a F.O.R.C.E of nature. The secret sauce in effective project management
There are some great resources that explain the how-to of project and program management with tomes written from the highest level concepts to the intricate details. My challenge in this short article is to teach you all you need to know about project management in two or three paragraphs. I can hear you howling with either laughter or disgust, what a fool you say, how dare you! I have personally run 10’s of projects in my career and through all of the teams I have managed I have run or been responsible for 100s of projects, so I have some basis for feeling free to express my thoughts on the subject. Even more importantly I have been involved in projects that succeeded and projects that, in my opinion, failed. I am happy to report that the successes far outweigh the failures, but I learned as much from each.
To be clear about terms, a project manager for me is a person who is responsible for executing a part of an overall program. The program can be led by various types of people who may or may not be trained in the project management disciplines. They could be an executive, a floor manager or many others who may have an improvement project underway and has an assigned project manager to help run the project. A program manager typically has a wider set of responsibilities and has the unenviable role of also managing all of the stakeholders connected to the project under their control. The difference between a program and a project manager get blurred in many companies but I wanted to declare my understanding. So a program manager could have many project managers working for them but not vice versa. I will use the term project manager for this article.
So much for the preamble. So what are the key skills people need to succeed and consistently achieve good results?
You may not believe me but I wrote down these key attributes and skills and realized if I re-ordered them slightly the acronym F.O.R.C.E appeared. So think of F.O.R.C.E as a ‘force of nature’, a personality of great force or strength; energy; power; intensity; and not force in a negative way.
Be Flexible – be prepared for the changes that will happen and handle them when they do.
Be Organized – make lists and schedules, work them, and rely on them.
Be Realistic – don’t fool yourself or let yourself be fooled.
Be a great Communicator - you need to hit this point in two ways, quantity and quality.
Be Energetic - have the energy to succeed and drive the team, be the cheerleader, set the pace.
Things change all of the time. While you should try to foresee all changes, this never can be fully achieved, so be ready, willing and able to deal professionally with change. The magic will be managing the changes smoothly, while keeping the project moving forward at a good pace. Prepare the team at the start for changes, set the cultural expectations, and be very clear how changes will be reviewed, analyzed and handled.
You cannot run a project using a set of email chains. Make lists and for every item makes sure it is clear who the single owner is, what is to be done and when it needs to be finished and verified. Key to success will be to get a public agreement documented so that people take personal accountability. Efficiently run through the lists in appropriately sized groups, in effective meetings. Publish them somewhere for reference. Make sure there is the one and only version of the truth. The project manager should lead by example, be on time, be organized and show everyone that you expect the project to mimic your behavior.
First I want to state that a company will get the most benefit from a project that is delivering its goals in a timely manner, by which I mean as soon as possible. So do not fall into the trap of setting easy goals because you are being ‘realistic’. The modern business world and the level of competition requires speed. Being realistic means that you need to be intimate with the dynamics of your projects and your environment and don’t assume, don’t passively set or agree goals that you cannot deliver. Be realistic about the talents you have and the talents the team has and make any needed changes very early in the project. Be realistic but also be aware that a project with too much buffer in the schedule probably means you are going slower than the competition and may lose out by being too slow to market.
Be a great Communicator.
“But I thought”, “it was obvious”, “I assumed”, “they should have known”, “I published the schedule and action list”. Communication is one of the weakest skills we humans have, and we need to accept that and over compensate for it. People interpret the exact same words differently depending on the tone in which they are said (or written in the case of email), depending on what mood they are in when hearing the words, depending on what they actually want to hear or interpret. The successful project manager will work each day to communicate as clearly as possible to as many of the project team as needed, and probably more. They will need to communicate up, down and sideways all at the same time and in the most appropriate way for the different audiences and people. This is by far the greatest challenge and those who have this skill will be more successful, so continually let everyone know what is going on and their part in making the endeavor successful.
People will take their lead from the leader. There are days when we are up and there are days we are down, but I am sorry to say that those who are at the top of this game, those who are a F.O.R.C.E. of nature, need to keep the low energy states to themselves and show the team a consistent higher energy version of yourself. There will be some downtime in the life of a project and you need to inject some time for the teams to blow off steam and have some fun, particularly on lengthy projects. Just like we need to sleep at night and go into a lower state in order to have the energy for the next day, this natural cycle will be mimicked in any project, so find a way to build it in, find a way to plan for it. So a higher level of energy and passion from the project lead will result in a higher performing team, a happier team and also a better outcome for the project. So take your spinach regularly and buckle up.
So remember to be a F.O.R.C.E. of nature and you and your projects will be more successful.
Be a great Communicator
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