Is project management an art or a science? How do I deal with problem employees? How can I improve employee morale and boost productivity? What skills can I develop that will ensure that my projects will run smoothly and to a successful finish. This essay tries to answer these questions, drawing from lessons I have learnt on the job. While the examples I provide are from a software company perspective, most of the article applies to any kind of domain. Being a Project Manager, I have found, calls upon 5 different sets of skills:
- A. Organizational skills
- B. Communication skills
- C. Problem-solving skills
- D. Leadership skills
- E. Team-building skills
A. Organizational skills
Do you consider yourself an organized person who can generate and keep track of multiple documents? If so, you already have one of the most important skills needed as a Project Manager. On the job, I was called upon to keep track of requirements and design documents, contracts, schedules, personnel records, project reports, communication (email) records, hiring history, meetings and status reports. Luckily for me, I have always been a meticulous record-keeper (since I don’t trust my memory :)), and this saved me from being overwhelmed.
B. Communication skills
This does not refer to just giving presentations, but to various forms of written and oral communication. A Project Manager is expected to produce high-quality project planning and design documents, and send out meeting agendas, updates, status reports and courteous and effective email. A good manager, I observed from my peers, is able to get his/her ideas across clearly and in a non-confrontational manner, without seeming to impose views on subordinates. This is a skill I am still learning. Good negotiation skills also fall into this category.
C. Problem-solving skills
A good manager has the knack of seeing the big picture for any problem, while others may miss the forest for the trees. I was frequently called upon to analyze a problem, research and compile a list of alternative solutions, determine the best course of action and get it implemented by my team. The trick is to never lose sight of the big picture – the overall problem we are trying to solve.
D. Leadership skills
This one is not easy. It is tricky to get your team to go with your idea without making them feel that the idea is being thrust on them. The team looks to the Project Manager to provide direction and vision. To be able to do that, I had to work constantly towards enhancing my knowledge – breadth of knowledge is very important, but depth is important too – superficial knowledge fools noone. A manager must earn the respect of his/her team, and the best way to do that is to lead by example.
E. Team-building skills
This is an often-neglected area, forgotten in all the excitement of project deadlines. But the effort spent motivating a team to perform to the best of its ability is worth its weight in gold. Four easy points to remember are: reward achievements, provide feedback, recognize strengths and provide challenges.
Instead of talking in generalities, let us follow the lifecycle of a project step by step, and see how these skills come into play. A Project Manager is involved in all of the following 5 phases of a project.
- Phase 1: Scoping the project
- Phase 2: Planning the project
- Phase 3: Launching the plan
- Phase 4: Monitoring progress
- Phase 5: Wrapping up the project