Carefully Curated Tips for the Great Project Manager

Carefully Curated Tips for the Great Project Manager

Back in 2011, I was appointed to a new role as Program Manager for a portfolio of training programs. To say this was a steep learning would be an understatement.

I had just spent five years on the road, globetrotting and delivering Enterprise sales training. I was a facilitator through and through, not a project manager.

The sheer volume of information, requests, emails and new processes was overwhelming.  To add to this, I started when the company was launching two of the most strategic products in its history – PlayBook and the BlackBerry 7 series.

Honestly, I failed. My projects were off track and in the red. The scope and final deliverables for some of my projects were not clear and development had already started. The risk of wasted resources during this extremely delicate time for the company was a thought that made me nauseous.

I did eventually find my way and enjoyed many successes as a Program Manager after this initial learning curve. In fact, once I learned the processes and built some strong supportive relationships, I really loved my new role.

Recently I have found myself providing guidance to an up and coming Project Manager at ViRTUS. Through this coaching we have curated some tips that will help all project managers stand out and go from good to greatness, whether they are newbies or seasoned.

Tip#1: If Everything’s “Fine”, Keep Digging

I agree wholeheartedly with all of Jill Duffy’s advice written in her PC Magazine article.

The one tip that really stands out for me is that if someone says everything’s fine you should keep digging. Duffy writes, “Check-in’s are invaluable. Very often, I find a check-in meeting results in an answer of “everything’s fine.” That’s when I find digging deeper and asking follow-up questions like, “that’s great to hear, but, really, there are no issues at all?” can make you stand out, and allows you to get more valuable feedback. That follow-up question often leads to responses like, “well, yes, X has been moving along nicely, but there was this little Y that rubbed me the wrong way.” There are many people who simply don’t like to complain, so it’s up to the project manager to dig deeper.”

I lived this exact scenario. I would get a green light from everyone during my weekly status meetings, only to realize that by the following Monday one of my critical teams put my project on the backburner due to another higher priority request, languishing my project into the dreaded red zone. After this experience, I also dug deeper and asked lots of questions to understand other team’s work-load beyond what I was asking them to do.

Tip #2: Build Strong Relationships

I heard how important it was to build strong relationships ad nauseam and was always left thinking – this is kind of obvious. No matter what role you’re in, its important to have strong relationship with the people you work with so why is it so important for project managers to have strong relationships?

Here’s what I learned broken down into a little formula:

Who: A project manager needs to have great relationships with their project team, stakeholders, vendors and peers.

Why: Project Managers are the hub of information which will be coming fast and furious and from many directions (ie: from all of the people listed above). Being privy to mission critical information could save your project. When things go sideways (this is inevitable), renegotiating timelines and asking for favours will go over much better with people who like and trust you.

How: There are many great tips on how to build strong relationships in this blog post. Key takeaway: don’t start when you need something. Building relationships is just that – they need to built from the ground up and continuously nurtured. Take an interest in what other people do, be sincere, get personal but stay professional and always, always be curious and ask questions – no matter how busy you are. Be authentic and empathetic, which means putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

Tip #3: Be a Performance-Based Project Leader

Brienne Armstrong, Client Ambassador, ViRTUS contributes by saying, “On any given project – the number of people involved can vary. The leadership style of a project manager can influence flow and outcome of the project tremendously. The common characteristic I’ve noticed among top tier PM’s is their ability to adapt, whether it’s to external conditions, internal re-orgs or a change with project team engagement.

By taking the time to know and lead each unique individual on my team, I’m able to get superior end results through enhanced performance, even when the tough gets going.

Knowing how to focus on each person’s strengths as well as having an awareness of their liabilities, is essential when working towards a desired outcome.

Tip #4: The Triple Constraint (cost, schedule, scope/quality) is a conversation, not a straight jacket

We love the “the triple constraint” tip from Dorian Prior, Manager, Employee Development, Fortis BC.  He learned that cost, schedule and scope / quality in project management is a conversation, not a straight jacket.

Prior says, “When you are new to project management there is so much focus on managing scope, and delivering the project on time and on budget.”

He adds, “While those things are important, it’s even more important to remember the purpose of a project manager is to add business value – sometimes that means keeping the project on a tight schedule, on a tight budget, and to a very specific scope, and sometimes it means recognizing that holding on too tightly to the triple constraints can result in delivering a product that has very little business value.”


Amanda Prelazzi is an Instructional Designer at ViRTUS

Amanda Prelazzi
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