Project management is an increasingly important business function, essential to organizations looking to increase the efficiency and timeliness of their work.
The official responsibilities of project managers typically include initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing projects. They also oversee several key tasks in pursuit of successful project completion, including assembling a project team, monitoring project budget, setting timelines, overseeing deliverables, and communicating with stakeholders.
It’s not only project managers that are tasked these types of responsibilities, however. Even without the title of ‘project manager’, many professionals can still benefit from learning the skills and techniques project managers utilize every day. Read on to explore 10 tailored tips to help you improve your project management skills, even if you aren’t a project manager.
1. Begin with the End in Mind
Through his years in the industry, Joe Griffin—certified PMP and associate teaching professor in Northeastern’s Master of Science in Project Management program—has discovered that all successful projects have a specific starting and ending point. “Like a marathon runner envisioning the finish line, if you understand that arc and constantly envision your goal, you’ll remain true to it,” he explains. Envisioning your end goal is also impactful when keeping distractions at bay and remaining focused and on-task through the completion of your work.
2. Understand Your Goal
When you’re managing any kind of project, it is essential that you understand your overall mission before diving deeply into the many tasks required to complete it, Griffin explains.
During the process, for example, you may find yourself confronted by situations that aim to influence you to change the project’s direction. When situations like this arise, Griffin suggests asking yourself, “What do I need to produce for these influencers to meet their expectations?”
“These items are considered ‘mission critical’ and, ideally, you should feel comfortable declining other requests. Really,” he says.
Although it may seem daunting to say “No” to a request (particularly if it’s from a supervisor,) when you have taken the time to understand the vision of the project beforehand, what you’ve actually done is develop the tools and language needed to properly articulate the realistic goals of the work. In doing this, you will help keep everyone on track toward that predetermined objective.
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3. Be Considerate
On the personal side of project management, it’s important to take time to communicate with family and friends about the scope of your work, your deadlines, and the amount of focus required to accomplish your goals. This will create a much-needed understanding of your limitations as you work toward the project’s completion.
“When you’re managing a project, it’s easy to get so bogged down that you forget life is actually going on without you,” Griffin says. “Come up for air and let your colleagues and family understand your needs.”
From an in-office angle, it’s important to communicate with your team members about your schedule, working style, and personal life in order to manage expectations.
“Keep your colleagues and classmates informed about your schedule,” Griffin says. “When do you work best? What time do you reserve for personal commitments? Be clear and firm.”
4. Manage Risks
“Risk management is hugely important to project management,” Griffin says, offering the example of an adult learner trying to go back to school while simultaneously balancing work and family responsibilities. He explains the importance of identifying what the risks are in this instance and developing a “risk response strategy” that can be implemented if things don’t go according to plan.
An example of a risk-response strategy within this scenario, “could be as simple as realizing you don’t work well at night,” he says. “Maybe you’re a morning person. Plan a classwork strategy that mitigates the risk of unproductivity. Set aside time in the morning for working and let people know that that is ‘your’ time. Set up a process that works for you—even if it’s at 2 a.m.—and stick to it.”
5. Avoid Perfectionism
It’s human nature to aim for perfection when taking ownership of a project or task, yet there are dozens of factors and unforeseen circumstances that have the ability to negatively influence outcomes. For this reason, Griffin explains that employees should forget about perfectionism and instead focus on simply meeting the predetermined project goals. If the completed project meets the overall expectations of its stakeholders, then you should feel as if your project was a success.
Rather than slowing down the process by focusing on every little detail that could be improved, Griffin also suggests concentrating on big-picture success instead. He provides this example from the classroom as a representation of this idea:
“Each week, my classes have discussion board questions, and students need to post three times. Some post three times, others post 15. You can get full credit either way. Maybe it matters to you personally whether you get a 3.7 versus a 3.4, but nobody else is going to know or care…If you’re balancing other priorities—work, family, and life—recognize that time management and restraint is a big part of success.”
6. Effectively Manage Your Time
Managing your time effectively is a vital part of successfully completing any project in any setting. There are several time management strategies you can employ in your personal and professional lives to help you achieve success.
