Advice for Project Managers

I love a challenge and yesterday Rogerio Manso gave me one. To distill my knowledge, experience and advice into one paragraph. Never to be beaten I thought hard on it and went around a few times. I was answering the question, “if you could only give one piece of advice to someone wanting to be a terrific project manager what would it be”?

I thought of all manner of things such as:

  • Make sure you know what really constitutes success (for the person wanting the project)
  • Don’t say yes to something you know can’t be done
  • Only say yes once you’ve verified for yourself that the estimates and plan are doable (of preferably do your own plan and estimates)
  • Rookies define scope by what’s included, great PMs define scope by what’s not in. Less grey area
  • Always do a plan from the end back to the start. People will push you to do it from the start (bottom up) let them if you must BUT always do your own from the end back. There’s a whole lot of guidance behind this and it’s all extremely valuable
  • Never work for dual sponsors on the same project – there are so many reasons it could take up a book on its own
  • Beware the delegate sponsor, if you don’t have regular and useful access to the real sponsor, be afraid
  • Always know the lay of the land and pay particular attention to the people with the power to say no
  • Never accept responsibility without authority
  • Make sure you and the sponsor are on the same page and if not consider allowing them to find a PM who is
  • Always manage people ahead of process (seriously, it’s magic) people work for people and people deliver projects
  • Make sure the sponsor will have your back. You’ll need it and it’s bloody hard work when you need it and you look around and there’s no one there
  • Document decisions – there’s power in this and it’s not about covering yourself
  • Tell the truth, they might not like it and may be punitive but things will be worse if you go for good versions of poor truth and then things get out of control
  • If you need the job, or your career is tied up with the politics of your organisation, consider not being a project manager. People who need the job tend to make decisions and recommendations in favour of survival rather than the best things and that makes for a weak project manager
  • Get and stay interested in your career and profession. Stay current but not a slave to doctrine
  • Decide whether you want to be the best project manager in terms of keeping all the records straight, or being able to drive and deliver – the skill sets are quite different, rarely found in one person, and their application results in very different project outcomes
  • It’s not about you. It’s about the people around you. Hard to get your head around but essential to success

I kept asking myself, how can I distill it? And then it came to me.

If I could give only one piece of advice it would be:

  1.  Expose, communicate, test and document assumptions – yours and everyone else’s. Assumptions are beneath every single one of the points above. They are the power of great project managers and the destruction of all others. It’s not easy, it’s often uncomfortable, but it’s the secret to success on all project fronts.

There you are Rogerio, a long paragraph (well sort of if you use the definition very loosely), one I enjoyed writing and a good reason to remind myself of some sound basics.

I’m sure there are lots of people with great advice so please comment with your best advice for project managers.

If you’d like me to expand on any of the above please just ask. I’m on a roll.