A few years back, I wrote an Article for Project Managers which got some pretty good feedback so I thought I’d go back and draw from a few more years of experience in the role and share some more insight. And by the way, while you may not be a Project Manager by title, virtually all of us use some facet of project management in our jobs or everyday life, so the same lessons may well apply. Whether you’re trying to manage the order and execution of building your dream home or trying to figure out how to get your 3 kids 3 different places at the same time, people from all walks of life draw on similar skill sets and experience to manage schedules and others. Here’s some more insight aside from the basics provided in the last article:
- Cover Action Items at the Close of a Meeting – One of my early learnings was that while I may have been issuing some really comprehensive and timely minutes following meetings, the action items I put in the minutes weren’t always getting done in between meetings. When we’d come to the next meeting and revisit open items, some members would say, “Oh, I saw that in the minutes and didn’t know what that meant” or something along those lines. To avoid this recurring loop of either genuine or feigned misunderstandings, just set aside the final 3-4 minutes of a meeting for recapping the action items. Call out the responsible person or function by name and summarize the action as you understand it and get a verbal confirmation back from them that they’re on the same page. This greatly eliminates misunderstandings in between meetings and avoids the need for constant followup and repeating items outside the meeting slots.
- Phone Calls Beat Emails Almost Every Time – I’m sometimes amazed (and frustrated) by the number of times a single topic can be volleyed back and forth across email, with Reply All along the way, without the issue actually being resolved. Likewise, when someone isn’t completing an action, you can send all the emails you want but it doesn’t get the same response as a phone call. While phone calls can be annoying in that they shouldn’t be required and you don’t always get someone on the other line, when you do get them, I find that issues are resolved much more quickly. Additionally, many people (especially in cultures outside the US) actually expect and respect phone calls over email. They find email to be very informal and sometimes rude if used exclusively whereas a phone call is a sign of respect and allows for some higher level personal interactions. I wish it were as easy as launching out emails all over the place to get work done but people just don’t respond the same way. The sooner you start making more phone calls, the more effective you’ll be.
- Manage by the 80/20 Rule – In my early project management days, I used to set up the intricate MS Project files and try to track and manage hundreds of tasks. That’s how I was trained after all. As my workload doubled, then tripled, I had a choice between working a ton of hours to keep up and being buried in the details vs. just doing more with less. What I found was that most of the fine details just didn’t matter. I started tracking higher level milestones and holding lead responsible for updating on status (on track, delayed, risks, opportunities), rather than trying to track the 10 sub-tasks beneath that milestone myself. There was really no reason for me to understand if and when each protocol was signed, if each study was completed or 5 interim steps in filing a product in a new market. I needed the key milestones only.
- Be A TimeClock Dictator – Precious meeting time can be eaten away with one or two people having a pissing contest over who knows more or who can speak more eloquently on a topic. Often times, the same topics come up meeting after meeting and continue to be rehashed or people bring up topics that aren’t appropriate or directly related to the meeting goal. As the project manager, you need to nip this in the bud and suggest that we need to move on due to time constraints. Common phrases used to shuffle people along are to, “take it offline”, “revisit later if time permits”, or “add it to the parking lot”, the parking lot being a laundry list of items that came up that require further discussion but were unresolved. The risk in not keeping your meeting on track is that you miss all the key items in the back part of your agenda (possibly your most important) and you have aggravated meeting attendees that sat through a whole discussion on who’s on some committee and when they meet as opposed to actually making decisions or troubleshooting a problem.
- FOLLOW UP! – This is probably the most important item. I mentioned earlier about emails and phone calls, but in essence, I make it a point to follow up on key items, especially if it’s a team that only meetings bi-weekly or monthly. A lot of people completely forget or ignore action items outside the meeting except when the know a meeting is right around the corner and they’re going to be put on the spot. Going a full month longer than was necessary to complete a key activity can add a lot of time to a project, especially when a lot of tasks are inter-related and rely on many different people and groups. I usually go back to my old minutes in between sessions and run down the open items and followup on key actions that may be on the critical path. This both keeps us on track and helps inform me on how I should set up my agenda for the next meeting (so we’re not rehashing things that were already completed).
I hope these additional tips and tricks can help make you a more effective project manager, parent, business owner or whatever it is you do that relies on other people in some way.
Do You Have Additional Tips and Tricks?
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