7 Things I Learned About Project Management
By Jeremy Miller
This article is about the things I’ve learned as project manager for my company. With any luck parts of it might benefit some people out there who are thinking of starting up their own team projects. So, without further ado, here is seven things I learned about project management.
- Be humble
Being humble is easily one of the most important qualities of a good project manager. The fact is, you will be dealing with a lot of different sorts of people, many of whom will be much more skilled in some areas than you are. Don’t be too proud to listen to them, don’t pretend to know things when you don’t, and perhaps most importantly, be prepared for the possibility that what you think you know is wrong. People have a lot of respect for a person who can admit when they are wrong or when they don’t know something. It’s also a good rule in general, as people don’t like to be lead by someone who is arrogant. Having a poor personality will increase the number of arguments between you and your team.
Choose your team wisely
When you are first starting out, you are always thrilled when someone volunteers their time for your project. There’s nothing wrong with that, it really is something to be excited about and appreciate. However, you should be selective whenever possible with whom you work with. If you can’t work well with a person, then arguments and personality clashes will weigh the whole team down. Working in teams is complicated, and productivity has a lot to do with moral. Seeing people argue, especially when one of them is supposed to be the project lead, really hurts productivity for everyone. Stay away from people with poor personalities, even if they are skilled in their field. It is often not worth it. Also stay away from people who work rarely. It may seem like people just hanging around can’t possibly be hurting anything, but they are. Their inactivity can be very demotivating for the team. Likewise, those who work hard and are productive are very motivating to have around. When you find people like this, grab and hold onto them for all their worth, which is a lot.
There will be trouble. Be prepared for it. People will argue, problems will come up, project direction will be questioned, and you will have to be the mediator for these issues. Don’t let your opinions get in the way of seeing things clearly. Be impartial, and try to look at things from the perspective of a third person. People will appreciate it when you are able to see beyond yourself and recognize their views.
Another thing to note is that while you may be project leader, that should not make you a tyrant. Avoid forcing your decisions on the team when you can. If you find you absolutely have to, it had better be after a lot of discussion. Your team is your most valuable resource, and they are not stupid. This goes back to being humble. Often times a member of your team may know more than you, or may be seeing things more clearly than you are. Listen to and involve your team in decisions. Not only will this make your team feel more involved in the project, but chances are much better decisions will be made as well.
Learn to manage your time
You will be busy. You’re going to have to get used to that. Luckily, the workload is something that will pile on slowly. As the leader of a project, you tend to acquire miscellaneous tasks as time passes that really start to add up after a while, especially if you have outside commitments, like school or a job.
You should keep a notebook, and preferably a schedule. You may say “I’ve tried schedules, but I never end up following them!”, don’t worry about that. It may be true, but the point is not really that you must follow every single activity you plan. The point is to get thinking about what you do with your time, what you could be doing with your time, and what you should be doing with your time. Once you complete a schedule, you should check and update it often. Even if you don’t entirely follow it, you might eventually find yourself organizing in clever ways that you can stick to. For instance, I do my university work in the morning, while the rest of my company is usually asleep, so I have no distractions. I also organize my tasks from most mentally taxing, to the least, and do them throughout the day. This makes sure I’m well rested for difficult tasks, and I can still do the simpler ones by nighttime.
I also keep a really big whiteboard full of stuff I have to do/remember. I really like it, but I think in this case your mileage may vary. There is also the possibility that you don’t want a giant whiteboard hanging up in your room. You weirdo.
Learn to live as a generalist
If you want to be the best at something, then you probably shouldn’t be a project leader. Managing projects is about having a little bit of knowledge in everything. Specialists, like great artists, great musicians, and great writers, make for excellent team members and are incredibly valuable in that role, but they tend to be not so good as managers (it’s always possible that they can be, but it’s pretty rare). Managers have to have knowledge in multiple areas so they can help their team, understand the duties and work of each member, as well as have the ability to assess task difficulty, completion times, etc.
What does this mean? Basically it means that if you want to be a good manager, you’ll have to learn a lot about a lot of things. This is why you will probably never be able to become a specialist, you just won’t have the time required to invest in just one subject. Unfortunately, it’s just a sacrifice you have to make (feel free to still try though, I do every now and then).
It is worth noting of course, that if you are a managing a small team of specialists in one area, for instance as an art director managing a team of artists, then your knowledge doesn’t have to be quite so broad.
Things can change overnight, or even within a few hours. There should be a way for your team to contact you, and you should always have that method available. Cell phones work well. Texts are generally cheap internationally, and some websites will let you send them for free (try searching for ‘yourcarrier send a text message’).
This becomes more and more important as your project grows. For instance, what if a surge of customers suddenly start buying your product after it was posted on a popular site. It could cause your server to crash, and it would be pretty terrible if you couldn’t be contacted to reboot it. That’s a lot of potentially lost revenue as users become frustrated and perhaps just decide to pirate your product instead. It also hurts your reputation for reliability.
You should be able to trust your team, and your team should be able to trust you. This tends to happen naturally over time, but there are ways to help it along. The quickest way to build trust with your team is to actually trust them first. Giving team members important responsibilities lets them know that you trust and value them, and they will likely return these feelings.
Sometimes it is hard to trust and give up responsibility to your team members. What if they abuse their power? What if they don’t keep up with the tasks you’ve given them? You need to remember that without your team, your project would be nothing, and there would be nothing for you to worry about in the first place.
Obviously I am not suggesting you hand out trust and responsibilities willy-nilly, you should have reasonable reason to give your trust before you do, but don’t be too stingy with it either. There comes a time when you must delegate your important and high-responsibility tasks, usually when they have become too large to handle alone, and it pays to have members of your team that you can trust.
Well, that’s all I have to say for now. I might write up some more of these later. I hope that it helped at least someone out there. If you have anything you’d like for me to talk about concerning project management, feel free to leave it in the comments below.
Jeremy Miller is the founder and a project manager at Dischan media. Reprinted with permission. Original article can be found here.