The Basics For Novices
While every project goes through a typical project cycle, not every new project manager understands the nuances of getting a project from start to finish. Many first time project managers find themselves leading teams because of their success in tactical positions. Moving to the strategic process of running a project takes a leap of faith and a willingness to learn new techniques. Business experts agree on five critical, basic project management skills that new team leaders should understand at the start of any new initiative.
Many first time project management professionals find themselves tasked with getting something done within a budget and by a specific deadline. While it may seem tempting to dive right in and figure out the details along the way, the basic project management principle of planning can prevent career disasters. Taking extra time on the front end of the project to get clear about results and responsibilities keeps teams from losing focus as milestones approach. Creating a statement of work or another type of planning document starts the project off with clarity and momentum.
When company leaders don’t feel committed to projects, those projects can be marginalized or canceled altogether. Even when “higher ups” request a project and select a project manager, managers and thought leaders can derail a project by pulling funding or sapping resources. One tenet of basic project management holds that spending time to bring every stakeholder into agreement can prevent teams from losing the support they need to reach their milestones. Collecting written approvals as well as verbal go-ahead can keep company leaders accountable throughout the duration of a project.
Clear, crisp, concise communication is another basic project management skill. Running a project effectively requires the ability to be honest and courageous, especially when delivering bad news. When backed up by clear reporting and metrics, even leaders of struggling project teams can still manage effectively by communicating their intentions.
Another basic project management skill involves distilling information from team members and analyzing a group’s effectiveness. It may sound simple to measure product deliverables against a set of milestones. However, the very best project managers understand how to interpret the trends of their team’s results. For instance, consistently beating deadlines might create opportunities to conduct more testing or to add more features to a product. On the other hand, understanding the underlying causes behind missed deadlines and the opportunities to get back on track can save a project from failure.
Possibly the most important basic project management technique, coaching helps team leaders focus on empowering team members to reach peak performance. Instead of micromanaging team members, coaching-oriented leaders focus on the wants and needs of individual employees to find the right kind of motivation. A coaching atmosphere enables team members to reach their own conclusions about the right ways to proceed with tasks, under expert guidance from project managers. This basic project management principle can be the hardest for novice managers to master, since it focuses more on delegation than on actual “doing.” However, a coaching methodology is essential when leading teams of more than three people.