How To Become A Successful Project Manager
According to the Talent Gap report from the Project Management Institute, the global economy will need 25 million new professionals with project management skills by 2030. There seems to be a talent shortage at present, and this is apparent across all industries, yet salary trends look promising.
So, if you’re considering starting a new career as a project manager, now is an excellent time to take action.
Today, we’ll talk about project management in more detail, why project managers are so important for any project-oriented business, and what you can do to succeed in this role. Let’s get started.
What Is Project Management?
Before we dive deeper into project management, let’s take a moment to clarify what the term "project" means.
Simply put, a project is a set of tasks that must be completed to achieve a particular outcome. Constructing a building, developing an application, planning an event, improving a business process, or launching a new product onto the market - are all projects.
Projects can take a day or several years to complete. They can involve many people or just one person. And although projects can be very different, there are certain things they all have in common, for example:
- Projects have a start and end date. They are temporary.
- Projects create something that did not exist before.
- Projects have constraints: scope, quality, time, budget, resources and risks.
- Projects are progressively elaborated (iterative process).
Every project can be divided into five stages:
- Initiation: The broad plan, goals and risks of the project are determined
- Project Planning: A detailed roadmap of the project is created. Tasks, milestones, deadlines, resources and deliverables are defined.
- Execution: At this stage teams work on the planned activities.
- Monitoring: This phase takes place along with execution. Its main goal is to ensure that the project progresses according to the plan, and stays on schedule and within budget.
- Closing: Final deliverables are presented, resources are released and documentation is completed.
Now that we know what a project is, it’s easier to understand the concept of project management. Simply put, project management is the process of applying specific skills, knowledge, techniques and tools to successfully lead a project through all the phases outlined above, from start to finish.
There are different ways you manage a project, so let's discuss some of them.
Project Management Methodologies
Project management methodology is a set of guiding principles and processes for managing projects. It defines how project teams work and communicate. Project managers will work with more than one methodology throughout their career, because different projects require different approaches.
Here is a brief overview of four popular methodologies:
The Waterfall methodology adopts a linear approach to project management. All the steps that are to be taken by the team are planned beforehand, and are then executed sequentially. One task does not start until the previous task is finished.
This method is widely used in manufacturing or for construction projects, where lots of changes are not expected.
On the contrary, the Agile method is very flexible and changes are welcome, if it means that the overall project is improved. Agile projects are based on iterative short delivery cycles called ‘sprints’. These ‘sprints’ allow teams to better adapt to evolving requirements and to optimize their work as needed.
This approach is often used for complex projects that are likely to change.
The Scrum approach focuses on small cross-functional project teams led by a Scrum Master. Work is organized around short sprints and daily stand-up meetings, where team members discuss current tasks and any obstacles that might occur. After each sprint, there is a retrospective meeting to evaluate the work done and to make any necessary changes before starting the next cycle.
The Kanban method helps to manage workflow by visualizing projects. Kanban boards consist of several columns, and each column represents a task status: ‘to do’, ‘in progress’, ‘done’, for example. Tasks are moved from one column to another until they reach the ‘completed’ column. It’s a very visual method, so it’s easy to see how much work still needs to be done and what has been finished.
Qualified project managers know the pros and cons of each approach, and can decide which one to choose for a particular project. On that note, choosing a suitable project management methodology helps to use resources, reduces risk and increases productivity.
Now, let's discuss how project managers can help businesses, what exactly they do, and what skills they must have.
What Does A Project Manager Do?
Project managers oversee projects from start to finish. They are responsible for planning, executing and completing tasks, while working with constraints like time and budget.
These professionals define goals, allocate resources and monitor a project’s progress for a business. They keep track of every detail, communicate with stakeholders and ultimately bring projects to a successful end.
Depending on the nature of the project and the industry, a project manager’s day-to-day tasks may vary. However, their duties and responsibilities typically include the following:
- Define a project’s scope and objectives
- Outline resources needed to achieve the objectives
- Prepare a project plan and schedule, define milestones and deadlines
- Coordinate team members' work
- Track progress, monitor costs and provide regular updates to stakeholders
- Manage changes and potential risks
- Maintain comprehensive project documentation
- Evaluate the project's results
To perform these tasks successfully project managers must have a certain skill set. These include:
Budgeting, risk management, creating project plans, industry-specific knowledge, familiarity with project management tools, and understanding of project management methodologies are the most sought-after hard skills for these professionals.
