Project managers possess many skill sets that are unique to running a project. Successful project managers also possess general management skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills. These are skills that any good manager uses on a daily basis to manage resources and meet goals. You probably already use some of these skills in your day-to-day work activities. General management encompasses many skill areas including:
A project manager looks at the big picture and interacts with a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Good management skills are as critical to the success of a project as the correct technical skills.
In the following sections, we are going to take a look at a few key general management skills and how they apply to project management. We will also examine how these fundamental skills translate into your industry.
A project manager needs to be a good leader. A project team comes together for the life of the project, which can sometimes only be a few months. Team members will have very different skill sets and project experience. IT projects commonly have both technical team members and representatives from other areas, such as marketing, sales, customer service, or training. Team members may not have worked together in the past. To add even more complexity, team members may roll on and off the project at different times.
The project manager is accountable for sharing the strategic vision that created the project and providing overall direction to the team members. A good project manager knows how to align and motivate diverse people with varying backgrounds and experience.
Successful project managers will tell you that they spent a great deal of time communicating. Even the most detailed project schedule can fail without proper communication.
Project managers must develop a communication strategy that includes the following critical components:
Keeping these components in mind and developing a comprehensive communication plan up front will prevent misunderstanding and conflict as the project progresses.
Projects always have problems. Some are just more serious than others. Project managers must use problem-solving techniques throughout the life of the project.
You’re working on a software development project for a business unit in your company. You’ve gotten past the initial project request steps and you’re now in the process of honing in on the details of the requirements for the project.
You require subject matter expertise from the business unit in order to more fully understand and appreciate the business processes that your software is going to automate.
You set up a meeting with the director of the business unit. At the meeting you ask her two things. First, you want to know if you can use someone from the business unit to assist you in understanding the business process flows. You make it clear that the assigned individual must be an SME in the business process. Second, you ask if you can have this individual full-time for a minimum of two weeks. You suggest the name of someone whom you think will perform very adequately as a business SME.
The director is shocked that you require so much time from one of her people. She asks you to more thoroughly explain your need. You explain to her that in order for you to develop software that fully meets the business need, you must understand the flows that are involved in the business process. Further, you describe the process of generating a data flow diagram (DFD), a block diagram that shows, at a very high nontechnical level, the process as you see it, noting that you’ll need the SME to validate the DFD.
After some bantering back and forth, the two of you come to an agreement that you can have a week and a half of someone’s time and that you’ll use not one but two different business SMEs, splitting their efforts accordingly so that neither one has to fully dedicate their time to the business flow discovery process. The director stresses repeatedly to you that her people are so busy, she is being very generous in letting you have them at all.
You agree to the specifications, thank her for her time, and get to work figuring out the best questions to ask the SMEs in order to complete the business flow discovery process in as efficient and timely a manner as possible.
The key to problem solving is to recognize that a potential problem exists. Early recognition of warning signs will simplify the process. Pay close attention not only to your project team’s formal progress reports, but also to what team members say and do.
If you do identify a potential problem area, take the time to clearly identify the problem. A vaguely stated problem may drive the wrong solution.
Once a problem is clearly and concisely identified, the project manager works with the appropriate project team members to brainstorm alternatives. These alternatives can now be evaluated and a solution chosen. A project manager monitors the implementation of the solution to ensure that the problem is resolved.
A project manager is involved in negotiating throughout the life of the project. Negotiation is the process of obtaining mutually acceptable agreements with individuals or groups.
Depending on the type of organizational structure, you may start the project by negotiating with functional managers regarding assignment of resources. Project team members may negotiate specific job assignments. Project stakeholders may change the project objectives, which drives negotiations regarding the schedule, the budget, or both. As you execute the project, change requests often involve complex negotiations, as various organizations propose conflicting requests.
If your project includes deliverables from an outside vendor, you will be involved in negotiating a contract. This area is specialized and may involve representatives from a legal or procurement department.
A project manager oversees all aspects of the work involved to meet the project goals. The ongoing responsibilities of a typical project manager include tracking schedule and budget updates, conducting regular team meetings, reviewing team member reports, tracking vendor progress, communicating with stakeholders, meeting individually with team members, preparing formal presentations, and managing change requests.
Meetings consume valuable project time. Effective meetings do not just happen; they result from good planning. Whether you conduct a formal team meeting or an individual session, you should define the purpose of the meeting and develop an agenda of the topics to be discussed or covered. Time allocation for each item is critical to keep a meeting within the allotted time.
Clear documentation is critical to project success, and it must be available for immediate use. Without an efficient system for maintaining documentation, a project manager will waste precious time searching for the latest version of the schedule.
An excellent way to learn organization and time management techniques is to spend time with an experienced project manager willing to act as a mentor