Having a well-defined project plan is one of the most productive strategies for time management, as it affects every phase of a project from beginning to end. If you attempt to execute a project without a plan, you will ultimately spend more time throughout the process deciding what needs to be done and how it should take shape. On the other hand, creating a thorough plan ahead of time acts as a roadmap for the project and eliminates the common time wasters that would otherwise be encountered.
Additionally, communication with stakeholders is an important aspect of time management. Delays in communication are some of the biggest time-related issues that project managers and other professionals encounter. To combat this, strive to keep stakeholders actively engaged throughout all stages of a project in order to maintain timeliness.
7. Avoid Multitasking
Although multitasking seems like the best way to get several things done in a fraction of the time, there is one problem: multitasking doesn’t actually work. In fact, our brains aren’t wired to handle more than one or, at most, two complex tasks at a time.
Research from the American Psychological Association found that switching between tasks can actually cause up to a 40 percent loss in productivity, as switching from one task to another causes us to lose focus, attention, and, most importantly, productivity.
Instead, there are strategies you can use to avoid multitasking and complete your work as efficiently as possible. For example, cutting down on interruptions of all kinds can help you improve your focus and boost efficiency, as doing so reduces the frequency of disturbances that can force you to split your attention.
8. Use the Proper Tools
In a world where efficiency is key, professionals need to take advantage of the tools available to them that can help make their jobs easier. Project management software tools can help managers, administrators, and other employees deliver projects as effectively as possible by offering features that allow you to manage tasks, track progress, and streamline communication.
When choosing which tools to use, it is important to analyze your needs and identify which options are able to meet your requirements. Having the right project management apps or software in your toolbelt can help you adequately communicate with your team, stay organized, and deliver projects on time.
For those who want to explore the features and benefits of different tools before making a commitment, there are free project management software options worth considering.
9. Get Familiar with Project Management Methodologies
Regardless of whether or not you hold a formal project management position or see yourself pursuing one in the future, the core methodologies of project management can be valuable to virtually all professionals.
Project management methodologies are considered to be the tools, techniques, processes, and best practices that guide someone through a set of tasks efficiently. It is no surprise, then, that these methodologies can be applied in any industry to almost any project. Getting familiar with some of the most popular project management methodologies—such as Scrum, Kanban, and Waterfall—can help you identify which process is best suited to your project or industry’s specific needs.
10. Pursue a Degree in Project Management
One of the best ways to refine your project management skills is to pursue a degree in the field. Programs like Northeastern’s Master of Science in Project Management provide students with the practical skills and theoretical concepts needed to lead complex projects. Companies are challenged to deliver projects on time, on budget, and according to specifications, and without skilled project managers, these tasks are nearly impossible to complete.
There are many job opportunities for project managers in virtually every industry, as well. Northeastern’s program allows students to tailor their education through a declared concentration, which can be used to align their studies with the industry or skill sets that most interest them. The program also provides dynamic opportunities for students with varying levels of professional experience to apply their skills to real-life scenarios, through its emphasis on experiential learning.
Even for those who do not wish to pursue a formal career as a project manager, the skills that go along with earning this degree can translate to any role. The key skills of a project manager include organization, time management, and strong communication, and, after all—what business wouldn’t benefit from an employee like that?
If you are looking to build your project management skillset and advance your career, consider whether earning a master’s in project management is worth it in the pursuit of your goals.
Mastering Project Management
For individuals who are not—and do not plan to become—experts in the project management field, the skills associated with this work are highly transferable to other professions. Mastering these practices, no matter your title, can help you become more efficient and effective in your role, and ultimately boost your career.
For those looking to advance their career in this industry, however, these skills and practices will be vital in establishing a successful career as a project manager, a title with a highly positive job outlook.
Did You Know? Project Management Institute (PMI) predicts that by 2027, there will be nearly 22 million new project management jobs worldwide due to the increasing need for skilled project managers to facilitate processes within organizations.
As opportunities for employment in this field continue to grow rapidly, the need for trained project management professionals will soon be greater than ever. Earning an advanced degree is a strategic way to stand out from the competition when applying for these roles. Learn more about the Master of Science in Project Management at Northeastern, and take your first step toward a fulfilling career as a project manager today.
This article was originally published in November 2016. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.