The 10 golden rules of being a Project Manager

Let me begin by saying, that there is no sacred list that you get given when you become a Project Manager (it’d be so easy to be one if that was the case!) but when you’ve run a lot of Projects you get to know that there are a few things which remain true, no matter what project you’re in, what industry and regardless of team members involved.

  1. Communication is key.

Clear, consistent communication is vital for a successful project. There’s a statistic that says 90% of a Project Managers’ job is communication and that is true. You need to make sure that you have your stakeholders clearly identified and then you can communicate the message to the right audience. This includes making sure that you’re adjusting your message according to the audience too.

2. Poor planning leads to poor execution

A lot of Project Managers tend to rush this step and it’s one thing that’s due to lead to issues during execution. You need to make sure that you’re spending enough time on the execution of your projects. I’ve recently written a blog post on estimating in projects and this is an area of planning that I think a lot of people sadly underestimate.

3. Stakeholder Management is critical

Do you know who makes decisions in your organisation? Do you know who really has the power in your organisation? How many times is it someone that you don’t know? When I begin a new project, I spend some time to work out the ‘project landscape’ and who I need to know. This includes everything such as: who can get me information on the schedules of the Steering committee? Who does the CIO Listen to? Who is for this project? who is against it? Creating a ‘power interest grid‘ can really help you understand who your stakeholders might be.

I’m planning to write a blog post soon on how to manage stakeholders and this will be something that I’ll be explaining further.

4. Risk Management is a daily activity. Not a task for the start of the project!

A lot of Project Managers make the mistake or simply forget to continually check their Risk Registers and few continue to do adequate Risk Management. I’ve recently written a blog post on Risk Management that you might find useful for keeping track of your risks and what’s the most important things to consider. Risk Management really needs to be a daily/weekly activity and make sure that you’re looking at the opportunities and not just the threats in your projects.

5. Stress Management is vital

I will talk about a taboo subject now; mental health of Project Managers. How often do you take time for yourself? How often are you responding to emails outside of work hours that isn’t really necessary? How many times have you answered your phone on holiday? Creating a healthy work/ life balance will ensure that you can remain a Project Manager for a long time rather than working yourself into the ground for a few years, delivering exceptional Project Management and then burning yourself out.

This is a very important topic for me and it’s one that I often coach Junior Project Managers on. Being able to manage and handle your stress will ensure that you can be a long-term successful Project Manager and finding what works for you is key to this. I enjoy running, so I’ll regularly be running to release stress but I know peers that play squash, sing karaoke (yes, really!), go for long walks.

6. Adapt or die: Training for Project Managers

So, you’ve got your certification! Congratulations! But if you think that your learning ends there, then you are mistaken! The current market for Project Managers remains so competitive that you need to be continually learning, adopting new techniques and ways of working to fully utilise and make yourself the best Project Manager that you can be.

7. Listen.

Are you a good listener? This answer will separate you into being a “good” Project Manager to being an “excellent” one. Sometimes it’s not just listening to what your team is saying but also listening to what they are NOT saying. Listening to your team and translating them into meaningful updates will give the opportunity to present the most accurate information to all of your stakeholders. Be that Chameleon!

8. Assuming things makes an ASS of U and ME.

I was in a meeting several years ago talking about requirements with a customer and one of their team was getting exasperated regarding what was being presented and stood up and said: “When you ASSUME things you make an ASS out of U and ME” (thus making the word Assume if it’s not clear). It made me laugh but it was a very clear reminder to me to never assume when it comes to requirements gathering and project information. Check and align that we’re all on the same page and then avoid any misunderstandings.

9. Change Management is everyone’s responsibility

It’s a difficult topic to discuss as a lot of people have very different understandings of what constitutes change management and why it’s their responsibility. At the start of the project, I always lay down some “ground rules” for my project and this is one of the things that I put down. Every change that we make during the project is everyone’s responsibility to make a success. This isn’t so much about organisational change management but rather the key pillars of what makes a project a success or not.

10. Who’s in your team?

Have you ever heard the phrase: There’s no I in team but there’s a ME if you look hard enough? I think that it must have been created by some Project Managers that I’ve worked with. The project is a team activity and this means that as a Project Manager, you may be in control but you also have a team to work with and who can help you … so you should let them! Delegate to your team, delegate activities to your Project Office (if you have one). Working on everything, all the time will not help you with Nr. 5 Stress Management. Focus on what’s important and what you need to achieve and then move forward towards a better, more productive use of your time.


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