As project managers (PMs), we are often asked to deliver on Key Results Areas (KRAs), to put up “our best show.”
Unfortunately most of us think that as a project manager, our only task is on-time quality delivery within a stipulated budget.
However, in this rat race, we tend to forget what makes us different from rest: the soft skills that, if honed properly, enable us to manage our users, sponsors, and all our stakeholders. Then our job is done.
In fact, a great and experienced project manager will always try to work on the following attributes, as she is aware they can place her above the rest:
- Visionary – A project manager needs to be visionary. She is the anchor of the project and unless she understands the big picture, she won’t be able to align the stakeholders to achieve it collaboratively. Besides this, she needs to be able to articulate the vision into executables and anticipate the risks. She should also cut off the problems that can impact the budget, resources, timelines and the overall goal.
- Organized – A PM needs to be organized. With so many important tasks (Dev, QA, Infra, Client, Requirements) running in parallel, it is important for her to keep track of it all, to be on top of the tasks, and to prioritize them the way they need to be.
- Communicative – A PM needs to be a great communicator, since she connects the dots for all the threads that run through the project, that connect all the stakeholders. The team, the client, and the vendor all need to communicate effectively. They should not be hesitant to use any communication medium, since the priority is to communicate the idea, and get the resolutions required. It is essential for a PM to pass on clear guidelines about goals, responsibility performance, expectations, and feedback. Besides just being transparent, PMs need to be crisp and direct in their conversations. That makes an efficient PM.
- A Negotiator – This is an art, which very few folks master. As an efficient project manager, you not only have to negotiate for your team with the client on a day-to-day basis to ensure scope creep doesn’t happen, but you also have to negotiate with the team itself and persuade them to wrap up things in a timely fashion.
- Empathetic – A project manager’s success largely depends on the success of the project’s stakeholders. Unless a PM ensures their success, considers their problems her problems, she will never be an efficient one. A great, empathetic PM not only closely interacts with her team members, but also understands their day-to-day concerns and finds ways to resolve them. Whether it’s over a coffee or over a beer, she tries to establish rapport with her team members, and be approachable for them. She also needs to be empathetic to her clients and should be ready to put herself in their shoes on and off, so that she can clearly envision the final outcome of the project. Being empathetic helps her not only to be just a PM for the client, but also a partner for the team. Eventually the team will start looking up to the PM for small consultations too. Empathy actually opens up the path of easy negotiations for the PM.
- A Leader – As a project manager, one has to influence both project sponsors as well as the team members: pointing them towards the same goal. She needs to be able to motivate the team, keep their enthusiasm high, and make sure that negatively doesn’t creep in between the sponsors and the team. A PM needs to be a great bridging gap between the two. Her actions should be inspiring both to sponsors in terms of quality demos, and to team members for being someone who is approachable and cares for the team. She should lead with integrity, demoing behavior consistent with values, commitment, and honesty.
- Knowledgeable – The more knowledgeable (both on Drupal and on the domain) the PM is, the easier it is for her to gain trust of the stakeholders. Being the repository of information, the turn-around time to remove blockers should be low for her. This also enables her to advise the respective stakeholders accordingly. For example: during User Acceptance Testing, a client faces a blocker and is unable to test their sites due to a Drupal cache problem. They raise this during status call, and instead of going back to the team, she can suggest immediate remediation and fix the issue. Her knowledge about organization’s processes and her rapport with who’s who in the organization also helps in expediting the day-to-day stuff for the team. Essentially, being a jack of all trades empowers her to be more decisive without encountering unnecessary problems.
- Pragmatic – A PM needs to keep her feet on ground rather than living in a utopian world. It is mandatory to be pragmatic with regard to the budget and the progress of the project. The moment she sees some discrepancy, it is important for a PM to highlight the same rather than thinking it will be resolved later. She should explicitly set the expectations both with sponsors and with the team, and weigh them practically on a weekly basis. Deviations should be actioned immediately.
- Decisive – A great PM needs to be decisive. She might come across situations during a project life cycle where some tough decisions need to be made in a timely manner. She should be on top of them. A good PM believes in reevaluating priorities. She understands what to keep and what to ignore. Good PMs avoid complicating simple things unnecessarily. For example: there could be situation where a client’s Drupal website launch has been postponed, and as per the current status, security and performance testing is pending. In such a situation, the PM has to either say okay for the launch without QA, or ask the team to stretch, or negotiate with the client. Also, she should be able to capitalize and leverage each of the team members’ strengths during a crisis time.
- Enthusiastic – Enthusiasm should be communicated with every conversation a PM has with the people around her. Yes, this is what a good PM does. She simply motivates the team members with “can-do” attitude. Even if a team is unable to achieve the desired results, the PM needs to hold the flag high with optimistic actions and understand the impediments and make every effort to get them removed. She should engage her team in various team-building activities and use similar modes to keep the tempo high for the them. When people share the reasons for something being not achievable, she should be the one to counter them with reasons why it is achievable, come up with a way to scale back to a minimum viable product. Believe me, enthusiasm is contagious. PMs always take problems in stride, and articulate the problems in such a way that the project is eventually completed!
- Trusting – An efficient PM firmly believes in the saying, “A good leader is lazy.” This simply means that she trusts her team enough to delegate tasks to them. A good PM will never micromanage. Instead she ensures an environment where people can participate freely. This in turn increases the accountability amongst the team. In fact, micro managers eventually wind up working on their own, and an efficient PM feels proud to run the project in auto-pilot mode. She believes in enabling the team with the right kind of guidance. She instills trust in them.
- A Problem Solver – In her daily routine, a PM walks on the edge. Her ability to creatively resolve the impediments, problems, and blockers distinguishes her from an ordinary PM to an excellent PM. Good PMs embrace the part of the problem which is actually critical, rather than simply blowing it up and using it as blame game. They are more problem solvers than problem pickers.
Project Management is beyond merely moving a milestone in the project journey. An excellent PM knows when, and in what capacity, to implement the above skills so that project stakeholders can sleep peacefully. It is her miracle touch/abilities that can actually turn a project into gold!