Great Project Managers are few and far between.
Some Project Managers focus on purely administrative, clerical tasks where they are scheduling meetings, taking notes, asking for updates, and creating status reports. To me, if you are approaching the role from this perspective, you are playing the role of a Project Administrator or a Project Assistant. These are important tasks that need to get done, but they are a small fraction of what a Project Manager does.
A Project Manager is someone who can bring people together around a common goal, and dynamically manage scope, schedule, and resources to achieve that goal. Sometimes it’s a thankless job where you’ve signed up for the impossible. Sometimes you find yourself playing bad cop way more often than you’d like. And other times it’s the best job because you have an amazing team. At the end of the day, you do whatever it takes to make your project successful.
Here’s my take on 7 things every Project Manager should be doing:
- Create a Project Plan. This sounds basic but a lot of times, I don’t see a plan – or I should say, a good plan. Throwing tasks into Microsoft Project does not constitute having a good plan. Plans should reflect all parts of the project lifecycle and proper stage gates to ensure all needs are met before moving forward to the next phase. The Plan should identify dependencies so they are visible and can be managed.
- Actively Manage Reviews and Approvals. Sometimes approvals are missing altogether from the Project Plan. I’ve seen this result in skipping approval requests, the Project Manager trying to strong arm an approval to keep the project on track, or the project turning red because this “new” activity causes delays. All bad outcomes. A Project Manager should work with stakeholders at project initiation to understand team culture, key stakeholders, and get agreement on how reviews/approvals will be handled.
- Acknowledge Risks Early. A well-managed project should have open risks that are actively being monitored. This means the Project Manager is proactively looking ahead, considering the business context, and challenging team leads to be hyper-conscious. Risks are good because they facilitate cross-functional conversations about possible scenarios and mitigation plans. Often, just that awareness helps.
- Report out on Red. Project Managers have anxiety about turning a project red. Don’t. Reporting red signals that the project has met the criteria to be turned red and the project is now behind on scope, schedule, and/or resources and executive action is needed. If you have been actively reporting risks and issues, this should not be a surprise to leadership. The ‘red alert’ should help you get the action needed to get things back on track.
- Build a contingency on the contingency. Project Managers always plan contingencies based on the project and known risks, but on top that, there should be a little management wiggle room. You have to be careful not to pad the project but know when you can give the team some flexibility versus push them on the deadline.
- Re-baseline the Project. This is a tough but important one. Re-baselining requires having the project sponsor agree to substantive changes to the original plan. Unfortunately, your project sponsor may see it as tantamount to admitting failure and you’re told that nothing is flexible: all scope items are absolutely necessary, on that specific go-live date, and there are zero additional resources available – sound familiar? They can agree to re-baseline or you can keep reporting the project as red, their choice.
- Be a Change Agent. Every project introduces some degree of change for the organization, some more than others. As a Project Manager, delivering the project successfully is not enough. You have to think critically about how the new process or tool will impact people, and how you can best drive positive change. Is this through communications, training, and/or change champions? Even if the new process is ingenious, best idea ever, it won’t matter if no one adopts it.
Sometimes all of this goes out the window and the only focus is on surviving, so I’ll add a #8 – make sure your team is healthy, well fed, and caffeinated. Burnout is not good for team morale 🙂
I’d love to hear – what’s on your list of what a Project Manager should be doing?