9 project management tips to take organizations to the next level

We interviewed individuals across the industry to understand some of the best project management practices organizations can adopt to meet their goals.

Project management positions are an invaluable part of an organization's day-to-day operations and long-term goals. After all, there's a reason these critical employees often fetch upwards of six-figure salaries across industries. There's also an increasing need for project managers in the years ahead. It's been estimated that employers will need to hire more than 2 million new project-focused positions annually through 2027, according to a recent report from the Project Management Institute (PMI). Now as more employees continue to work remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, effective project management is more critical than ever. Without further ado, here are some of the best tips to improve project management from experts in the industry.

The importance of lifelong learning

In the modern office, there's a full suite of software, tools, and other offerings to assist teams in their day-to-day operations. One of the best, and arguably easiest, ways for people to give their project management skills a boost is simply keeping the proverbial toolbox up to date. Currently, there's no shortage of free online courses to help professionals stay sharp and increase their knowledge base.

"Usually, all you need is the right tool for the job. A true professional knows which tools are available and how to use them. In this time of almost continuous change and disruption (COVID-19 and beyond), that toolbox and the challenges you face are multiplying. So those who are not lifelong learners are often lost in the shuffle," said Dave Garrett, chief strategy and growth officer at PMI.
"There are countless frameworks, methodologies and techniques. So, the more professionals invest in their understanding of approaches, the more they can continue to evolve and find better ways of working" Garrett continued.

Keep the lines of communication open

One of the more fundamental components of team leadership and project management is ensuring effective communication. This includes providing clear insights to team members about tasks, roles, and responsibilities, however, language is often prone to the pitfalls of indeterminacy. For that reason, it's imperative that everyone involved in the project completely understands the objectives and regular updates are key.

"The best improvements in project management start with improvements in communication. Issues arise when someone makes an incorrect assumption on what can/should be done," said Nate Nead, CEO at SEO.co. "Regular, clear communication is critical to avoid so many of the missteps that take projects off course. There are obviously a myriad of software tools out there that enhance this, but this is where the daily 'scrum' comes into play."

Embrace "power skills"

Soft skills are becoming increasingly pivotal in a host of professions from project management to cybersecurity professionals. This communication acumen is integral as more teams continue to work remotely during the pandemic and in the years to come.

"Collaborative leadership skills are becoming a must for project managers, as well as many team members. These power skills--which include a variety of skills and attributes such as empathy, communication, emotional intelligence, and a sense of shared responsibility--are especially important when working as a virtual team," Garrett said.

Hold the micromanagement

It isn't necessarily efficient to touch base and sign off on every single component of a given project, however, minimal direction can lead to major missteps. That said, finding balance and empowering team members to work independently and take the reins confidently on a task is one of the more challenging responsibilities of top project managers.

SEE: Cross-training toolkit (TechRepublic Premium)

"Don't try to micromanage people. Make sure they understand the objectives that the team is working towards and that they have the information at their fingertips that they need and then let them run with their tasks. Encourage them to make decisions rather than twiddle their thumbs until they can get hold of a senior manager, another major aspect of agile management," said Mark Robinson, co-founder of Kimble Applications.

Prioritize stand-up meetings

In the middle of a hectic work week with back-to-back meetings, overlapping priorities, and last-minute bottlenecks, it's easy to postpone or even cancel those weekly meetings. However, it's imperative to realize the intrinsic value of these conversations and prioritize them.

"It takes extreme discipline to maintain the regular recurring meetings and there is often pushback, but it's almost always a case of the ounce of prevention is worth more than the pound of cure to get a project back on track. Less is more when it comes to the meetings, but they are critical," Nead said.

Flexibility and finding the right fit

Remember, there are myriad ways for people to complete their individual portion of the overall collaboration. With this in mind, it's imperative to allow employees to utilize their unique strengths to accomplish tasks. This starts with the hiring process and finding the right cultural fit for each organization.

"Give people long leashes and you'll be surprised what they can accomplish. Too many large corporations (e.g. Yahoo) think that working from home is less productive and more difficult to police. We have found the opposite to be true for the right people. First and foremost, hire people that fit with that type of culture. The rest flows from there," Nead said.

SEE: Scrum meetings: The do's and don'ts (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Tweak the Zoom meeting format

As regular Zoom meeting attendees know all too well, these virtual get-togethers certainly lack the vigor of traditional in-person meetings. One of the best ways to upgrade the experience may involve creating a concise itinerary and bullet points for the discussion in advance.

"Start with an agenda. Like Amazon's core teams practice, that agenda should fit on a single page of paper in normal 12-point font. Assign someone as the policeman on the agenda so as not to stray far afield," Nead said. "Also, be disciplined on the length of the meeting. That tends to force all the most important items to bubble to the top. Whatever was in the less important and less urgent quadrant, can wait until subsequent meetings."

Respect people's time, especially in the virtual office

Many of us are currently navigating uncharted waters with the new virtual office format. In an effort to keep everyone on the same page, it's all too easy to hinder team efficiency with unnecessary or overbooked meetings. Additionally, remember to pepper in some of the lighter water cooler talk to keep up morale.

"There is [a] temptation (especially at the moment), to invite everyone to every meeting--think carefully who really needs to be on the invite," Robinson said. "Remember to also leave time for pleasantries--imagine what it would be like in a real office situation (you'd have coffee, talk about the weather, the ball game, etc.)--sometimes these parts of the meetings are where the 'real' stuff gets found out,so try and simulate these natural and casual conversations."

Be open and honest: The airing of grievances

It's always a good idea for organizations to make room for employees to give feedback on recent projects and future obligations. This can also function as a time for team members to make a note of what's working well for them and what, in all honesty, isn't going so great and what could be done differently.

"Our scrum meetings always include a scheduled segue at the outset where people can jive with one another and get personal. Like an old bike tire, you can't tighten the spokes too much or it will break. You need unstructured time, we just like to schedule it," Nead said.

Also see

istock-1142526972.jpg

IMAGE: iStock/imtmphoto