Soft skills are equally important for success in a project manager role. A good project manager must have excellent verbal and written communication skills, analytical thinking, strong time management skills, negotiation abilities and leadership skills.
So, these are the must-have skills for every professional in this field. But what does it take to become an outstanding project manager?
10 Tips To Become A Better Project Manager
Having analyzed what the best project managers have in common and what they do differently, we’ve put together a list of tips to help you, an aspiring professional, improve your work in this field.
#1 Communicate Like A Pro
Good project managers know how important effective communication is for a project to run smoothly. They’re not afraid to over-communicate to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and they ensure that the instructions they give out are clear.
They are also great active listeners, and know how to create a safe environment where every team member is comfortable enough to share their thoughts and concerns.
Besides, successful project managers don’t underestimate the importance of creating a communication plan that determines where, when, and how each team member can get the necessary information they need to complete a task(s).
#2 Set Expectations
Good project managers know that setting clear expectations is critical when it comes to a project’s success.
If team members only have vague instructions and a basic understanding of what needs to be done, they will inevitably become too frustrated to work and this will reduce their productivity levels.
And if clients have unrealistic expectations about how a project will progress, they will quickly become disappointed.
So, project managers must make sure that right from the start everyone involved has a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities, as well as, the project’s scope and timeline.
#3 Know Your People
Successful project managers know the strengths and weaknesses of each person on the project’s team, and they can leverage everyone's knowledge and skills to get the best end result.
It’s important because assigning work to an individual who is not well suited to it can cause delays and mistakes. Or, even worse, some tasks have to be redone.
And on the contrary, assigning the right work to the right people ensures that tasks are completed on time, and the project progresses as planned.
#4 Manage Workflow, Not People
Good project managers avoid micromanaging and overcontrolling their team, as they know that will not help the project.
Instead, they focus on improving work processes, creating effective workflows and preventing bottlenecks.
#5 Be Ready For Changes
Successful project managers remember that requirement changes can happen in any project.
In most cases, additional work and extensive documentation updates are needed to implement them. So, these changes must be broken down carefully and inserted into the already planned project schedule and must fit with the budget.
That’s why good project managers always prepare a change management plan that they can refer to, if need be.
#6 Keep Track
Good project managers always keep track of tasks that must happen in a particular order.
This can be anything from receiving approval from another team member or waiting for a delivery before the work can continue. But these tasks must be tracked because without them a project might be delayed and deadlines may be missed.
They must be managed.
#7 Be the Biggest Fan Of Your Team
Good project managers never forget that their job is not only about ensuring that a project is completed on time and within budget. Rather it’s also about motivating their team, encouraging them to perform at their best and mediating wherever necessary.
#8 Be Transparent About ‘Why’
Successful project managers don’t just tell team members what they have to do, instead, they explain why something needs to be done.
They know that when people understand why a particular task is a priority, they are more inclined to complete it as soon as possible.
So, good project managers always do their best to provide clear and complete instructions, and share all the necessary information with their teams.
#9 Make Data-Driven Decisions
Successful project managers don’t take the ‘guesswork’ approach when allocating resources, scheduling work and managing risks.
Instead, they use data from past and current projects to make good decisions. They leverage project analytics because this allows them to see exactly how teams perform, they can predict what is likely to happen, and they can choose the best actions to take.
#10 Never Stop Learning
Good project managers know they need to learn, no matter how many years of experience they have under their belt.
They must read about industry trends, new tools and innovative approaches to managing projects. They seek professional development by completing courses, training programs, and attending conferences.
And they also never miss an opportunity to find out how other successful professionals manage their projects.
Project management is an excellent career choice for those of you who are looking for a challenging, but rewarding job that is never boring, and involves a lot of communication with people from different backgrounds.
Besides, this job pays well and provides plenty of opportunities for career development. Experienced professionals typically move on to better-paid positions, such as program managers, portfolio managers, Chief Operating Officer (COO) or VP of operations.
According to Glassdoor, the average yearly salary of a project manager in the United States is $88,907.