Having only been working as an IT project manager for 2 years I’m no expert. However from watching others and doing a little research I’ve learnt that there is a clear set of skills that fit the role, and that in order to become awesome at project management you need to adapt and evolve to develop them.
The good news (which may pleasantly surprise you) is that this isn’t another monster list post, but rather just 8 skills, because actually when you break it down the skills required to perfect project management are pretty straightforward.
Firstly let’s qualify why the Project Manager role is needed on technology projects.
A creative and clever person comes up with an idea that would benefit their business and customers. *Clue: This is not the project manager* An accountable person with some money agrees to pay for it. *Clue: This is not the project manager either* Someone else is needed to make the idea a reality. To direct a team to build and deploy the software. *That someone else is the Project manager.*
I’m massively generalising of course, but the principle is valid.
These are the skills they need:
1. Stakeholder management (aka ninja communication skills)
If you don’t communicate current status on a regular basis, you’re in trouble. If you over communicate to senior people, who’s time is limited you’re in trouble (because they will pay less attention when you truly need them). If you communicate the wrong thing to the wrong person, you’re in trouble. But, if you tailor you message to suit the audience, agree up front the regularity and content of communications, and use a variety of mediums to do this (face to face should always be the first choice followed by video conference, then phone, then instant messaging – email should always be the last choice) then you will be golden.
This is all about clarity and making it easy for your stakeholders to understand what you are telling them and why e.g. We are blocked and have the following options to be able to move forward and I need you to make a decision on which one we should adopt. Or, we’ve had no response from X team, so I am escalating this to you to help make contact. Or even, we have a defect that we will not be able to fix in time for the go-live date, these are the risks of going live with the defect – do you accept the risks? Openness. Honesty. Clarity. Always.
2. Resource profiling In order to make the project a success, right from the get go, sit down and figure out what roles are needed to form the core team and how many of each. Then go ask for them, explaining why you need them and highlighting the impact of not getting them in terms of speed to market and quality of delivery.
3. Budgeting There are 2 sides to consider here:
The first is that the accountable person that holds the budget will probably already have a figure in mind of what they think it should cost to deliver the project. You need to find out who this is, ask them what that number is and what it is based on.
Second, you need to get feedback direct from the individuals that will be involved in the development and build to establish what the actual cost is, then feed this back in a black and white way. No frills. No emotion. Just facts.
You also need to be good at keeping a track of what’s being spent as the project progresses, so that you can provide this information to stakeholders, and use to it to inform decision making and priority calls.
4. Planning (a.k.a. making sh!t up) All project plans are nonsense. Whoa – did he just say that? Yeah I did. Why? Because you can’t predict the future. Maybe in a small start up this is less the case, but anyone who works for a large corporate business and tells you that they delivered an IT project on time, on budget and with the full original scope included is most likely talking balls (this happens in less than 15% of projects). It just doesn’t happen. Compromises will need to be made on one or all of these 3 elements.
I’m not saying you should’t create a plan, because it does help to breakdown the different aspects required, the order in which things need to happen, and the ‘rough’ timeline for completion. It helps to organise your thoughts and approach things in a logical, structured way. It also helps you to list out the stages of the process that you are expected to meet from a governance perspective. Each organisation will have it’s own project life cycle, with different gates / stages along the way. You need to become an expert at this so that you don’t get any nasty surprises.
However any dates should always be taken with a massive pinch of salt and you should never commit to them. Yes you can work to it, but things WILL move, you will learn things along the way and things will come up that you’ve not considered. That’s project life. Embrace it.
5. Collaboration Delivering a technology project is never a one man/woman show. Multiple people are needed across multiple teams to make it a reality, and a key part of the project manager role is to pull people together, to boost moral, to rally the troops and to help keep them focussed on the common goal. Make sure you know what that goal is and that you can articulate it clearly to everyone.
6. Integrity When they say they are going to do something, they do it. End of.
7. Calm Something will come up that you haven’t thought of. Someone will behave in a dysfunctional way that was not as expected. You may get blocked due to technical environment or system problems unrelated to your project. The ability to maintain a calm, controlled perspective rather than a knee jerk emotional reaction or even worse panic, will be what sets apart the great project managers from the dross.
8. Celebrating / Cheer-leading A good project manager doesn’t seek personal glory. They celebrate team success. They pat people on the back, thank individuals for their contribution and ensure the right people have been acknowledged. They know that the project can’t be delivered without the whole team, so they don’t claim victory as their own. They also don’t let the completion of a project go unnoticed. They ensure all the right people know about it and it gets the attention and plaudits it deserves.
That’s it. It ain’t easy to master this diverse set of skills and chances are you will have those which you are better at than others. But it ain’t as complex as some may believe and if you can nail these 8 skills then you will put your performance through the roof.