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Project Management Success Strategies - Part One

Jun 21, 2008
In Hollywood, they say that movie stars are only as good as their last film. Well, as a project manager, you're only as good as your last project. Why? Because the bar is set so high. Every project has challenges, set backs, and hurdles 12-feet high, so a project plagued with problems is now the norm rather than the exception.

I recently managed a highly technical SAP project that had so many issues, every morning when I woke up I'd pull the covers up over my head for fear of heading into work. Fortunately, due to a few success strategies I had in the old toolbox and a minor miracle of all the planets aligning in the exact right place at the exact right time, my SAP project launched on time, on budget, and with the fewest number of defects than any other similar project in the company.

So in the true spirit of being a good project manager, I'm sharing my key learnings and success strategies that may help you manage your next project.

1. Give it your passion. If you're not passionate about your project, who will be? Nobody. How many times have you sat through a presentation given by someone who reminded you of Ferris Bueller's mono-toned teacher? If you take on a project that doesn't interest you, it's going to die a slow, painful death. Your senior managers, team members, and customers will all sense your lack of desire, drive, and most of all, your lack of leadership.

On the flip side, passion is contagious. When you have genuine excitement about your work -- because of its value to the company, or the thrill of working on a challenging project, or a breakthrough technology, or whatever -- leading the project becomes so much easier. Job number one for a project manager is to find your passion for the project.

2. PM as CEO. Commit to your project. Own it. Get involved and understand it. Otherwise, you'll be sitting on the sidelines and nobody can lead from the sidelines. You have to be visible. Don't sit in your cube wearing a headset 10 hours a day. Be approachable. Get out and talk to people, meet your colleagues, your customers, and shake hands.

Every project has a story and part of being a CEO is telling a great story. What's the biggest hurdle your team overcame? What was the biggest benefit your project brought to the company or clients? What's been the best part about leading the project? Tell it in a compelling way, and then broadcast it.

Also, learn how to give a killer presentation. Every great CEO knows how to give a strong presentation. Know your audience and what they really want to know. If it's a finance team then make sure you talk about data and facts. If it's senior managers then talk about the strategy, challenges and risks. If someone hands you a presentation template to use, then use it as a guideline but not as something carved in stone. Add to it, revise it, and make it your own.

Use data and logic to tell your story in a compelling way. Talk about your top two or three key issues and how your team blasted through them (or what the plan is to overcome them.) Educate your audience about your team's strengths, challenges, successes, and lessons learned. Teach them what you've learned as a PM. And most of all: practice, practice, practice. I always practice out loud three times before I walk into a room to give a presentation. Sometimes I practice five or six times! The key is you must be prepared and sound confident. Do these things and you'll knock your next presentation out of the ball park.

3. Playing to win vs. playing not to lose. In tennis, you can hit down the middle of the court and play not to lose, or you can play to win by going for the lines. One strategy is driven by aggression and passion, the other by fear. Every time I'm on the tennis court and play not to lose, I lose. I realized that I was using the same strategy in my PM work. So, I changed my approach. Now, every time I'm hit with a challenge, I think "play to win." It made a huge and positive difference in my thinking, my actions, and my project results.

And by the way, your team members who you are currently leading know which approach you use. If you're not already doing it, make a conscious decision to play to win.

4. Explain Why I live in smurf world. My family gets along, my neighbors are nice, and when I walk down the street in Phoenix people say, Hi. But life is very different in my work world. My professional world is what I would call schizophrenia on steroids. A relentless tug-of-war between resources, technologies, processes, approvals, timelines, and budgets. To say the least, the environment is brutal. This is what I know for sure: as much sense and logic that you can create inside your team, the better your team will function.

When you need their input on creating the project schedule, explain its value. When your project's timeline is being pulled in, explain why. When you ask a question, explain why you're asking. When you ask a team member to attend a meeting with you, explain why. This lets them tap into the way you think, the way you manage a project, and reassures them that everything you ask them to do has meaning and purpose. Eventually, they will trust that you are looking out for them, and doing what is right for your project, the company, and the team.

5. Learn to blast through roadblocks. Unless you're Superman, you won't be able to deliver flawlessly on every customer requirement. Needless to say, a large part of our PM role is to manage our customer's expectations so they understand the issues and agree on a manageable workaround solution. But that doesn't mean you and your team can't look for ways to exceed other expectations.

For example, if your technical platform is missing some functionality, look for ways to influence the manufacturer's roadmap. Or, if a vendor says the part will be delivered one week late, then work the problem with the vendor and your purchasing department, while keeping the customer informed of progress. Don't let a roadblock stop you. Work the problem and find a way to blast through it. Your customer will appreciate your drive and leadership.
About the Author
Sherri Thomas is President of Career Coaching 360, an international speaker, and author of "Career Smart - 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand." Career Coaching 360 Career Coaching provides career planning, management coaching, and leadership development support to help professionals change careers quickly and easily.
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