Five Rules for Better Project Management

November 9, 2017

Project managers juggle quite a bit. Everything from setting scope and budgets to tasking assignments, scheduling meetings, and managing client and internal expectations fall under our purview. We think of ourselves as the hand that turns the crank, and the various disciplines within the agency as the gears of the machine.

In short: we stay pretty busy. But sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back from the tumult and reflect on the basic tenets of the job. These principles of sound project management can help every project run more smoothly, finish on time, and achieve the ultimate goal—making our clients ridiculously happy. 

1. Give Respect, Get Respect

Respect is the foundation of any healthy relationship. And project management, at its core, is about building constructive, respectful relationships. Project managers are among the few figures in an agency that engage with every team and, from inception to delivery, touch each aspect of a project. This responsibility requires a working relationship with every member of the agency, from senior management to interns. Mutual respect is the linchpin of these relationships and, by extension, successful projects.

This first tip then is a simple one: respect others and they’ll respect you. Give respect regardless of title, seniority, or concern with how it will benefit you. Subject matter experts (SMEs) are part of your team for a reason. Respect their expertise—they didn’t stumble into their positions.  Trust them to do their jobs and they’ll trust you to manage the project.

2. There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Communication

Projects can come up short for a variety of reasons. But no project ever failed because contributors communicated too much, had too much visibility into what was going on, or suffered from an overabundance of insight into what was expected of them. You simply can’t talk enough with your team. Whether you’re posting considerations to a thread in your messaging platform of choice, or keeping project contributors abreast of any and all updates from a client, keep lines of communication open and active. Information is currency, and it’s better to be rich than poor.

If there is a plan, tell everyone—then tell them again and repeat it from time to time. If people know what’s coming, they’re more likely to be prepared when it’s their turn to contribute. 

3. Problems Don’t Go Away; They Have to Be Solved

Problems don’t just solve themselves. In fact, when ignored, they tend to spiral out of control. A single problem today can, if disregarded, become three problems tomorrow. So when an issue comes up, whether it relates to process, output, or personnel, tackle it head-on. Acknowledge it, address it, solve it as a team, and move on. Punting on an issue is never a solution. You’ll find projects run much more smoothly when you take an active approach to problem-solving.

4. ASAP is Not a Real Date

If someone asks for something ASAP, tell them you need a date. If they repeat they need it ASAP, say you’ll get to it next month. After that, you’ll get a date. 

In project management, we work with real dates, real hours, real budgets, and real people. Triage is a key part of our job, and it’s impossible to establish priorities if we don’t have real deadlines to work against. Hyperbolic urgency isn’t helpful—make sure your team understands that. Everything can’t be priority one, and due yesterday. Force people to be practical, live in reality, and make decisions about acceptable timelines and what they’re willing to sacrifice to meet them.

5. Set Expectations

Life is about expectations. So is project management. If people know what to expect, no one panics. Introduce the unknown, and you will manufacture all kinds of issues and confusion, often unnecessarily. There’s a fine balance to toe here. Set expectations too low, and you can discourage contributors from giving their all. Set them too high and the client, and the entire project team, could feel disappointed in even great work. 

To avoid expectation pitfalls, communicate an achievable plan and if the plan needs to change, ensure everyone is made aware. Clear expectations lead to smoother processes, better outputs, happier contributors, and, maybe most importantly, more satisfied clients.