Project Managers have to be good at managing time – theirs and other people’s – as it’s one of the big three variables at their disposal: time cost and quality. In fact they have two types of time in their project planning – actual hours worked, which is really money if you think about it, and elapsed time. Both of these can be managed.
The biggest issue they face is that urgent problems tend to cut in and reduce the time they can spend on important tasks like planning, and monitoring progress and quality. These urgent tasks might be from the same project, other projects (maybe the one you’ve started is affecting your planning of the one you haven’t yet started) or from The Day Job. How easy life would be if we were just managing one project, but usually we are managing several projects and a day job, and probably DOING most of the work on some of the projects! So juggling and prioritising is a key area to master. And of course finding ways to control interruptions, be they by phone, physical, or email, is key, or they can steal 20-50% of your day away.
Linked to the above is an ability to not forget any tasks, however small. The small ones have the ability to stop a whole project, so everything must be kept under total control, by writing it down on lists of some sort. Project Management systems have lots of lists – risk logs, issues logs, change request logs, monthly progress summaries, etc, but as we know the problem with multiple lists is that you can easily forget to look at one of them. So the PM needs a system where all jobs-to-do can be accessed and remembered, and the system has got to be very easy to view and update or it just won’t get done.
Of course not every task has to be done in life, though in a project they pretty much all do have to be done. So skills like Saying No are important mainly in order to keep the rest of life at bay so that the project can be done.
Negotiation is a key skill for PMs since most of the people they deal with, from team members and other functions within the organisation to customers and suppliers, don’t report directly to them. PMs often feel that they are always asking for favours and help and often don’t have much to offer in exchange, but they have to find some negotiating strength if they are going to get all the resources they need in order to complete on time.
Procrastination is another factor in projects; if you postpone sorting out tricky problems, perhaps telling yourself that the might fix themselves or go away, then they will probably get worse, and will almost certainly end up resulting in there having to be a last minute confession of lateness and overspend, which is never popular. The sooner problems are addressed the better, but that’s not human nature, so we need systems to reduce our natural tendency to put unpleasant things off.
Meetings are a key part of project management, whether they be a brainstorming meeting at the start to get all the tasks listed, meetings with your team to plan the order of tasks (maybe based on post-it notes and a critical path diagram), meetings regularly during the project to discuss progress and sort out problems, or the review meeting at the end. The PM needs to chair these meetings with authority, keeping them efficient and short, while getting everyone to contribute, and getting clear minutes out as soon as possible after the meeting.
Delegation is also a key part of any project where the PM has anyone apart from themselves working on the project, and delegation can certainly be seen as a time management skill. In fact I would say it’s the number one skill that ‘ordinary’ managers need to master, and if you care about the quality of the work, and/or enjoy it, it can be hard to let go. In the case of a PM I think planning is the number one skill, (and finding the TIME for planning) but on larger projects delegation comes pretty close. Certainly if you’re too busy, and you have people working for you, delegation would be the first thing I’d look at. Are you doing too much of it yourself? Are you monitoring progress closely enough but not micro-managing?
The ideal project manager would be pretty hot on quality and detail, verging on OCD in fact, but there are times when you can be too fussy, and a time management skill that helps is to be able to determine what deserves lots of your time and what can be done “Well enough”. For example you’ll never get EVERY risk listed, but if you can get the main ones then that’s going to cover 90% of the problems. You’ll never estimate every task 100% accurately, in fact you probably won’t even manage to list every task, but if you can get all the main ones listed and estimated reasonably accurately then your contingency factor should take care of the difference. Spending twice as long on listing or estimating may not be worth the time, when you remember that every hour you spend on this is an hour you could have spent on something else.
So to summarise, as well as learning about Gantt charts, estimating, risk analysis etc, Project Managers need to know about:
• Prioritising urgent vs important
• Handling Interruptions and emails
• Listing jobs to do
• Saying no
• Overcoming procrastination
• Chairing meetings
• Being able to do things ‘well enough’
Good luck – check out all these subjects on my blog (index at the right of this article) and you’ll be fine!