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5 Surprising Habits of Successful Project Managers


mark woeppel - July 29, 2015

Project managers are never short of things to do, but the most successful – the ones that consistently bring in projects on time and on budget have mastered the art of executing by focusing on the few critical elements that make a difference. Here are five things to watch:

1. They Avoid Multi-tasking

Even though many people think multitasking is good, research shows just the opposite. It shows that dividing attention across multiple activities is taxing on the brain and often comes at the expense of real productivity. As much as a 40% loss. And it can also increase stress for the people multitasking.

In another way, multi-tasking adds work to your project because of task switching. For any task, there is a certain amount of time to setup – to begin doing the real work. For example, to re-start a task, I have to review the work I’ve done, determine where I left off, and then decide what to do next. The more complex the task, the longer this set up time takes.

The more complex a task, the longer the set up time is, causing even more delays. The more switching I do, the more additional work I must do, and the longer every project takes.

The successful project manager guards himself and his team from multitasking.

2. They Communicate Visually

At the ground level of the project, communicating information such as status, obstacles, priorities, and risk are a constant and never-ending challenge.

At the governance levels, program and portfolio owners are often faced with situations where they have either too little or too much information. The quality and timing of the information provided can be subjective, and is usually dependent on the person delivering it. So, if better execution is a goal, and effective communication is the top challenge in execution, it follows that improving communication will lead to improved execution and better business results.

By providing a visual representation of the work, the team develops a shared understanding of where they are and what needs to be done. This improves communication, because they share the same objective viewpoint. People spend less time reporting information like status, obstacles, priorities, and risk and more time on action.

Good project managers give the entire team a view of the playing field so they can act.

3. They Collaborate Intentionally

We know that in under-performing projects, issues are identified very late, and important communication is delayed. The right problem solvers are brought in too late to prevent the problems, and additional work—putting out fires—is then added to the workflow. Capacity runs short, the project is delayed, and costs go up.

Focus on face-to-face accountability – emphasizing what will be done, rather than what has been done.

Create a few simple rules to focus your team on what is to be done, not what has been done. History debates are for analysis, not collaborative execution. Establish guidelines and structure to bring the right people and good communication to the forefront to create action.

4. They Build a One Team, One Goal Approach

Most project teams consist of multiple disciplines from a variety of sources. Each of these team members are placed on the team to accomplish the project’s objective, yet, they bring with them the objective for their functional disciplines as well. Delivering the project is important, but not their main goal. In which case, we have people on the team whose goals do not match.

When functional goals are aligned, each member of the team is free to act in the best interest of the project, without being hindered by conflicting goals from other areas. This eliminates a major source of internal conflict, and speeds decision-making and action.

The savvy project manager pays attention to conflicting objectives among the team members and resolves conflicts between them.

5. They Control the Work in Progress

It seems like common sense: start sooner, you’ll finish sooner. The problem is that everyone starts sooner! Increasing volumes of work in progress increases confusion and conflict—and decreases real productivity. Having a lot of work does accomplish the objective of keeping people busy. However, while everyone is busy, the true picture of the overall project is obscured until deadlines approach, when the failure to complete the right tasks becomes all too visible.

To control work in process, managers establish and enforce pre-release criteria to match work releases with the rate of work completion and ensure no work is started that cannot be finished.

Keep the volume of work under control. Don’t overload the team with too much. Don’t start on projects just for the sake of starting. Successful project managers are focused on finishing.

Successful project managers don’t try to do everything, they focus on the few critical elements that make the difference between doing the work and delivering the work.

Learn more about what is working and what isn’t working in delivering projects. Read The State of Project Management Practice Research

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