Small business owners and creative teams use project management as a means to make sure that the key objectives and results of their projects are met. When you think of project management, it’s easy to hear ‘more work’. However, learning how to manage projects should not intimidate you. It doesn't necessarily mean working more, but rather working smarter. This is a very valuable skill to have. In order to make sure you use your time most effectively, we have gathered a few tips for improving your project management skills.
1. Plan, plan, plan
The first step to improve your project management skills is learning how to plan. Learn how to plan for yourself, learn how to plan for your team, and learn how to plan for a specific project that needs execution. Plan your time into fragments, allocated to different tasks. Deadlines are also useful for making sure that everything is scheduled within a realistic timeframe.
Most likely, your team consists of different people. Each of those individuals works in a different manner and has a different approach to how they manage their time. Your task is to make it as easy and clear as possible what tasks they have and when they need to be delivered.
Learning how to plan is a fundamental project management skill because it brings structure and clarity to the team. It also allows you to be flexible and make adjustments on time without affecting the end result. Therefore, take the time to evaluate:
What are the tasks that need to be completed for a project?
Does that project have a deadline?
Who can execute those tasks?
How long will it take for each task to be completed?
Are there certain tasks that have priority over others? (More on this later)
You can start by putting this on a piece of paper or a Google doc, an Excel sheet, or project management software. This brings us to our next point.
2. Get yourself an all-in-one project management tool
Nowadays, you can get a tool for just about anything. Why complicate things for yourself, when you can have everything you need to manage your project in one tool. Depending on your needs and experience level, you can opt for tools such as Trello which is a simple task management tool, or an all-in-one option like Rodeo.
Some things to consider:
Are you going to plan projects?
Are you going to manage budgets?
Are you going to make estimates?
Are you going to track hours?
Are you going to send invoices?
Are you interested in reports about your project management activities?
Answering those questions will steer you in the right direction of which tool would be most suitable for you.
We mentioned that you need to know how to prioritize tasks. Even if you don’t, it’s a project management skill that you can easily improve.
In step one, we learned how to dissect a project into different tasks and make a plan. It can be the case that some tasks are more important than others. You have to be familiar enough with the project so you can decide what the importance of each task is.
Some questions to ask yourself are:
Is there inter-dependability between certain tasks?
Do you need more than one person working on a task?
To make it easier, you can use a scoring system.
4. Set goals and objectives
Every project has a set of goals and objectives that need to be accomplished in order to be successful. You as a project manager or team lead building your project management skills need to know what those goals are. This means you need to break down each task into goals.
To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, use the S.M.A.R.T. technique. Each goal should be:
Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
Achievable (agreed, attainable).
Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
5. Understand and use the concept of MVP (where applicable)
What is an MVP? In project management language (and not only), that means ‘most valuable product’. The definition for an MVP is ‘the simplest thing that could possibly work’.
The goal of having an MVP is to identify what a simple version of your product would be and to get it into the hands of users as fast as possible. That way, you make sure you are on the right track and, with the skills learned in point number three, identify the highest-priority things to do next. Consider it as delivering the “first draft” where you test or ask for feedback and then make improvements.
6. Use effective communication skills to manage people
We cannot stress enough how important communication skills are. Focusing on improving them constantly is crucial in order to build a good project management skillset. Especially when you work in or manage a team, you are responsible for giving clear directions and communicating effectively. Take the time to understand your colleagues and delegate tasks accordingly.
7. Address problems early
Another fundamental of communication is making sure you deliver feedback efficiently. You play the role of a mediator in your team, neutral ground if you must. The task of a project manager is to create balance. If you see any issues with the team or a task, it’s highly important you learn to address them early enough. This is why you need to be constantly aware of the progress on every task.
Addressing problems early is not an easy task. It requires effort to follow up with the responsible parties and to be competent enough to notice them. Your colleagues should also feel comfortable with bringing up issues to you. One of your responsibilities is to manage resources and that combined with your flexible planning should allow you to address problems early enough and deal with them seamlessly.
8. Emphasize Accountability
Holding people accountable for their actions (and tasks) is widely applicable, not only in business life. Your team members should know how to take responsibility and follow through. By emphasizing accountability, you can improve your project management skills because your colleagues are then working with you. Together you will be able to achieve the project goals more effectively and address issues accordingly.
9. Pick the right project management methodology
Last but not least, in order to improve your project management skills, it’s important to pick the right project management methodology. We go into more detail about the different types of project management methodologies in this article. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, many companies even implement hybrid practices.
You are now set up for success with the right tooling and the main project management skills. Keep polishing them over time to become even better at the job you do. Every new skill takes practice. If you notice there are other skills that you’re missing, consider taking a free online course or a webinar.