Most Valuable Advice From "The Top Project Managers"

Written By: Dan Schawbel
August 20, 2014
5 min read

Recently, The Fast Track blog released our “Top 14 Project Managers to Follow on Twitter” list. In order to learn how to be a better project manager, I spoke to six of the fourteen project managers on this list. I asked them each five questions as part of a new series to help project managers, and future PM’s, become more successful. For the first post in this series, I asked each of them for their most valuable piece of project management advice. I spoke to the following PM’s: Cheri Essner (@CheriEssner), the founder and CEO of KoreBuilders.com; Michael Alan Kaplan (@mkaplanPMP), the founder and CEO of SoftPMO; Steven Baker (@STEVEPMP), a Project Manager at CSE ICON, Inc; Susanne Madsen (@SusanneMadsen), the author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook; Thomas Cagley (@TCagley), Vice President of Consulting at David Consulting Group; Jerry Ihejirika (@JerryIhejirika), a blogger at JerryIhejirika.com.

Dan Schawbel: What is your most valuable piece of project management advice?

Cheri Essner: My most valuable advice to all PM’s is to be transparent in all of your initiatives. When you have your project kick-off meeting, along with discussion of the vision, tools and techniques that will be used, you need to brainstorm with your team as to what the behavioural norms will be for working together. Everyone has their say. You then document and agree to these behaviours, giving the team the opportunity to stop people from crossing the line. A team needs to learn to work together. These behavioural norms can be fluid as new issues arise, a little like an action log or risk register. They need to be reviewed and refined as the team progresses through the project.

Transparency also is part of how we communicate. This means roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and communicated, no duplication of work.

Being transparent includes dealing with uncomfortable situations such as being behind schedule. It is an issue that needs to be recognized, discussed and resolved, not something to withhold due to fear. It is your job to have all the facts in order to be able to answer openly and honestly to project status. The way to stay within your values and not to engage in unproductive conflict is to take issues back to the process and keep your conversations curious and impersonal. You have a Charter, Scope, Risk Register, an Action Log and the PMI.org Ethical Code of Conduct as a bare minimum that you are expected to abide by. Very few can argue the process. Remember that in this new global environment people have the ability to see you and judge your decisions!

Michael Kaplan: Don’t let the little things that take place upset you or hurt your self confidence in your ability to lead the project to a successful outcome. Use your knowledge and abilities to help others on your team develop their project management skills. Always lead by example and let team members manage parts of the project. Take note of what works and what doesn’t so you can do better next time. Most important: spend time focusing on the big picture, and not just the day-to-day activities.

Steven Baker: Remember that a project manager is a communicator, and often times that means communicating the bad news. Always be brave enough to deliver your message, even when it will not be received well.

Susanne Madsen: Simply put, my advice is to become a leader of projects rather than just a manager. As project managers we are concerned with logical and task-oriented aspects of the job such as planning, managing risk, allocating resources and assuring quality. These are important aspects but insufficient when running a large project. Leaders – in contrast to managers – are more people-focused and concerned with the project’s vision and producing an output that adds long-term value. When project managers step up and become leaders, they seek to motivate people at an individual level. They don’t rely on their authority for getting work done but build strong relationships based on trust, inspiration and “what’s-in-it” for the individual team member.

Thomas Cagley: Projects and programs are not merely the sum of their parts. It is seductive to focus on making sure all of the individual parts of a project or program are on-time, on-budget and on-scope, only to find out they won’t integrate together without rework. Good project management has to find balance between focusing on the detail and on the big picture. Agile has it right – deliver and test in an integrated environment, early and often. Early testing is critical even if you have to build frameworks, harnesses and stubs to make that testing possible.

Jerry Ihejirika: Well, I am not fully well-experienced yet in project management as I am a new graduate in the industry so I don’t give advice that much – I just ask questions, learn and challenge opinions. However, with the knowledge I have gained so far, my most valuable piece of project management advice is “Do not solely play by the book.” Various projects come with various constraints so you need to be flexible and adapt to the existing conditions.

Written By: Dan Schawbel
Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm. His new book, a New York Times best seller, is called Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin's Press) and his previous book, Me 2.0, was a #1 international bestseller.

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