There’s enough going on every day at work that sometimes just getting things done is a full-time job. However, in order to make a meaningful difference to the projects you work on and to your career, you need to keep honing your skills. An added bonus: learning keeps us from getting bored and stuck in ruts.
Here are nine skills to brush up on to improve the quality of your work. Even if you pick just one of these to start, it will make a difference.
Listen, really listen.
Aside from the fact that active listening is a great habit to build to be a strong leader, team mate and compassionate human being, refining your listening skills has broader benefits. “Listening” is another way of saying pay attention. Pay attention to what you customer needs. Pay attention to your teammates, their moods and what they might be asking for (motivation, direction, more resources).
Pay attention to the big picture: Does the work you’re doing and the strategy you’re aligned with fit your company’s mission, vision and principles? Sometimes you just need to lift up your head from your screen, remove your headphones and listen to what’s going on around you.
Master your project management tool.
Are you using your project management solution to its full potential? If your planning software is filled with features that help you manage resources, track time, prioritize work and run important client reports, make sure you know how to use every one of them. You don’t want to miss out on essential information that will help you make strategic decisions for your business. Knowing how to qualify and quantify the work you and your team is doing is a crucial part of success, and will give you a leg up in your career.
Dive deep into analytics.
There are a lot of tools on the market that provide important data, metrics and customer insight that guide you to make the best strategic decisions for your business. If you don’t have data on who you’re reaching; how people are engaging with your product or website; the impact of campaigns and their ROI, your strategy is at best an educated guess. You don’t want entire teams working hard in the dark. Analytics lets you see the impact of your work and allows everyone to respond quickly to data that suggests a new direction or more of the same.
When project hiccups happen it’s easy to go into solution mode to plow through the hard stuff. If you’re leading a team, it can feel like the answers are up to you. Sometimes the best solution starts with a fruitful question. So don’t just ask questions, think about how you can sharpen your question-asking skills. Over time you’ll start to learn just the right questions to ask team members, managers, customers and even yourself in order to unlock a frustrating puzzle. Questions can range from the general (“What do you think we should do?”) to more pointed questions (“What are three ways we can achieve our customers objective and stay on budget?”). Ask open-ended questions.
Improve your estimation skills.
“How long will it take” is a regular part of project planning. The more skilled you are at coming up with an accurate estimate, the better chances your project has of running smoothly and delivering on time and budget. At LiquidPlanner we believe in making ranged estimates; but whatever your method, make sure it’s one that the whole team is behind and understands, and that your estimation system gives you the kind of post-project information that you can use to improve on your estimates over time.
Hone your resource management skills.
If you can run a project that stays on budget, hire the right people and deliver within the estimated finish time, you might find yourself on a Most Wanted PM list. To do this you need to use resource and project management tools to accurately reflect project costs, resource needs and estimates. Use a collaborative project management tool to see what your whole team is working on, and one that can show you team roll-up reports and rate sheets (and learn how to use the features effectively).
Practice making decisions.
Decisions are like stepping stones—lay down a series of them and they take you somewhere. In the best cases those places are profitable, successful and purposeful. It’s easy to put off making decisions, or feel like you need to have a summit meeting to feel confident about pulling the trigger on an initiative. The problem is, in an agile world, customer demands change and organizations are moving to a faster conveyer belt. Successful project management professionals need to learn how to make confident decisions effectively and in some cases, quickly.
Ask for feedback.
Studies show that top-performers are the ones who ask for feedback, so why not follow their lead? Ask your manager, ask your colleagues, ask people who work for you, ask customers. And in the vein of listening and paying attention, select people who you think will be most receptive to giving you an honest response.
You can also ask for more contextual feedback in the moment, rather than making it a mini-review. For example, if you’re presenting an outline to your boss ask her how she thinks you’ve approached the project, and what the strengths and weaknesses are. Also, don’t forget that positive feedback can be as important—if not more so—than improvement-based feedback. Focusing on your strengths is usually a smarter tactic than trying to get good at something that’s just not in our natural wheel of talents.
Find effective ways to deal with stress.
If you’re not inspired to manage stress for yourself, do it for your team. Energy travels, which means that if you go into a meeting with your hair on fire and yelling complaints and demands, your team will pick up your anxiety and stress out, too. Stress, for the most part, is more paralyzing than motivating, and hampers creativity and problem-solving skills. So find a way to deal with everyday job stress—get outside, exercise, listen to music, meditate, flower arrange, sing, take some deep breaths—you name it. And consider making fun a part of your work day—when people have fun at work they’re inspired, creative and productive.
Tell us ways you brush up on your project management skills.