if you are trying to turn ideas or projects into a reality, you should be a Champion too.
This (almost) short video opens up on some of my fundamental ideas on Project Management and sets the tone well for the rest of this article. Watch it to learn about my thoughts on Human Capital.
In the video, that was not a direct quote from Seth Godin. In Linchpin, Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside (affiliate links) and his blog he talks about championing projects and shipping and I guess I just wanted to name drop
10 Things Great Project Managers Do:
1 – Champions the project.
This includes accepting the responsibility of success or failure of the project from the very beginning. Accept the responsibility right off the bat because you’ll be the first one blamed for it if there are problems or failure, so may as well own it from the start so its easier for you to deal with.
2 – Facilitates communication and becomes the info hub.
You will always be the center of the communication for all internal and external constituents. Use good judgment and common sense in your communication, maintain a “can do” attitude and always be the first to check in or follow up. Always be the keeper of current information and share it freely. It helps people understand what you are about and if you offer to help, not just criticize or enforce objectives, you’ll be a friend and ally to the project.
3 – Defines, interprets and shares expectations. Often.
Even the best and most talented minds can be paralyzed if they are unclear on expectations. This includes responsibilities, process, timeline, tasks, deliverables, budget and PAYMENT for services. Some of the biggest issues I’ve ever had with experts on a project have stemmed from their incorrect assumptions on when they would get paid or the intent of the project all because I trusted “they were the expert and would know what was expected”. Appreciate the expertise, but honor the client and the project by clarifying the details and setting expectations. Those connected to the project will appreciate you for it and know that you run a tight operation that sets the project on the path of success. We all want expectations, so give them.
4 – Asks questions and is not a no-it-all.
Great project managers don’t know the in’s and out’s of every job required to complete the project, but they do know the people involved know their job. Great project managers ask the right “why” and “how” questions often in order to uncover real issues, real deliverables, real expectations etc. The why and how aren’t asked so you can learn to do their job, they are asked so you can learn how they see themselves fitting their jobs into the project on time and on budget. This is a key part of understanding the work to be done as well as the expectations or challenges of the people involved in the project.
5 – Knows the steps, what’s next, and where things are going.
To successfully champion any project you must always be aware of the deliverables, milestones, tasks and pinch-points or bottlenecks in the project. While you might think “everyone” understands how important the project (the client, the budget etc) is, none of them will be married to the entire project end-to-end like you are, so always know who’s doing what, when, where, why, how and then what’s next. When in doubt, remember that you are the map and if you don’t know what’s next it’s likely to cause a pinch-point that will cost time and money. Be the map and know what’s next.
6 – Inspects what is expected.
Plotting dates, budgets, milestones and tasks are essential. Large projects will have many items – enough to warrant project management software, but regardless of size, the tools you use, great project managers inspect what they expect. The tighter the project is on time and budget, the closer you have to be with your follow-up (inspection). See, follow-up is a nice way to say it, so follow-up often.
7 – Eternally represents the solution not the problem.
The best project managers internalize the issues and problems and determine next steps and solutions to the problems. As a champion of the project it’s your place to find the solution proactively and keep the project moving forward. It’s nice when it happens, but never assume someone else will jump in with a solution to bail you out. Again, you are the champion of the project so it is you who represents the solution so always represent that solution so the project can be completed.
8 – Owns the bad news, shares the good news.
Great project managers take the punches and share the successes. That’s just the way it works so don’t throw your vendors, partners and employees under the bus to save face. Always own the bad news personally and share what you are doing to fix it. And by all means, celebrate every victory, every win, everything good with the ones who did it – never take the credit for yourself.
9 – Cares.
Great project managers care about the client, the people involved, the project and it’s success. If you care, it will be obvious. If you don’t care, it will be obvious too. When you care it’s much easier to get results.
10 – Knows how to ship.
You must be results oriented and the best project managers help things get unstuck and ship. Everything ships including the final project. Ship on time (or early) on budget (or under budget) and you’ll have a winning project and a remarkably important role in your organization, your ideas, and your success. Focus on shipping and you’ll do great.
Learn More About Project Management and the Process.
I personally try not to use project management software and I have never received formal training in project management which means there are a lot more skilled project managers (as in skilled in the craft, the software, and the formal process) than I am.
However, I have launched about 200 websites, several newspapers and magazines, several books and many many many advertising initiatives that have all gone well without project management software or certification as a project manager. I think you can too. This is one area where a desire to succeed and learn means you don’t need to be certified in order to be great at it.
In my experience, most clients don’t care how you deliver on their goals and objectives. They only care that you meet and exceed their goals and objectives. In my opinion that’s all that matters too. My hope is that this article will help you understand the core aspects required to champion a project and become a great project manager.
If you want to dig deeper into the formal processes of project management, here’s some good content to sink your teeth into.
- 11 Things Every New Project Manager Should Know
- 20 Things Every Project Manager Should Know and Do
- Wikipedia definition of Project Management
- Project Management 101
- Top 10 Qualities of a Project Manager
- The SCRUM Process
- The Stage-Gate Model
- The Waterfall Model
My personal methods are something of a mashup between the Agile Method and 37 Signals approach mixed with SCRUM and Stage-Gate processes. These techniques have been folded in over the last 8 years or so, but prior to that I was literally just learning as I went and still delivering so don’t get tied up on ingesting all this at once.
Good luck on your project management efforts and don’t hesitate to share your experiences or ask for help.