Year-to-year transitions always bring resolutions to mind. Whether or not you make them in your personal life, they are worth exploring for your organization. We have all made resolutions that didn't last and yet we have all identified a handful of habits we could drop and practices we could build.
Most firms can claim that 2013 was far more successful than those immediately preceding it. That kind of confidence allows you to focus more on other areas of the business that may have been put on autopilot, including project management. Improvements in project management – small or large – are always worthwhile. The following is a suggested list of actions you might pledge to work on as your New Year's resolution. They are extracted from my 2013 series of articles in The Zweig Letter. Choose one or two and make the best of them!
Find out what's standing in the way – When I work with firms, I run a survey of their project managers and technical folks asking, "What's standing in the way of doing the best job with each other?" The answers highlight the internal areas these teams struggle with. Each survey unfailingly produces the same themes or challenges. So even though every firm believes it is unique or different than another – it really does wrestle with the same issues of resource planning, clarity of roles, and communication channels. You want to do the best job for your clients. Ask your teams what's standing in the way of making that possible. Then, start fixing it.
Good communication includes good writing – The volume of communication conducted via email puts the project manager's written skills in the spotlight – and in a bad way, including misspellings, poor grammar, and improper or misconstrued tone. Many principals may say that technical and managerial skills place higher on the essentials list than writing style. Not every project manager is the perfect specimen in all talents, but ignoring the inadequacy altogether also isn't a good solution. Everything written – including email – is a representation of the firm. Enrolling in a simple course, even online, would be highly beneficial.
Being organized won't kill your firm's culture – Implementing procedures that call for tracked project financial data, centralized information, or resource planning meetings is good business, not a bureaucratic system found in mega-firms. Procedures, when followed, are also a good insurance policy against poor client service, loss of profitability, and anxiety across the team – and that's a good culture to follow. So if your project management system needs some of this but other key people are afraid it will turn the firm into the red-tape behemoth they left behind, they are wrong.
Some project managers need a little rattling to get them rising – Everyone has a story about the "one" project manager in the firm who shouldn't be in the role. They seem distracted, disconnected, and disinterested. As a principal, you may think that if you ignore them hard enough, they'll just go away. "Daniel" was one such person, until another owner in the firm, watching from a distance, saw his potential and gave him a lecture filled with compliments but a solid warning: "If you want to waste your talents, do it somewhere else, otherwise, I will help you shine." Under that mentorship, Daniel turned everything around. Think about those in your firm who might excel with attention and different leadership.
Beyond this list, think about the ways you know you could practice better project management because it is something you trip up on in your own work or project environments. Like any commitment, you need to stay at it until it becomes a good habit. Even when you slip a little or have an all-out failure, you should understand that's all part of the process. The point behind any resolution is to stop something not helpful or become something better. I hope 2014 is a happy and prosperous year for you!
Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.