It’s difficult to define what makes a “good” project manager. Every organization defines the role and the title differently. However, project managers are needed in almost all industries. As a PM, you might work on small or large teams with job duties that range from budget and timeline only to everything you can think of under the operational sun.
Maybe you’re not even a project “manager” by title or you work on your own, but you’re responsible for managing work projects. No matter where you stand, there are things you’ll need and want to learn as you jump in to managing all of these things. You’ve come to the right place.
As a PM, you might work on small or large teams with job duties that range from budget and timeline only to everything you can think of under the operational sun.
This series, written in partnership with TeamGantt, will cover both the soft skills and the hard skills all project managers need. In this guide, we’ll share tips on project planning, managing scope and expectations, and more. If you’re ready to jump to those topics, check out our table of content. But, if you’re interested in learning the basic project manager responsibilities - keep reading. Here we’ll share the core of what a project manager does - and what makes a project manager stand out.
It’s universally accepted that good PMs are easy-going communicators who do not flinch at the thought of communicating with their team and clients. This means speaking to people in person about a variety of topics - both easy and difficult in nature. Project managers also cannot be bashful about keeping communication open at all times and need to recognize the fact that an entire team might not communicate the same way. It’s a fact: Any project will fail without a line of solid communication. Being clear, concise, and honest when coordinating projects is key.
It’s not all about you and your process as the PM. It is all about you working with the team to come up with a structure that works for everyone.
Getting to know the people you work with and understand how they work and communicate is important when trying to motivate a team and accomplish deadlines, or even simple goals. Many times, a PM needs to be a project chameleon to make this happen.
Devising a communications plan for your team can be helpful, but forcing a communications structure won’t always work for everyone. As a project manager, you have to figure out how to communicate with the various personality types on your team. You can set proper expectations, but if you ignore your team’s preferences and just do things your own way, you’ll find more barriers to success.
Remember, it’s not all about you and your process as the PM. It is all about working with the team to come up with a structure that works for everyone.
You may ask, why change your communication strategy from project to project? This approach could get confusing for you. Think about it: If you put the time and effort into getting to know your team and creating a plan with them, everyone will buy in. In effect, they will communicate in a way that makes them comfortable and deliver on your projects with less effort, confusion, and fear.
Status meetings and weekly status reports are invaluable to you as a project manager. They help you keep track of next steps, action items and project risks. Use a weekly status report to stay transparent about budget, process and to avoid awkward conversations about needing more time or money to complete a project.
There’s value in regrouping on a regular basis to talk about what’s happening and what the team is accountable for at any time. If you’re working with clients, it’s a good practice to communicate project details and scheduling updates in writing on a weekly basis as well. Even hopping on the phone to talk through a status report will help reinforce project deadlines and build rapport. Remember, it’s never a bad thing to pick up the phone!
Whether your communication style is through email, phone, instant message, mail, carrier pigeon – it’s crucial that you find a way to make your point known.
Setting and managing expectations is one of the most difficult tasks a project manager has to do. At the beginning of a project, there are many unknowns. However as you build key project management deliverables, such as a scope, timelines, and a project plan, you can set clear expectations with your team and clients.
Setting and managing expectations is one of the most difficult things a PM has to do as a part of the role.
Every project’s expectations should be set by a well-written scope of work. If your company doesn’t have documentation to back up a specific project request, create it. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, formal document! But some semblance of a scope will help provide you and your team with guidelines and expectations of what the team will deliver.
It’s also good practice to sit down with your team and clients at the beginning of a project to review the scope in conjunction with the project timeline. This means that you have to explain levels of effort attached to tasks.
Having this type of conversation early on will keep your clients informed of the level of effort that your team will put into all aspects of the project. It will also keep them engaged in your process.
Between deadlines, check in on the upcoming document or delivery milestones. Take the time to chat with the team about what each task entails. Are any deliverables changing based on previous work? Will that impact the scope and the timeline?
Check-ins allow you to give the team timely, constructive and helpful feedback to make end deliverables stronger. Remember when it comes to setting expectations, there is nothing wrong with repeating yourself as long as your repetition is meaningful and timed just right!
TeamGantt Tip: Use the team collaboration features in TeamGantt to communicate check-ins with your team on tasks and projects.
Inevitably, there will be times in any project where left-field ideas arise, new requirements, and questions that will come to you. Proceed with caution, project manager! If a client, partner, or team member is approaching you about any of these things, it’s best to make sure the ideas check against your project requirements. The documentation isn’t always the bottom line, so it’s best to be open about any idea or a conversation.
Know when to involve the team to help guide the conversation and the decision making process. For instance: Is the client asking something that is design or development-specific? If yes, pull in the appropriate people. They can help answer the question, and possibly even do it better than you.
Recognize that you are the PM – not the PM, design director, and consultant. It’s more about owning your role and being honest about your expertise.
Don’t think of yourself as ‘just the PM,’ but recognize that you are just the PM.
A project manager should never answer to project issues completely alone unless they are specific to budget, scope, and pre-determined guidelines. After all, your team is made up of experts who are responsible for answering questions that fall within their realm. Your job is to farm questions to them without getting in the way of their work.
Ideally, if you don’t know the answer and you can’t pull someone in the room at that moment, take good notes and follow-up. There’s nothing wrong with following-up on a conversation when the time is right. That’s when you become a successful project manager, not “just the PM.”
Later in this series, we’ll get further into the mechanics of working well with (and winning over) clients and how to become the project manager everyone wants to work with in this series.
You may not be a peppy cheerleader by nature, but every project needs a leader who owns and supports the process. A good project manager will enforce process and keep everyone on the team in-sync. Juggling timelines, deadlines, and deliverables is key, but a project manager who also supports the process, the team, and the client, brings true value to a project.
Be the one who says, “Wow, this is really nice. Good work”. Celebrate the wins and encourage the team to do the same. At the same time, don’t be afraid to be the one to say, “Did you think about X?” to look out for the best of the project and your team.
Successful project managers understand every aspect of the project and anticipate questions or concerns the client might have. This type of behavior not only supports your team and your project, but shows everyone involved that you are genuinely engaged, and not just worried about the PM basics.
Every project needs a leader who owns and supports the process.
There is no doubt that project management is one of the most challenging and rewarding career paths one can take. A good project manager can help a business clarify goals, streamline processes, and increase revenue. It’s no surprise that PMs are highly sought after in many industries.
But no matter where you take your PM skills, you have to hang on to the core skills that will make you “good.” At the heart of it, you must be highly organized and process driven, but being an easygoing, adaptable person who genuinely likes a good challenge. Keep reading to learn more lessons, best practices, and tips on how to be a successful project manager.
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