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In 1989 Stephen R. Covery published his seminal work “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. It’s since sold 25m printed copies, 15m audio books, and been translated into 38 languages worldwide. It remains one of the Top 25 business books today.

You’ll find plenty of blog posts out there offering up a complementary set of seven habits of highly effective project managers. Most focus on the procedural aspects of the job. Here I’ve tried to focus more broadly (if that’s not a dichotomy) on attitudes and behaviors.

Attitude is important. It determines your altitude. Christmas is coming. Do you want to soar like an eagle, or walk like a turkey?

  • Habit #1. Don’t take “No” for an answerPeople who don’t set themselves challenging targets tend not to achieve great things. Aim for 75% and you’re highly unlikely to score 100%. Don’t accept things can’t be done. Don’t accept the first date you’re given. Don’t accept the first quote. Don’t accept a series of scope exclusions or a large number of assumptions. Challenge your team to do more with less and you’ll be surprised at how much you can achieve.
  • Habit #2. Don’t give “No” for an answer, either

    Projects are about change. Getting things done. The last thing your sponsor wants to hear is “no”. Yes, you need to control changes to scope, requirements, dates, budget and so on, but that doesn’t mean you need to do so by simply saying “no” by default. Look at each request on its merits (particularly if the originator practices habit #1). See our earlier post on managing with fewer resources for some tips.

  • Habit #3. Keep calm and carry on

    Projects will suffer setbacks, no matter how effective you are. Stay calm and work the problem. Your job is to come up with a recovery plan, execute the plan and restore control. Don’t get angry and “shouty”. People who get angry are usually out of their depth and out-of-control. Every time they get angry they’re advertising that fact. Do something that scares you every day. It will enlarge your comfort zone. News to a calm and in-control project manager with a large comfort zone is neither good or bad – it’s just news.

  • Habit #4. Drive change

    Think several steps ahead. Seek out blockers and remove them before they become issues. If you do have an issue, own it – drive resolution. Make yourself responsible for the solution. Be proactive. Chase people up. Don’t email when you can phone. Don’t phone when you can be there in person. Push the team to do the same.

  • Habit #5. Focus on the end, not the means

    Don’t become a slave to methodology. Your job is to create an outcome, to deliver products, create new capabilities, realize benefits. Never lose sight of that. Ask yourself if filling in all those forms, creating all those documents, chasing all those sign-offs, really will enable you to do a better job. If it won’t, tailor the methodology (no matter what method you’re using, most are designed to be tailored to your circumstances, with few mandatory components). Above all never, ever lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve.

  • Habit #6. Do detail (but make sure it’s the right sort of detail)

    I’ve written before about the importance of being a project manager first, and the pitfalls of trying to be a project doer at the same time. Let your subject matter experts focus on the minutiae of requirements, business processes, detailed designs. The chances are they’re much better at that than you. Where you absolutely must focus is on the core aspects of your job. Make sure budget forecast is accurate, your actuals are up-to-date, your plan reflects reality, you report status truthfully, you’re on top of risks, you have credible plans to resolve issues, and so on.

  • Habit #7: Enjoy what you do

    It’s pretty much impossible to excel at anything if you don’t enjoy it. Work is work. Most of us get paid for it. That’s the deal. It’s called remuneration for a reason. That doesn’t mean it has to be onerous, a chore, something you hate doing. Find ways to make work more fun. If you’re not enjoying your job (at least some of the time), perhaps it’s time to take a long hard look at your chosen career.

Principles of Flight 101

As I said earlier, attitude is important. In business, in life, and in flight, your attitude determines your altitude. Aim high and look to the sky and you have a fighting chance of achieving great things, of soaring with the eagles. Walk around all day with your nose pointing at the ground, buried in the minutiae of what you’re doing, and you risk turning your project into a bit of a turkey.

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