Top tier project managers and producers have a combination of experience, education, skills, and personality traits that allow them to excel in their field.
In fact, Mike DePrisco, VP of global solutions at the Project Management Institute, explains that their research shows 40 percent more projects meet their goals when the project managers and producers embody a specific set of skills.
In essence, the best PMs or producers are able to execute their projects on time and on budget while meeting their goals.
To help existing and aspiring project management professionals get a leg up, we’ve compiled 5 things you must do to excel in this field, from holding better meetings to actually meeting your deadlines.
1. Master the art of communication.
When we interviewed several successful project managers around the world, the one theme that kept coming up was communication.
In general, projects have dozens – if not hundreds – of moving parts, which means there’s an entire team to keep track of. If there aren’t open lines of communication, the project can run off the rails quickly.
Without intra-team communication, the following things can happen before you know it:
- Decreased productivity
- No adherence to deadlines
- Increased turnover rates
- Employees who don’t feel valued
- A non-efficient team
- A general haze of confusion
In fact, poor communication can actually lead to big monetary losses. David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss of $62.4 million per year – just because of bad communication between employees.
Experts agree that communication between PMs and their team is the key to excelling in project management.
Task yourself with reaching out to team members of key leaders frequently, and keep them up-to-date on the current status of the project, the next steps, and if you’re on track to meet your deadline.
Not only will this keep everyone rowing in the same direction, but the leadership will recognise you and value you for your ability to go above and beyond.
2. Utilise tools that make your team more efficient.
While we all wish we were superhumans, we can only remember so many deadlines and tasks before something slips through the cracks.
As a project manager or producer, it’s your responsibility to come up with a process that makes your team more efficient and stops any tasks – no matter how small – from falling off the map.
Generally, a project management tool can help you get organised, keeping complex projects visual and manageable.
Some of the most widely used PM software available include Oracle, Microsoft Project, ServiceNow, SAP, and Planview, but there are plenty more that are gaining recognition for their ease of use and beautifully designed task management boards.
Spend some time browsing the options, such as Jira, Asana, and Monday, and get a feel for what might help your team keep track of projects the best.
Our personal favourite tool is Trello, a free application with fantastic features like boards, lists, cards, and other unique organisation tools.
Even the simple process of seeing tasks crossed off or moving to a completed board can motivate you and your team to keep chugging along.
If your team is remote, processes for communication are even more important, and tools like Slack can help you organise conversations and keep the team tight-knit – despite the distance.
3. Hold focused meetings
Meetings are a time to update team members and leadership on your progress, discuss your next steps, and evaluate your success in meeting goals, deadlines, and budget expectations.
Meetings should give you the power to go back to your work and knock out tasks like a champion.
However, meetings can quickly go from productive to time-wasting events that leave you feeling overwhelmed.
MIT Sloan published a report on meetings and how they’ve changed over time, and the results were stunning:
- In a survey of 1,900 leaders, 72% reported spending more time in meetings than they did 5 years ago
- People with a strong work ethic tend to report poorer job satisfaction as the number of meetings they must attend goes up, while those who are less goal oriented don’t mind
- The single most powerful factor in job satisfaction is how one feels about the effectiveness of meetings
So, the time spent in meetings and the effectiveness of meetings not only sucks up your day, but it actually causes staff to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and dissatisfied with their roles.
What’s more is that employees who attend bad meetings are more predisposed to actually quit their jobs.
We know that meetings are expensive, as they account for a huge portion of time and money of an organisation, so the goal of a fabulous project manager or producer would be to make them more efficient.
A few tips to help project managers and producers lead more effective meetings include:
- Never meeting just for the sake of “meeting” or because it’s a weekly habit
- Only calling meetings when projects are stuck, issues are unresolved, or you need full group input
- Only invite people who need to be there
MIT Sloan also reports that a two-tier approach, with core group members and peripheral members, can help you achieve more effective meetings while avoiding burnout.
Core group members are directly involved in making key decisions, while the peripheral members have important knowledge and input, but they’re not required to be there for every meeting.
Communicating these two roles and why they exist to your team is important to maintaining transparency in your organisation and avoiding hard feelings about not being invited to certain meetings.
4. Manage expectations
Promise the world to key leaders, and they’ll undoubtedly be disappointed in you when you can’t deliver it.
A very important part of being a successful PM is by managing project expectations along the way – both for the client (if applicable), your leadership, and your team members.
A good place to start would be the deliverables. Before you really get chugging along on a project, clearly define what you’re going to deliver, explain it in detail, and establish deadlines – realistic ones – for each item.
Once this is ready to present, go over it, line by line, with the appropriate party.
This allows you to answer questions and make sure you and your client are on the same page, thus managing their expectations from the start.
Being authentic, honest, and transparent from the beginning establishes a clear set of expectations that your client will appreciate.
This goes without saying, but if you’re doing a project for a client outside of your organisation, a contract is a must for setting and managing expectations!
5. Set realistic deadlines
We briefly mentioned this earlier, but deadlines are pesky, aren’t they?
According to research conducted by the University of Oxford, about half of all large IT projects (over $15 million), run 45% over budget and 7% over time. If it’s a software project, the deadline is even worse, with an average of 33% average schedule overrun.
Another report conducted of Australian researchers found that grant writers who had to meet a single annual deadline were incredibly stressed by the unrealistic goal. By simply shifting the deadlines to give Australian researchers adequate time to work on actual research – and juggle home and family life – they experienced much less of a burden.
Amy Warriner, writer at Michael Page, an Australian recruitment agency, explains that our innate need to please and impress people encourages us to set unrealistic deadlines.
In reality, we’d gain more respect from our peers and leaders if we were honest about the time it takes to complete a given task.
Here are 3 tips to help you set realistic deadlines more often than not:
1. Set two deadlines: one internal deadline (when you hope to have the project done), and one client deadline (when you’ll actually be handing over the work you’ve completed).
This gives your team time to actually review your work, make any last minute changes, and ensure the project is in tip-top shape before passing it over. This also gives you a bit of a cushion in case there are mistakes or additional revisions that need to be done before your client deadline.
2. Establish weekly progress reports.
A Dominican University study found that 70% of participants who sent weekly updates reported successful goal achievement compared to 35% of those who kept their goals to themselves. Ask your team to submit progress reports – it doesn’t have to be formal or fancy. Just keep them accountable, and you should reach your project deadline.
3. Don’t succumb yourself to small distractions.
Research now shows that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task when you’ve been distracted.
That means that every time you check your email or get an incoming text that takes you away from what you were working on, it takes nearly a half hour to get back in the zone!
Put this into perspective: if you get distracted just three times per day, you’ve lost an hour of work.
If you can, turn off all distractions and allow yourself the time to focus in on the project or task at hand. Encourage your team to do the same by blocking off time – even adding it to their calendars if they have to!
Some writers even report blocking off an entire day each week on their calendar to focus and work as hard as they can. On this day, they put their phone in aeroplane mode, they don’t schedule any meetings, and they ONLY work on the tasks they need to complete.
Whatever it might look like for you, realise that distractions can completely throw off your deadline bit by bit, and the best project managers and producers are actively working to avoid them.