Managing tech projects to a successful conclusion takes the best contributions from all the members of the team creating the project, but it also takes an aware and thoughtful project manager to bring that best out of everyone. In this article we will share some ideas for how to make your next (or current!) tech project the success everyone wants.
Start with a strong project manager
If possible, it’s best to select the project manager as one of the first members of the team. That way he/she can give input on team selection and/or build rapport from the very beginning. If you don’t have the right candidates readily available, remember you can always use our platform to find them.
As the team is built out, the project manager should identify the key leaders and “doers.” Those types will reveal themselves pretty quickly (they usually can’t help it) and should make sure their roles and responsibilities leverage, rather than frustrate, those strengths.
Know the project thoroughly
Most tech projects will have an SME (subject matter expert) and the project manager will be a SME for the team itself. He/she will need to be aware of all the key players, current statuses, risks, budget, and schedule. Being aware of all of these facts will lead to confidence (and an increase in decision velocity) not just on the part of the manager, but those on the team that will see that knowledgeable attitude as reassuring. That confidence and direction will be particularly important on days when the team needs just a bit of a push to get to a milestone.
Have milestones and constantly communicate…
Milestones are what make projects happen and as part of proper role assignment at the beginning of the project, it can be clear to everyone who the most important contributors are to achieve each milestone. There should be clear and frequent progress updates. This could be done via live or virtual meetings, or by
Using a project management tool…
Everyone has a preferred software, be it Asana, Trello, or Wrike but what’s key is that the project manager (or one of the team members) have a very solid competency in that software so that he can assist any team members in learning curves. The tool can help you track and analyze metrics as each milestone is approached (and achieved).
But remember to stay flexible
When assessing the schedule and deadline at the beginning of the project, the project manager should have alternative deadlines/schedules should a milestone not be met in a timely manner. These fallbacks should not be shared with the team, as it would create an attitude from the beginning that all the milestones are set on soft deadlines. But they do provide you with options thought through outside of a stressful period and can help identify where the biggest bottlenecks and milestones will be. If the milestones are staggered in such a way (building up to bigger ones, then having a bit of down time when a big milestone is achieved, for example) that the team knows they aren’t all of equal difficulty they will manage their own workflows accordingly.
Remember that we’re all human
Technology is constantly seeking to integrate man and machine ever closer, and that can sometimes lead to unreasonable working expectations. Your team needs to know that you value them and their work and don’t simply view them as a means to an end. If your team is in person, try to get to know them with individual coffees or small gifts. If you’ve got a distributed virtual team, a casual coffee is out, but appointments for calls just to “catch up” will be appreciated and a vital way to discover more about your team members than can be revealed in day-to-day activities.
Don’t push your team too hard and use thoughtful and consistent communication to know their temperature so you can make the adjustments you need to hit your milestones. Don’t forget that as the project manager, you’ll need some “do not disturb” time, just as your team members will. Having proper breaks and time off will ensure your team (and you) is performing at their best.
Projects are marathons, not sprints, and there’s many occasions for conflict (the friction of progress, as Gary Vee refers to it). Don’t let those be occasions to assert your ego. If you don’t feel the need to put your fingerprints on every decision, your team will respect you and it will save your social capital for times when you do really feel strongly about a decision.
Avoid scope creep
One of the leaders of the Palm Pilot project famously carried a wooden block the size of the Palm with him and whenever an engineer asked to add a feature (because there was the processing power, so, why not?) he asked where it would fit on the wooden block. He didn’t let the bandwidth tempt him. So too, as your team moves forward and coheres, your project might take on some scope. Of course, as we noted above, you should stay flexible to needs and possibilities, but make sure you adjust milestones and get buy-in from your team before assenting to enlarging the scope of your original project.
Perform an after-action review
It’s a waste of a successful project not to take notes and feedback from everyone on how it happened. The temptation is to celebrate and move on to the next thing, but evaluating what went right and wrong not only provides the proper context for the success of the project, but builds a useful base of intelligence to take forward to future projects.
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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.