Learning to Be a Great Project Manager in Any Role


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Good books about project management are rare but projects have become a cornerstone in the modern workplace, whether it’s something as simple as redesigning an office or developing new software. Today we want to talk about the book ‘Project Management For The Unofficial Project Manager‘ by Kory Kogon, Suzette Blakemore, and James Wood. All projects, no matter their size, adhere to two basic principles. They have a beginning and end date; and second, all create something that is new and beneficial. Most people doing project-based work become unofficial project managers without realizing it, and very quickly they find themselves in a challenging situation.

A high amount of projects are either canceled or not completed on time, which research shows are due to poor management. A staggering amount of an individual’s workday is spent on projects, yet very few people identify as project managers. Even fewer have received formal project management training. The book ‘Project Management For The Unofficial Project Manager’ by Kory Kogon, Suzette Blakemore, and James Wood can help you if you have ever found yourself in a stressful situation. I also want to add that you don’t necessarily have to be part of a company to use these skills. An unofficial project manager could also be a mom or dad or anyone. Projects are all around us and they want to be managed.

The tacit leaders and managers without roles

Some people in the world don’t have a job title that gives them power, but they are still able to lead people. This is done by having a strong character and being someone that people want to follow. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. were two examples of this. They didn’t have any formal authority, but they were still able to make a difference in the world. If you want to be a good project manager, you need to be someone that people want to listen to and who has the strength of character to inspire others.

Project Management Team Sitting to Discuss Status in a Meeting
Image: Yury Krasilnikov / Depositphotos

This book says that there are four important things that leaders should do. The first is to be respectful. This means doing things like bringing in lunch for the team when there is a lot of work to be done. The second behavior is being decisive. Leaders need to make decisions quickly, and they need to be able to change their minds when needed. They also need to be able to handle stress well. The third behavior is being clear. Leaders need to communicate their plans and goals clearly so everyone understands them. And finally, leaders should always be learning. They should never stop learning new things so they can make better decisions for their team.

When you are working on a project and time is tight, it is important to listen to what other people have to say. If you talk over them, they will not be able to work well and you will not be able to speed things up. The third fundamental behavior is to clarify expectations. Many unofficial project managers take a minimalist approach when it comes to this. They tell individual team members what is expected of them, but not how it fits into the bigger picture. This leads to people feeling their work isn’t valued. Instead, show your colleagues how their work fits into the big picture. This will keep them motivated by helping them see the true value of their labor.

Simple, complicated, complex, and really complex projects - based on the Cynefin framework
Simple, complicated, complex, and really complex projects – based on the Cynefin framework (Image: Stefan Morcov / Wikimedia Commons)

The book says that the fourth important thing to do is to always be accountable. This means treating people the way you want to be treated. If you’re late for meetings, then other people will be late too. By becoming accountable for even things that don’t go well, you’ll set an example for others as well. If everything is well, you can also celebrate together and be accountable for the team’s achievements.

Phases in project management

There are different phases in project management. Each one comes with its own set of challenges. While some of the phases result in change, others require more maintenance. Regardless of that, each phase is important if you want to make it to the goal. Even if a simple project seemingly does not need all the steps, it’s wise to complete the project phases, even if it takes only five minutes for the paperwork, and then proceed. Kindly note that these phases are not exclusive to the book we are focusing on, many project management methodologies have the same or similar phases.

Project initiation

The project initiation phase is the most important part of a project. It involves setting goals and objectives, determining resources, and determining cost estimates. After your team is set in place, you can begin to map out or plan the various activities that need completion as well as determine how long each process will take. You’ll also need to figure out who needs to be involved in each step of the project and ensure that everyone is on board with what’s been outlined.

Positive, appropriate and negative complexity
Positive, appropriate, and negative complexity (Image: Stefan Morcov / Wikimedia Commons)

To begin every project, you must first identify your stakeholders- anyone who’s involved or impacted by the project. After you identify the people who will be affected by your project, it’s time to have a conversation with them. The purpose of this is twofold: first, to explain your project; and second, to collect their responses. This way, you’ll know what they think and want before getting down to work. Some might say that project management is just a fancy way of saying “organization.” Any project that you take on will probably require several steps, each with its own set of tasks. This brings us to the planning stage of project management.

Project planning

When I was a project manager, I enjoyed the project planning and setting up Gantt charts the most. Before you start scheduling goals or figuring out deliverables for your project, take a step back. Your top priority should be to identify the risks associated with your project and come up with ways to mitigate those risks. This is something you need to discuss with your team so that everyone is on the same page. Also, make sure you don’t forget about the complexity of tasks and the unknown unknowns.

You can generously enter risks in your log but make sure you give them a proper likelihood and severity score. Before COVID-19 hit us, not many had a “global pandemic” in their risk tracker, but even though it was unlikely, it still happened and is still happening with a big set of complex changes and delays. So figure out your risks and establish a mitigation plan, or formally accept the risk without a mitigation plan.

