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You’re a Project Manager, Not Superman
By Brett Harned

Project management can be a balancing act. On one hand, you’re the Clark Kent type, sitting at a desk prepping a project plan or status report while waiting for a call or email that needs your immediate attention. On the other hand, you’re out and about solving issues and making decisions that will impact your project’s path. The thing is, you’ll never actually be a Superman. You know why? Because managing projects will never be easy for you (or anyone for that matter). There is always a chance you will feel overwhelmed and there are many opportunities to drop a detail or misunderstand something that is critical to a project’s health.

Part of what makes a really good project manager is knowing that you have faults and being honest about them. Confessing when you just don’t have an answer and knowing when to ask for help isn’t the easiest thing to do. But we are just human after all, so don’t be afraid to admit it. It’s important to keep your head up and your ears open to know what’s going on, but also very important to know how to handle yourself in the role of the all-knowing budget, scope, project detail guy or gal. Here are a few tips to keep you honest with yourself, your clients, and your team:

Ask questions. (You won’t seem dumb or be an annoyance!)

A project team should be collaborative and supportive. Everyone has a role for a reason: to provide a point of view that is based on a specialty or background (project management is one of those specialties). Your team is there to help one another, foster professional growth, and of course, to deliver a top-notch product. Asking questions about how you deliver that product as a team should be a part of the process. Never be ashamed to admit that you don’t understand something.

It’s okay to make clients wait for an answer.

While it’s great to have some experience or knowledge of what your team members do, as a project manager you can’t be held responsible for answering all of your team’s work. For instance, if a client has a question about a design detail on a weekly status meeting and you do not feel comfortable answering immediately, then don’t! Take a note, tell your client that you’ll pass it on and get back to them as soon as possible. If you’re not honest with your clients about what you do on the project, they’ll keep asking you things you can’t answer and communications will become increasingly uncomfortable.

Admit your mistakes.

It’s true, we all forget things here and there. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes in planning, forget that a team member was scheduled to be out on a milestone delivery day. In the end, it’s okay as long as you can make up for it. Admitting that you’ve made a mistake in your work is far better than trying to cover it up. Honesty is a core value of project management. Without it, you’ll just dig a hole that you’ll never escape and your project and team will suffer from the results.

Know your kryptonite

Projects can get high stress. There might be one simple detail that will just set you over the edge. What makes your blood boil? What sort of detail will make you so angry that you just won’t want to deal with the client or the project on a given day? Only you know yourself and your projects, so I can’t tell you the answer to this. Personally, I try to anticipate my own kryptonite and prepare for it. The more I know about what’s coming, the better I feel. (By the way, my kryptonite is the last-minute change after something has been approved.)

There are no super heroes in project management. It’s impossible to be the man or woman who can keep track of every detail and manage multiple teams and clients without a slip-up here or there. We’re just not programmed that way (at least I’m not!). It’s best to be aware of your weaknesses and be honest with others about the job that you’re doing. Take every project in stride, because you’ll never be able to predict what’s going to happen from project to project. That’s what makes the work we do so much fun.

Brett Harned’s fascination with the creative process and his passion for concise communication, strategy, and attention to detail means that his clients get a project manager who immerses himself in the work product, not just timelines and milestones. Brett’s deep understanding of web process and his ability to apply methodologies to any project makes clients happy. He is also adept at translating the language of web design to clients, which can sometimes get confusing and conceptual.

Brett manages projects large and small, and all of them receive the same level of care and dedication. Zappos.com, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Constitution Center, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are among some of the clients Brett has had the privilege to work directly with at Happy Cog.

Prior to joining Happy Cog, Brett served as Senior Project Manager at Razorfish. There, he managed large multi-disciplinary teams and implemented creative strategies resulting in websites and comprehensive digital advertising campaigns for companies such as Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Aetna.

If there is one thing that Brett will tell you, it’s that project managers are not robots. Sure, they might rely on dates and numbers, but they have hearts too! Part of the Philly-based Happy Cog team, Brett practices what he preaches on his blog about his own adventures in project management, which can be found at http://brettharned.com.

When Brett isn’t wrangling timelines and budgets in the office, he likes to discover new music, experiment with photography, and explore the City of Brotherly Love with his wife and two daughters.

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