I used to think that successful project management was only for obsessively detail-oriented, paranoid, and singularly focused individuals. Yet even a former cable technician like me has managed a few high-stakes projects with extraordinary success. How is this possible?
Most contemporary project management frameworks can be effective but often need to be more practical in real-life applications. In theory, concepts such as triple constraints, timelines, milestones, scrums, and toll gates are all valuable strategies. With an unlimited budget, solid scope of work, and flexible timeline, any project is possible through several methods. However, while working on an actual project, you’ll never have control of all these variables. For example, you usually can’t tell your customers or bosses that they need to change their quality and cost expectations because of an overly ambitious schedule. A huge part of being a successful project manager is navigating situations where you may not have everything go as planned. Altering your approach when faced with new information and difficulties is crucial.
Telecommunications contractors like ATCO often work in an environment where the scope is unclear, deadlines are tight, and the bill rates/budgets are never enough. However, I believe that successful project managers worry more about controlling attitudes than variables. Team members who feel they’re winning are more committed, productive, and creative. Feelings and morale matter because they directly translate into actions. Here are five tips for what strong project managers can do to facilitate a healthy, productive relationship with their teams:
Project Management Tip #1: Being open and transparent with your team is critical to success.
Don’t be the captain who declared that “there are no rats on this ship” while one chews on their shoelaces. Transparency plays a huge role in building trust and rapport with your team members. Your team needs to be able to tell you when you’re wrong.
Project Management Tip #2: Re-frame success.
There is often a lot of noise and filler around success. Thus, our jobs are often boiled down to a primary mission: "clear up the backlog and reduce waiting times for permits, so construction teams are more productive in the field.” While this reduction simplifies things, asking for specific tasks to be completed with an explicit turnaround time adds clarity for you and the team members. This practice will also lead to smaller “wins” to ultimately completing a project, allowing everybody involved to feel like an engaged contributor.
Project Management Tip #3: Don’t get caught up in making the perfect plan.
Identify and prioritize the critical tasks and get to work. You can adjust your approach as you get feedback during the dynamic project completion process.
Project Management Tip #4: Set realistic deadlines.
ASAP is not a date! One of the worst things you can do is blow up reasonable and productive deadlines because the client “wants it done yesterday.” Tasks with a date of “ASAP” often take up space at the top of the list but never get completed faster than one that says, “close of business on Monday.”
Project Management Tip #5: Have checkpoints whenever you need them.
Don’t hold off until your revolving meeting or your tracker needs to be updated. Stay proactive and be available to your teams to prevent issues from piling up.
The project management process often reminds me of my experience in the US Marine Corps. While we never had exactly what we needed, we kept things simple and always seemed to find success. We’ve seen a similar outcome with this mindset here at ATCO. We try not to let a perfect plan get in the way of progress and keep things simple and positive. Team members are more successful when they’re supported and valued and feel they can win.
Want to learn more about management strategies? Check out our blog about managing teams in a remote work environment by our Senior Manager of Operations and Finance.