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Keys to Successful Project Management

Kari Boots   |   Jan 18, 2019   •  8min Read

I’m going to dare to speak the unspoken truth that we as Project Managers are afraid to admit – Project Management has lost its touch. Yes, you read that right.  I just admitted, out loud, that we have lost our way.

Project Managers are inundated with tools and applications, all readily available to help us become more organized, focused and efficient.  We do more, with less time.  But when we log off of the tools and get down to basics, how many of us have forgotten the fundamental principles of what makes for successful project management?   I’m not talking about the stiff, textbook approach to project management – “follow these exact phases and steps for your project to be successful”!  I’m talking about the interpersonal, human connection that we tend to overlook and forget when we’re mindlessly passing through our daily routine within the sea of technology available at our disposal.

The reality is I’m just as guilty as the next PM when it comes to getting caught up in the mundane tasks of project execution and delivery.  But I have a secret sauce I want to share.  It’s my tried and true, fundamental, back to basics approach to not only project management, but business in general.   These three key principles have contributed to my success throughout my career.  I want to share them with you so that you can use it as inspiration – borrow my list or come up with your own.  Either way, you’ll find this to be an invaluable exercise that you’ll refer back to for the rest of your career.

Kari’s Keys to Successful Project Management (the “Secret Sauce”)

#1) It’s all about the PEOPLE

“Design and programming are human activities; forget that and all is lost.” – Bjarne Stroustrup, Computer Scientist

Always remember that PEOPLE are the driving force behind any project.  Notice I did not say resources.  I’m talking about real humans here, not a headcount on a resource planner.  Let’s make a concerted effort to quit calling them resources to their face – it’s dehumanizing.

Acknowledge the people around you and do it early and often.  Give praise and public recognition.  Make a big deal about things.  Take the time to show your teams how much their efforts are appreciated.  Studies show time and time again that acknowledging the amazing things people do can be more motivational than monetary rewards.  When you get the best from people, the results are unprecedented.

Get to know your team.  Take the time, even when you think you don’t have it.  Dig deep and understand their position and motivating factors on the job.  Learn more about their life outside of work.  Find commonalities among your lives.  If you make this extra effort, your relationships will grow stronger and you’ll earn their respect.   This is paramount if you want to become successful in Project Management.  

#2)  COMMUNICATION is king

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” – Joseph Priestley, Theologian

Quit hiding behind technology.  We lose too much valuable conversation when we rely on the tools to communicate for us.  Get out from behind the keyboard.  Pick up the phone.  Drop by someone’s desk.  Always favor two-way conversation rather than one-way conversation.

Communicate clearly and often.  Set high standards for communication, not only for yourself but for all who are engaged on your project.  Be honest and transparent.  People expect honesty, so give them the courtesy of being clear and concise with your message.  When people truly understand what you want, they will go above and beyond to deliver it.  Take the time to communicate team successes both internally and externally.  When things don’t go well, constructively communicate your concerns and work jointly with the team or individual to solve the issue at hand.  Always treat others with the same respect you would expect from them.  

Listen more, speak less.

Listen more than you speak.  You are not the smartest person on the team (or in the room for that matter).  You may have great ideas, but I guarantee your team has better ideas.  Listen to them.  You don’t learn anything when you do all the talking.  Soak it in.  Strive to continuously learn from the people around you.  Always value individual opinions and ideas over groupthink.  

#3)  Don’t forget to make it FUN

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.” – David Ogilvy, Advertising Tycoon

Be an El Camino.  Business in the front, party in the back.  There is a time and place for professionalism, but don’t forget to have fun along the way.  Do you enjoy working for or with people who lack personality?  Of course not.  You get the most enjoyment working with people who are real, who have a fun-loving approach to projects and who face a project’s inevitable challenges with a positive outlook.  I promise you, if you aren’t real with your team and you try to be all business 24/7, your team will dread working with you.  Do yourself a favor and be a real person – cut out the stuffy bullshit you’ve read in Leadership 101 books and let your personality shine.  Your team will thank you.  When the project ends, they’ll want to follow you to the next project.  If they don’t, you should probably have some self-reflection and adjust your approach and style.

Laugh Often.  Of course, you and your team are employed to do a job.  But making it fun along the way makes the mundane tasks a little more bearable.  Make a point to cut loose with your team.  Joke with them.  Laugh.  Most importantly, laugh at yourself.    

I don’t consider myself to be an expert when it comes to Project Management.  I do however consider myself realistic, honest and approachable.  These traits have proven successful for me time and time again throughout my career.  Each Project Manager has their own style and approach – some right, some wrong.  Most of us have gotten too caught up with the flashiness of all the technology we have at our disposable and we’ve become lazy.   I encourage you to pause and get out from behind your computer screen.  Reference my keys to successful Project Management or come up with your own.  Make a point to refer back to it weekly (if not daily).  If you make a genuine effort at getting back to the fundamentals of human connection, I promise you’ll find increased success in your relationships and ultimately your projects.  You’ll thank yourself in the long run, but more importantly, your teams will notice the difference in your change in approach and will thank you too.  After all, it’s the people around us that make us successful.  


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