My PM just reminded me this article is due tomorrow.

published on
April 14, 2020

When you’re a project manager at a strategic marketing agency like Simon/Myers, the clock is always ticking. Actually, multiple clocks are ticking. And they’re all set for different times which will never sync up.

Let’s face it, the PM position is not a high-profile one. We need a selfless, team-first mentality. Our specialized talents, like pivoting on projects instantly, often go unnoticed. But here’s the thing: When our efforts go unnoticed, it means everything went off without a hitch. That’s what I take pride in.

During this time of sheltering in place, social distancing and working from home, our skills are more important than ever. We need to be a guiding light, helping to direct our clients and our co-workers through uncertain timeframes, while striving to keep projects on-track and on-budget.

So how will all of us self-respecting PMs adjust? Since we’re all working outside of our usual comfort zone, I’m offering some of my project management “tips of the trade.” They’re really just simple reminders that you may want to reference as you figure out your “new normal.”

1. Verify your calendar first thing in the AM.

Seems like a no-brainer, but calendars can get out of hand quickly. Adding last-minute meetings to the already-scheduled variety can be overwhelming. But it’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we’re prepared. I find that looking at my calendar multiple times throughout the day, as simple that sounds, reassures me that no balls are being dropped. 

2. Follow established processes.

Our companies have them for good reason. And they’ll be even more valuable in our new remote-working environment. When everyone is working remotely, they can’t do their usual “walk-by” check-ins, and costly wrong turns become more likely. Established processes help keep everyone on the same path, which preserves valuable time and budgets.

3. Overemphasize clarity.

Always make sure that details and direction are clear, and leave no room for misunderstanding. If something isn’t understood, discuss until it is. If there are questions that can’t be answered immediately, determine exactly when and how those answers will be provided. Budgets are never kind to those who have to rewind.

4. Communicate early and often.

The most valuable tool in our PM toolbox is communication. But it’s the manner in which we communicate that sets the tone for a project’s success and profitability. A constant (and consistent) reporting process is critical, whether it’s through email, a project management platform, or even word of mouth. Because no matter how carefully we plan, project changes are inevitable.

5. Set clear expectations.

Expectations are some of the most important things a PM can communicate to team members and clients. So setting (and managing) them are skills we need to master. If every project contributor has an upfront understanding of what’s expected from them, deadlines and budgets are much more likely to be met. Of course, reiterating expectations along the way is always a good idea.

6. Make deadlines real.

The most successful and profitable projects have defined milestones and deadlines. Make sure your team knows all of its touchpoints throughout a project, especially when cross-functional departments have to rely on one another to reach a common goal. Again, we should never hesitate to remind our teams of their due dates. 

7. Be a team player.

Clients expect deliverables and results. But before we can make promises on our company’s behalf, we have to know exactly what our teams need to achieve a client request. We may think a request sounds reasonable, or that accepting it will make our company look good. But we have to support our teams and not overpromise. 

8. Test some Project Management platforms.

While nothing can replace the human PM, technology certainly seems to be trying with all the PM platforms out there. The truth is, we can happily coexist. Before I found a platform that fit our company’s specs, I watched a range of “how to” tutorials. I also performed a few platform trials. Spending quality time before you commit will help determine whether you and your digital PM are soulmates.

9. Get with the online meeting program.

Online meetings are the new norm—and have been for a while. There are a variety of web conferencing options to choose from. So if your company hasn’t yet made the leap, now is the time, especially with the likelihood of sustained remote working. You can test your chosen platform at home with your family, perfect your skills, then champion the move at your next meeting. There may never be a better time to play catch-up.

Finally, be confident in your role, despite this accurate observation from a co-worker: “Being a project manager is like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire, you’re on fire, and everything is falling apart.” That pretty much says it all—even if we don’t like showing off. If we have it our way, our teams will never notice how good we really are.

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