Ins and Outs of Project Management

Ins and Outs of Project Management

Top tips, attributes of a successful project manager and agile methodology

By Emma Meakin

Top tips for project management

Ensure that deadlines and scope are agreed from the outset. Often projects come up against problems when the details are not agreed explicitly at the very beginning. By hashing out the details before work begins, you can ensure there are no nasty surprises later on.

Listen! This sounds so simple, but it really does make a massive difference. Listen to the people in charge to ensure you know exactly what they want and can deliver to expectations. But also listen to the people working on the project. Ensure you know of any reservations they might have, any issues coming up, and most importantly, any ideas or suggestions they might have.

Be involved in the whole process. If you’re managing a project, it’s beneficial to be involved in the early planning stages, so that expectations can be set. If you’re present when the project is being planned, you can hopefully ensure realistic deadlines are put in place and ensure there are no unexpected delays. Often with big projects, expectations can be set by senior management who don’t really know the details of what’s required.

Be a team player. Managing a project might seem like you’re 'in charge' and managing a team, but the best way to manage is to be a part of the team. Make an effort to work with your team and get to know them, so that you can figure out the best way to optimize their performance and achieve fantastic results together.

What are the attributes of a successful project manager?

As someone in a position of authority and responsibility, a project manager needs to possess a wide variety of qualities to ensure their success.

First and foremost, they must have excellent leadership skills. In order to get the most out of their team, a project manager must be able to inspire them and maintain their enthusiasm for the project on which they’re working. They must also be able to organize their team, ensure that everyone knows what their role is and make sure everyone stays on-task.

Secondly, they must be highly competent. It’s not enough to merely draw out the best in others, a project manager should be an expert in their own right in the key areas relating to their project. What’s more, they should be able to apply that knowledge effectively. Without this form of competence, they won’t be able to utilize their team to best effect or solve problems when they occur.

The ability to solve problems calmly and efficiently is, of course, the third quality a successful project manager needs to possess. Every project has its challenges and many of these will occur under high-pressure working conditions. The ability to creatively surmount them is absolutely vital in ensuring the project is completed successfully.

Integrity is also essential. A good project manager acts ethically and in the best interests of their team, and never out of self-interest. Without integrity, team morale will suffer and, consequently, so will team productivity.

Finally, a successful project manager must be enthusiastic. Genuine enthusiasm is the most powerful motivator towards achieving quality and success, and there is simply no substitute for it.

What is agile project management?

Agile project management is a highly flexible, collaborative and interactive project management style that is used to manage the design, build and launch of products, services and initiatives. Agile teams break an overall project plan down into smaller, discrete parts and divide these smaller projects between themselves collaboratively.

The project plan is owned and briefed by the client or product holder. It’s their responsibility to ensure that the right deliverables are created. Agile projects may not have a project manager, so there is greater focus on the initial briefing by the client or project holder, and they should be available throughout the duration of the project. The team collaboratively decide on the overall best approach to execute the project plan. Responsibilities are distributed throughout the project team. This agility ultimately makes market feedback and improvement far quicker than using slower, traditional project management, which tends to procrastinate in planning and feedback stages.

The discrete projects are developed simultaneously. This is what brings the agility that gives the style its name. Sections come together and are released to the market as an iteration. The simultaneous nature of development means that initial releases are often defined as minimum viable products (MVP) – they contain just enough to test validity for subsequent iterations. There are various agile methodologies - SCRUM being the best known. Scrum uses a ‘ScrumMaster’, who, as in the rugby world, is the lead contact and team coach. However, it isn't the same as a traditional project manager.