PMs fill a critical role by guiding IT projects. To maximize time, a good PM will rely on the expertise of a group, facilitate continuous collaboration and get team members to take accountability for their tasks. This is especially true in the consulting business, where PMs will be responsible for passing on the best tools and methods for in-house staff to maximize their efforts.

Based on approaches derived from the most practiced methodologies and my experience leading IT initiatives, this post outlines collaborative techniques PMs use to guide IT projects to timely, cost-effective and high quality solutions. Some of these techniques are based on agile and will help teams implement simple processes that balance flexibility and planning to tackle a wide range of challenges.

Listen to your team and avoid being an authoritarian PM

PMs provide the framework for team success. Satisfying this goal requires many responsibilities, including the following:

  • Facilitating continuous collaboration
  • Implementing a procedure to listen to what team members need to do to complete their jobs
  • Gathering information to effectively report progress and requirements to stakeholders
  • Recruiting champions and stimulating buy-in for beneficial initiatives
  • Using the best available information to coordinate resources, develop timelines and parse out work

Rather than taking an authoritarian approach, a PM must coach teams, facilitate cooperation and promote self-discipline and accountability. If your team knows how long something will take, let them tell you and take ownership of a task. Additionally, you will need to know if team members can’t do something. Giving your team tools needed to efficiently communicate and complete their own work will produce better results than dictating orders will.

Incorporate collaboration into your PM framework

Because communication is so valuable, PMs will achieve better results by building it into their methodology. To efficiently facilitate feedback, PMs should incorporate procedures for structured and productive communication into their team’s processes. These processes for team feedback should also be bolstered by ways to act and make changes based on new developments.

As explained in my previous blog, Iteration is a Powerful Tool in Project Management, breaking projects into iterations of about two weeks to two months, or other lengths depending on need, will allow teams to do the following:

  1. Enhance work processes by reflecting on previous iterations
  2. Accommodate changes to a project before the next iteration begins
  3. Replicate what works and iterate again

Consider adopting an iterative approach, and you will be more equipped to continually adapt and adjust collaborative efforts.

Plan for reflection with your team

To structure iterations so that teams can reflect and make changes, PMs should consider adding a few processes into each iteration:

A planning session at the beginning of each cycle- To develop an agenda and coordinate team schedules, teams should hold planning meetings at the beginning of an iteration. In these meetings, it’s the role of the PM to decide what is highest priority, but the conversation will give the team power to push back and voice concerns and limitations.

Daily stand-up meetings throughout the duration of an iteration- Think of a player huddle during a rugby scrum. When one is weak, the team suffers. The daily stand-up is short and is meant as a quick touch base to discuss progress made the day prior, goals for today and roadblocks in the way.

A time near the end of an iteration for stakeholder presentations- Near the end of an iteration, teams will need to present progress and project information to stakeholders. On behalf of the team, the PM takes ownership of the deliverables that are complete. You will want deliverables to be as tangible as possible. Knowing deliverables will be presented to leadership will also add serious motivation to your team.

A retrospective meeting at the end of an iteration to discuss lessons learned- Retrospective meetings held after stakeholder presentations provide a chance for teams to reflect on lessons learned. In these meetings, your team should discuss processes to start doing, processes to stop doing and processes that are working.

Throughout each iteration, PMs should rely on their team to develop backlogs and estimated completion times for goals and objectives. The PM will also need to facilitate continuous collaboration, so teams remain coordinated and on track.

Take a bottom-up approach to parsing out tasks

There are a wide variety of IT PM methodologies and many techniques to develop and parse out backlogged items. No matter what method you use, teams should eventually boil large goals down to manageable tasks. Here are a few points you should consider when developing and parsing out tasks:

  • Tasks and their effort estimates should come from the person who will be responsible for completing a task- Most likely, your team members will know the most about their individual abilities, schedules and in-house environment. Therefore, PMs should encourage a bottom-up approach, where team members commit to tasks themselves, estimate their own completion times and communicate their limitations. This bottom-up approach to parsing out tasks will increase time efficiency and will facilitate task ownership, making your team members more committed to success.
  • A task should be an item that can be started and finished in one sitting- This means that a task owner must agree the task can be finished in no longer than 4 hours.
  • Tasks should be phrased in a way that allows the owner to quantifiably state that the task is done- Done means all portions of the task are complete, including any necessary documentation or knowledge transfer. Clarifying the meaning of done and making sure a task is done allows teams to avoid time-consuming loose ends.

By combining built-in processes for collaboration along with a perspective that invites team members to define and own their work, your job as a PM will be easier and projects will be completed more efficiently.

Though proven methodologies provide a framework PMs can pass on to teams, effective project management requires creativity beyond following a set mold. If you are a PM, you may have to innovate and adapt processes to meet the needs of users and your team. When situations call for a new approach, you will still want to find ways to structure effective communication. However, you may need to adjust your methods to sync with a diverse range of staff work styles.

Quick Tip: Rather than being authoritarian, PMs should provide teams with the right framework to guide successful projects. This framework should include processes that will maximize team resources, encourage ownership of tasks, and lead to continuous and effective collaboration.

Where we left off: PMs are often brought on to aid in infrastructure or services procurement or to manage vendor resources. In my last post, I released a white paper that outlines proven steps for beginning profitable vendor relations.

What’s up next: This post briefly covers stakeholder presentations. In my next post, I will detail steps needed for successfully preparing and delivering these presentations. The proven techniques I will outline bring leadership in at the right time, facilitate transparency and promote agility.