In some of my past blog entries, I have written about the advantages of an iterative approach to IT project execution, the power of continual reflection between iterations and using a hybrid methodology. In this post, I want to switch gears and focus on the project manager. As a point of contact among teams and stakeholders, project managers are a necessary component to make sure resources are optimally used, agreements are upheld and goals are carried through to the best of a team’s ability.

The required project manager portfolio

Successful project managers know they will have to tailor their approaches to the specific needs of a team or environment. Furthermore, project managers should be comfortable assessing whether their team has the needed skills to bring value to a particular environment.

Though there is no infallible formula to successfully managing IT projects, there are some general traits and techniques that aid project managers across the board. These techniques are particularly effective when combined with the strengths of agile principles and the PMI methodology.

  1. Develop a charter or statement of work upfront: Before you can start executing a project, it pays to have a defined set of objectives. Establishing a charter or statement of work will help in this process by defining goals, specifications and governance processes.
  2. Involve a cross-collaborative team early in the planning process: The more cross-functional and collaborative your team is from the beginning, the more committed the various functional units will be to making the effort successful. This will be invaluable as you develop your charter or statement of work.
  3. Practice empathy: Successful project managers need to learn the needs of their stakeholders and how they can propel them toward success. This requires listening and the ability to see things from the viewpoints of others. When you practice active listening, you can incorporate new ideas, are more likely to gain valuable allies and can get people to champion the initiatives you are trying to push forward.
  4. Avoid being authoritarian: It’s important for a project manager to avoid taking an authoritarian approach. Instead, she/he should be collaborative, serve as an evangelist and be mindful of the considerations of all the functional units. The leader needs to provide direction, introduce ideas, set parameters, maintain standards and allow the team to make the decisions, as opposed to dictating the course of action regardless of the team’s input.
  5. Promote communication within teams: Even if you aren’t communicating on a daily basis, teams need to know what their roadblocks are, and a project manager needs to know how she/he can guide a team to get things on track. No one will know what’s going on if nobody communicates. Likewise, if stakeholders are not informed and involved throughout the duration of a project, direction changes and priorities can’t be acted upon effectively.
  6. Facilitate change when it comes up: Normally people hate scope changes, but these changes are inevitable. Successful project managers need to use tools to manage change and prepare for the unavoidable.
  7. Test and document throughout the project: Agile-based project management execution promotes testing tasks as they are completed. Documentation and testing throughout a project helps prevent unplanned work from being done at the end of a project – which inevitably does not get done or is rushed significantly and impacts the quality of the documentation or tests.
  8. Learn from mistakes: Successful managers constantly review their goals, objectives and how the team is performing. By engaging the team and asking what went well and not so well, a project manager can get an insight to what the team needs to do in order to improve. This level of reflection is key to improving and adjusting to changes and challenges presented.

The list I provided is not exhaustive, but it demonstrates that a successful implementation hinges on a project manager’s ability to facilitate communication among all levels and stay on course while anticipating change. When selecting an IT project manager, make sure they are able to actively listen and facilitate communication between different functional and organizational members of your team. Your project manager should also be accountable to the goals stakeholders have agreed on early but prepared to handle likely changes.

Quick tip: It pays to bring multidisciplinary teams together and determine barriers through tracking performance. When the time is right, be sure a project’s governance calls for informing stakeholders about progress and presenting deliverables.

Where we left off: Last time I posted a blog, I wrote about the benefits of balancing detailed planning with agile flexibility. Done properly, this balance will provide a viable roadmap and mitigate the costs of likely project changes.

What’s up next: The best project managers use proven techniques to help their partners manage vendors. In my next post, I will outline some techniques that are useful in IT vendor management.