It was 6:00 in the evening and my two-year-old daughter had been quiet for far too long. After a frantic search throughout the house, I found her huddled in a corner, notebook paper and pen in hand.
“What are you doing, Sloan?”
She looked at me like it should have been soooo obvious.
“Writing a list, mommy.”
I have a lot of quirks as a Project Manager, but there is nothing like having them reflected back to you in your toddler!
But as we launch our #PM4Everyone campaign, it makes sense to start here, with the little habits and quirks that professional Project Managers have in common. If you’re looking to improve the skill of Project Management—even in a non-traditional context—these small tweaks could make a big difference
- We write everything down.
Nearly every titled Project Manager I know carries one or more notebooks with them
every meeting. I carry a bullet journal and a learning notebook nearly everywhere I go. The younger ones might rely on digital tools like Evernote. Another Project Manager I know has kept a daily log in a series of annual notebooks stemming back to the start of his career in 1983. I suppose it’s possible to be a good Project Manager without writing anything down, but I’ve yet to meet one.
So what kinds of things are we recording? At a minimum, most of us are tracking:
- Decisions that have been made which impact our project
- Decisions that need to be made to move the project forward
- Issues that need to be resolved
- Risks or open questions that need to be answered
- Lessons learned—those “Doh!” moments that we want to remember the next time we do a project like this one.
- We focus on WHO does WHAT by WHEN.
My husband’s catchphrase around the house is “Don’t Project Manage Me!” He says it the way I imagine a Transylvanian grandmother would throw salt over her shoulder to ward off vampires…often, and at no one in particular. He does this because, even at home, I don’t like loose ends. It isn’t enough to state that the headlight is out in my car. I need to know who is going to fix it, and by when.
While this has to be annoying at home, it is project-saving at work. If you leave a meeting without an understanding of WHO is going to do WHAT by WHEN, you’ve just wasted everyone’s time.
- We’re Worry Worts (in a Productive Way.)
Project Managers are experts at dealing with risk and uncertainty—but to do this, we have to be good at imagining a thousand scenarios where everything goes off the rails. To others, we probably seem like giant stress balls careening at full speed toward their cubicle. But to be a skilled Project Manager, you can’t afford to wear rose-colored glasses. You have to use your experience—and in some cases, your imagination—to prepare for many possible futures. The trick is to do this in a way that isn’t reactive, unproductive, or demoralizing to the team.
That’s why Project Managers keep a risk register—otherwise known to outsiders as the psychotic practice of keeping an actual list of all the things that could go wrong on your project, and what you’re going to do to prevent them from happening. Like a teenager’s angsty journal, this gives us a safe and productive place to exercise our imagination and problem-solving skills without sounding alarm bells too early. All kidding aside, it’s a good practice to spend some time identifying the Top 5 risks on any project at the outset. Ask yourself: what five things, if they happened, would compromise the success of the project? What can I do now to either prevent those from happening or lessen the impact should they happen anyway?
Bottom line: You don’t have to have a Project Manager’s weird personality quirks to benefit from them. Just apply these three simple practices, and you’re well on your way to improving your PM capabilities! #PM4Everyone