New Work Meeting for Project Managers and Design Thinking
Image: Yury Krasilnikov / Depositphotos

Post-identifying risks and possible mitigation strategies, you can now start to determine your project’s deliverables—that is, the objectives your project intends to achieve. For each one of these desired outcomes, list all activities needed to complete it. A helpful way gets everyone on board with this process is by giving each team member a stack of sticky notes and having them go to work brainstorming. Of course, you can also start this alone or with the stakeholders who requested the project, but in that case, it’s wise to do a second session with the team later on. You can also do this virtually online with video conferencing and collaboration tools or interactive whiteboards if you work in a distributed team.

After brainstorming all the activities associated with your project deliverables, you can finally start scheduling. A crucial element of scheduling is to determine which activities need to be completed before others begin. After all, if one vital activity experiences a setback, your whole project might get delayed as a result. To reduce the likelihood of such bottlenecks occurring, you might want to consider assigning these types of tasks to your best people. As you plan the task and the time needed to complete the tasks, make sure you remember that not all time consumed by work can be reduced by increasing the number of people working on a single task. A human still needs nine months of pregnancy before a baby is born. Having nine pregnant women does not mean you’ll be done in a single month. It means you’ll get nine babies after nine months.

Project execution

With your project now underway, it’s time to turn our attention to the third and final phase of successful project management: execution. This is where leaders are truly put to the test in terms of accountability. Aspects like accountability are a positive, driving force that can help you succeed as a project manager. If you hold yourself accountable, your team members will trust you more. And if you stick to your commitments, you’ll be able to maintain your informal authority, which is essential for executing your project successfully.

Executing Process Group Processes
Executing Process Group Processes (Image: United States Department of Veterans Affairs / Wikimedia Commons)

You can combat this by implementing team accountability sessions. In these once-weekly meetings, everyone with a stake in the project at hand can update the group on their progress, next steps, and any issues encountered along the way. The team accountability session gives you a chance to explain your actions and intentions to your team, as well as receive feedback from other members. Your openness could inspire others to provide their own suggestions, or even find that they’re ahead of you in meeting their commitments and can offer some assistance.

Project control

Monitoring and controlling scope creep is crucial during the execution phase of any project. Scope creep refers to when the original parameters of a project start to expand during its execution. If left unchecked, it could quickly derail or compromise an entire endeavor. If you find that new requirements are introduced in the middle of the project, it might make sense to have a formal change request signed off in which you introduce additional risks and make adjustments to the timeline. This will be an important document to refer back to as the project progresses. In addition to tracking these changes, you should also have a plan in place to monitor and control any new developments that could potentially impact the timeline and budget of your project.

Monitoring and Controlling Process Group Processes
Monitoring and Controlling Process Group Processes (Image: United States Department of Veterans Affairs / Wikimedia Commons)

Project control and progress monitoring are essential aspects of successful project management. In order to keep a project on track, it is important to have a system in place to track changes and updates as they occur. This can be done by creating detailed timelines and budgets as well as tracking actual versus projected costs and expenditures. It is also important to set milestones and checkpoints throughout the project in order to ensure that it is proceeding according to plan. Regular meetings with all stakeholders can also help to keep everyone apprised of the project’s progress and any potential roadblocks that may have arisen.

Project closing

The final phase of project management is effectively closing the project. This should be done with a stakeholder meeting in which you discuss if goals were met and if everyone is satisfied with the outcome – just as the project started. Ideally, you’ll also discuss issues or roadblocks that occurred along the way. Establish the routine of creating lessons-learned documentation and if possible try to avoid the same or similar issues to impact any future projects.

Project Team is Celebrating Successful Steps to Meet all Development Goals
Image: Yury Krasilnikov / Depositphotos

It is also crucial to request feedback from the team and other stakeholders. This will assist you in determining what areas need improvement for future undertakings. If you take this information to heart and apply it accordingly, then you are setting yourself up for success down the road. Be sure to have a similar discussion with your project team members, but do so respectfully. And if things don’t go as planned, resist the temptation of placing blame; rather, aim to keep things constructive so that lessons can be learned by all moving forward.

Closing thoughts

In ‘Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager‘, Kory Kogon, Suzette Blakemore, and James Wood take a comprehensive and systematic look at project management. The book is geared towards those who are not formally trained in the discipline, but who find themselves taking on project manager-like responsibilities regardless. It covers everything from initiating projects to closing them out successfully. In addition to discussing general principles of project management, Kogon delves into specific disciplines such as risk management, procurement, and stakeholder management.

They also include helpful tips and tools that can be applied to any type of project. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense guide to effective project management, this is it. They explain processes in simple terms and help the reader to understand complex scenarios with realistic examples and stories. Whether you’re just starting out or have years of experience under your belt, this book is sure to provide valuable insights into the world of project management. So if you’re ready to take on more responsibility in the workplace and want to make a real impact, then ‘Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager’ could be your guide.

YouTube: Project Management Overview (Kory Kogon)

Photo credit: The photos (1, 2, 3, 4) in the article are symbolic and have been done by Yury Krasilnikov. The process drawings and infographics are from Wikimedia Commons and have been credited directly beneath the pictures.

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isakhttps://techacute.com
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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