As a project manager, I'm often asked, "How do you manage it all?" Apparently, juggling so many things seems like an impossible task for those who've never filled my shoes. For someone like me whose closet is color-coded, desk always organized and to-do list up to date by the minute, my success in project management stems from a number of talents; some natural and others learned. The truth is, like many roles there are a number of tips and tricks that can help to make a daunting workload seem manageable and a project start and end successfully, some more effective than others.
Whether you're a project manager, designer or developer, excelling at being organized and efficient is very much a learned task, not something that can be picked up by a quick skim of Google's top search results. There are a lot of misleading suggestions about project management and productivity that deserve to be debunked by someone who's put them through the ringer. Read below my list of the top four things you're doing to try and successfully manage your projects that are actually letting you down:
1. Write It Down
"Write it down so you won't forget it." We've all heard this. And while yes, writing things down can help you not forget, that ONLY applies if you can remember where an important note is days later. Crushed in a notebook or under your passenger seat in between that a french fry and your dirty gym sock is no place to store meeting records. Try "writing it down" electronically. Applications such as Evernote or Microsoft OneNote allow you to keep a running list or tab of to-do's in a place where you're hard pressed to forget: your computer.
2. Email is Not Always the Best Choice
I've been told time and time again that my generation of young professionals has a completely different way of communicating than our predecessors. In this age, can you blame us? With today's focus on accessible information at your fingertips, there's no surprise that we are able to read and respond to emails anytime from any place. This may not always be the best choice though, dependent upon what needs to be communicated. While it may seem easier to just shoot someone an email, we have to account for the lack of personal contact that comes with email.
Some news, whether it be a change in date deliverables or a check-in on project progress, is best delivered the old fashioned way: through a telephone. A succinctly worded message could be misconstrued as curt and impersonal by its recipient through no fault at all of the sender. An email leaves a lot subject to be "read through the lines." A phone call to a client or customer lets then know that you're taking the time to give them an update or ask them a question. While we're all masters of multitasking, its an effort to take time out of your day to stop and call someone that trust me, never goes unnoticed.
3. Give Firm Deadlines
Going into a project, it is important to clearly define timelines and expectations so both parties can plan accordingly. The problem arises from the beginning when firm yet unreasonable deadlines were set. Its always easy to plan for the best case scenario, but let's face it, nine times out of 10 there are project hiccups and stalls. And sometimes its just life that gets in the way and derails progress. Rather than over-promising and under-delivering, go into a project knowing that dates are subject to change. And give broad, not vague, deliverable expectations.
4. The Client Is Always Right
Whether you've worked in retail, restaurants, or anywhere else in what would be considered a service-based industry, you've been told that in order to be successful and gain repeat business that the client is always right. In all cases it is absolutely the wants and needs of the client that dictate project outcomes. But think of it this way: if the client was the expert and knew exactly what needed to be done and how, why would they come to you in the first place? Most clients need you because you or your team specializes in a good or service that they cannot provide themselves. Take this as an opportunity to make recommendations, suggestions, and let a client know if their proposed decision might not be the best thing for the project. If delivered correctly, they won't take this in a bad way. They will understand that you are making a judgment based off of professional and experienced knowledge in a certain field, something that they couldn't do themselves.
Whether it's making sure that your notes are in a place you'll actually find them, ensuring that a client feels the necessary attention to their project, or being realistic and transparent about project direction and feasibility, there's a lot to tackle as a PM. The most important thing is ensuring that what you are doing works best for you to deliver and oversee a well-handled project. With experience as your teacher, try out these and other PM tips to create a consistent workflow and develop habits that will make you successful.