Remember that hit from the ’80s, “Who Can It Be Now”? The vocalist seems racked with paranoia, wondering who could be knocking on his door. “Is it the man come to take me away?” And later in the song, “go away, don’t come around here no more.”
These feelings are sometimes our reality in the project management world. We dread that next call from our customer, the project management office leader, or a company executive looking for answers or updates on our latest project. Are you familiar with the feeling? We can dread the inevitable fire drills that come with being a project manager. But this chaos of ever-changing priorities and timelines is part of the job description.
Project managers are tasked with managing a myriad of change requests, priority shifts, stakeholder demands, and resource allocation adjustments. As your computer pings or phone rings, how often have you wondered, “who can it be now?” Trust me, you are definitely not alone. Project managers need to be accommodating, but we must also stay focused to do our jobs well. And to do them well requires clear direction, consistent status updates, calm oversight, and effective stakeholder management. Remember, rarely is the sky actually falling, even though at times it may feel like it is.
What can we do about it? Here are three ways to calm your project management anxiety.
1. Communication is critical
If the day-to-day grind is causing you anxiety, then take control of your project communications. Clear communication is an essential skill for the project manager. Improving communication will help limit or eliminate your anxiety and the chaos that ensues when priorities are not defined, assignments are unclear, and status is not known or consistently conveyed. Early and clear communication is even more important if you’re about to miss a project deadline. Talking about the problems before they happen sets your team up to collaborate on and pursue solutions before things go south. Good communication starts from the beginning of a project. So I recommend creating a project communication plan. This plan outlines how often the team will check in on progress, who is responsible for which tasks, and what to do if a project’s timelines start to lag. Putting this plan and structure in place upfront will diminish the anxiety that emerges when communicating bad news to your stakeholders is required.
An even better way to communicate project progress is through cloud-based project management software. Software like LiquidPlanner allows all project contributors to provide inputs such as updating task status, estimating work, and tracking time against tasks directly into the project plan. LiquidPlanner updates in real-time, saving you from the manual task of requesting updates and sending status reports. Then built-in reporting capability and dashboards can be leveraged to reveal risks before they become problems and enhance your communications to stakeholders.
I have learned that investing in robust communication plans and software tools are foundational elements to effective project, team, and stakeholder management.
2. Meetings can be magical
Not too much to talk about at this week’s project team meeting? Your first instinct is just to cancel it, right? Wrong! Canceling project meetings during slow times is a bad habit. You may think giving everyone the time back is a better use of company and personal time. But it’s important to keep the meeting on the calendar, even if it only provides a brief update. Periodic cancellations disrupt the important rhythms that good project managers establish. And cancellations may lead project participants to conclude your meetings are less important than other work. As a result, consistent attendance may dwindle, undermining the efficacy of the project team. Do not give project participants a reason to start skipping your meetings. Instead, engage the team to share updates and celebrate small wins. Listen for and accentuate those bits of information that, while trivial in isolation, may be pivotal to project success when shared in a timely and transparent manner across the team. We can all think of scenarios where a seemingly minor piece of information was shared that provided awareness enabling the project team to avoid a problem or achieve a milestone. Calling attention to these scenarios will reinforce the importance of effective collaboration that only is achieved via regular connection. Down the line, this routine can prevent project management anxiety.
Remember, don’t simply use the full meeting time for the sake of having a meeting. You can always end the meeting early and give everyone time back. Doing so will convey that you value their time and be an illustration of your focus and organization. Like a flurry of flowers produced by a magician from a seemingly empty top hat, your meeting participants will be surprised and delighted with the gift of unexpected time back and appreciate you for your discipline.
3. Document next steps
The meeting may have seemed like a huge success, but progress can fall flat without follow-up. Team members naturally get caught up and distracted by other work and shift their focus to other things. And while we expect each project participant to take diligent notes and be disciplined about pursuing next steps, as humans, we’re fallible. A well-crafted follow-up message captures and clarifies decisions, assignments, commitments, and agreed-on next steps. Make it a habit to follow up your meetings with notes distributed to all participants. A simple follow-up note will help ease your anxiety and strengthen accountability and alignment across the team.
Project management software can be leveraged to the same effect. Assignments, notes, and progress can be captured and updated live, so your team knows exactly what tasks they need to do next, in priority order – with all the detail they need in one place. And as changes in assignments, priority, or resourcing are made, the best solutions capture and calculate the impact in real-time. Most PM tools are simple and static. While they may serve as effective task managers and offer easy templates to populate an initial project, most do not update as changes emerge and therefore do not reflect reality past day one of a project plan. If you want to adopt a software solution to enhance your project management, set the bar high and select a product with automated scheduling that dynamically updates to reflect changes in real-time. Otherwise, you’ll just be paying more for the same headaches and anxieties that plague you when trying to manage everything in Excel.
As project managers, we all get a bit anxious and blindsided from time to time. If you say this hasn’t happened to you, you are either better than I am or are in denial. Hopefully, the advice I’ve shared here can help you maintain control, communicate like a champion, remain calm, and keep everyone on the same page. A well-informed and engaged team performs better.
Readers – what’s your take? Do you agree with this list? What has been your experience? Please share and discuss. Let’s share the knowledge and get better together!
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. He has been named the #1 blog to follow in 2022 and the “#1 Provider of Project Management Content in the World” with over 7,000 published articles, eBooks, white papers, and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV.