Once upon a time I was a carefree physical design engineer, happily running place and route. I must have been doing something right because one day I was asked to replace the EDA tools with a Gantt chart and become a project manager. Those were the end of my carefree days!
In this series of blogs I want to share with you
- how professional training (I certified under the Project Management Institute) really opened my eyes to what goes into running a project well
- highlight some common mistakes that are made when running a project
- and pick out some topics from my studies that gave me insight into how to manage projects in a better way.
Project management is difficult and it’s not for everyone. A typical assumption is that, if a person is good at task A then they must be good at task B, even if they've never done task B before. This has a name, it's called the ‘Halo Effect’ and I can understand it because humans are pattern matching creatures and so making assumptions based on limited facts is an easy thing to do. However, to be a project manager requires a different mind-set to the engineer, or team member, and without both experience and training ‘the obvious’ is often clouded in mist. Also, project management isn’t a trivial task – it shouldn’t be a set of ‘add-on’ actions that can be given to anyone in a project team.
To begin with, here are my personal top 5 take-a-ways from my training and experience thus far:
1) Communicate - Managing a project is about communication whether through face-to-face by the water cooler, meetings or writing emails and reports. If you're not doing it or thinking about it 90% of your time, you are doing something wrong. If you find yourself running that PnR tool again, stop, this is not your job anymore, please return to your thinking, planning and communicating.
2) Trust - As an engineer, trust was easy. I told the computer to do something and it always did what I asked, if not always what I wanted. I think the computer trusted me too. With teams it is different. The team has to learn to trust you and you have to be able to step back enough to let the team be trusted by you. Lots of ways to build trust but the most important is for the project manager to understand each team member and customer individually, know what makes them get up in the morning and what keeps them awake at night.
3) Requirements - Sounds obvious but if you don't know what your customer's requirements are for the project then you are probably going to fail them. Make sure to understand what the customer needs as early in the project as possible and keep checking that you are doing that and nothing more. Gold plating helps nobody.
4) Honesty - Let's face it, bad things are going to happen sooner or later. When they do you need to take responsibility and not hide them hoping they will go away. Keep the stakeholders informed of problems but be careful to not let them think you are simply passing on the problem. Also, if a customer asks you to do the impossible, they need to be told that and why. Past experience with "I'll do the best I can" is that the customer actually hears "I fully commit to your request".
5) Think - Stressful experiences don't yield well to innovative thinking. It's the old work hard, think later approach and it can often push you to the wrong decision. Build into your schedule, time for just doing nothing. Whether it's the train into work in the morning or a walk at lunchtime. It can often result in seeing those wood obscuring trees for what they are.
In my next blog, I will be looking at the 5 Process Groups of Project Management and how this can help you run your project more efficiently.
Andrew Miles PMP
Andrew Miles is a physical implementation engineer turned project manager. He is PMP certified and has led many projects for a number of tier one companies. He helps to run the Sondrel Project Management Office (PMO). If you'd like to know how Sondrel's project managers can help your project then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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