Old Project ManagerProject Management is a serious profession, but the best project managers don’t all have PMP certifications or even know what the PMBOK is.  They have a cowboy’s sense for what matters. They have solid skills with the tools of the trade and the kind of people skills that get them invited back to conversations.

That’s why the best project managers almost invariably have been line managers at some point. Pragmatism and a uncanny ability to communicate about the right things go a long way.

Here are a few project management career tips that might make Curly proud…

#1 You’ll go farther if you focus on managing risk instead of projects.

Good guys always work to get the risk out, remember that.  It’s easy for project management to be corrupted by the interests of the stakeholders pushing the project into a state of denial. If you hear somebody say “we have to ship X by this date” start to worry. If they say “you have to ship X by this date OR ELSE,” things are going sideways. Projects like this are running in ignorance of risk and uncertainty. Somebody will inevitably take the bullet for the miss in schedule, quality or budget. That “somebody” is going to be project management, not the talent.

#2 Never forget that The Talent is the talent.

You’re the project manager, for goodness sake, you’re not an immortal. Your job is to make the talent look good by not letting them bite off more than they can chew, by not letting them burn themselves out, and above all not letting them make commitments they can’t keep without shortcutting quality.
While you’re at it, think about making their jobs more interesting and rewarding.  Remember a project manager is much easier to replace than a project team. If your project team does not want you back on the next project, you’ve failed. You get paid to help make projects successful, not to be a control freak.

The single best way to earn the respect of talent is to ask them (as the professionals and experts they are) what is their BEST and WORST case estimate for their project work?  Doing this one thing will show that you respect that estimation is hard and there is always uncertainty. Never settle for a horse apples single-point estimate; everyone knows they are snakes in the grass.

#3 The best time to face hard news is early.

If I had a silver dollar for every time I saw a project manager hold bad news in his pocket thinking it would work itself out, I’d buy myself a new car. When the idiot light on the dashboard lights up, do you just hope it works itself out? Do you put tape over it?  In projects, unrealistic estimation has a habit of leading to unrealistic schedules. If you are consistently delivering bad news AFTER anything can be done about it, you might want to consider a career change from project management to testing.

#4 Kiss process goodbye.

You get paid to create transparency and a shared understanding of the project — not to make processes. Yes, sometimes process is needed, but hell’s bells – keep the processes simple and don’t let yourself become the bottleneck. If you’re spending two days a week doing project data entry, you seriously need to step back and re-evaluate. Do everything you can to keep people connected to each other, not to processes that they don’t give a hoot about.

Happy Trails

You don’t need all the project management wisdom in the world, just master the basics:

1)    Log progress and enter realistic estimates for the remaining work.
2)    Build a realistic schedule where nobody is over booked.
3)    Review the schedule weekly because things change on the road.
4)    Repeat.

4 Things an Old Project Manager can Teach a Young One was last modified: December 14th, 2010 by Charles Seybold