How to make project management a learned skill and behavior

Your IT project team might be the most powerful PM tool of all. Read experts' advice about how to get the most out of those team members.

Last summer and more recently, I spoke with Dean Carlson, CEO of Viewpath, about the importance of project management becoming a learned skill and behavior for the entire project team, industrywide trends, and other project management-themed topics. For additional insight, I interviewed Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of Clarizen. Here's some of what the two gentlemen said to me.

Make project management less of a top-down planning discipline

Carlson points to lessons he's learned implementing Viewpath for a client that is a large technology company. The company has a number of professionally trained project managers and in recent years has implemented Google Apps.

"They decided they needed to have more collaborative tools and be much more inclusive with their project management applications," says Carlson. "And, what I mean by that is they have a big contingent of Mac users that Microsoft Project doesn't play well with. They also have a big contingent of mobile, and their objective was to make project management less of a top-down planning discipline and make it much more integrated from top to bottom."

His client chose Viewpath because it let them assign tasks to a large number of contributors in contrast to the old Microsoft Project approach. Microsoft Project became a "knowledge silo" because the project managers didn't want team members making a mistake inadvertently when editing or updating the project schedule.

"So the project managers were often in a role of taking down status of where we are at with the given project, and the goal of moving to the cloud was to push accountability and visibility down to the entire organization," according to Carlson.

"Anybody at any point in time could log in and see where they were at with one or multiple projects, and those individuals could have a small sliver of what they are looking for on the project," says Carlson.

He further adds, "They interact with the applications through the tasks they can see in their area of responsibility in the project."

Carlson offers this advice about working with project managers and team members: embrace a new culture where project management is no longer just the domain of the project manager; it takes top-down planning and bottom-up execution.

"One of the keys of getting buy-in from the rank and file is providing the visibility at a macro level in the organization as well as having a clear picture of the projects on their plate," advises Carlson.

To Carlson, giving the team member in the trenches the tools and visibility across projects means team members are better informed when making commitments. Overcommitments can get very messy, especially when team members with critical skills have to reschedule their commitments on a frequent basis.

Build a culture of active voices and participation

One element of making project management a learned skill and behavior for a project team is to encourage participation, according to Nowogrodski. I call this "democratizing project management," and Nowgrodski seized on the term democracy during our discussion. "Democracy means having a voice," according to Nowogrodski. He adds, "At the end of the day, it is about creating active participation with the people you work with. Participation is being created with people who have a voice."

He notes that team members also need to understand their impact of their actions and voice through participation. He cites building an open culture as key to this and giving people a platform to speak their mind

When I asked Nowogrodski how he recommends promoting such a culture, he told met that there are three elements that help build a successful team for project success:

  • Making sure there is alignment on the project objectives
  • Value and information
  • Knowing what's coming down the pike

Conduct bug fixing without recrimination

Working as a contract technical writer inside a number of large and small organizations, I've come to see that you can judge an organization as to how they fix their software's bugs. When mistakes lead to only recriminations and blame, it prevents a project team from doing their best work and from presenting breakthrough ideas that can benefit the product and customers.

When bugs are documented in a centralized tracking tool and open for team members to consult others for help through Agile standups or other communication channels, it becomes a bottom-up execution vs. another top-down project management exercise.


Making project management a learned skill and behavior means improving team communications and moving away from traditional top-down planning that marks so much of project management and opening up your development processes to accommodate more bottom-up execution on the part of your programmers, engineers, and other staff.

Additional project management resources