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Straight up from the Project Manager

I was recently asked to give a webinar on Project Management. I love to share things I’ve learned with others, so naturally I readily accepted the invitation. Shortly thereafter I started having some discouraging thoughts like, “Wait…I don’t have any formal project management training…what do I know about Project Management? How do I do my job? Is there really anything significant about what I do as a project manager that could possibly help someone else?” Needless to say, it is not always easy to see the forest for the trees.

I started to reflect on what I do to make my job easier and to allow me to manage upwards of 50 projects at a time. Here are a few tools and principles that I have found helpful in managing many projects simultaneously

Project status tracking sheet. I have a simple Excel spreadsheet with the name/number of a project in one column and a brief sentence about the current status of the project in another column. I review this sheet nearly every morning, making updates where necessary and then write up my to-do list for the day. This daily brief snapshot of all of my projects helps me to be sure I don’t let any tasks on my projects slip or go unnoticed.

Custom project status/budget reports. For each of my clients, I create a simple project status/budget report that includes the information that the customer wants to see. For example, with one customer, I have a percent complete column for each task. For another client, I simply present a budget compliance report showing actual hours used vs. budgeted for the various roles on the project.

Communication Tracking. We use Basecamp, a project collaboration tool, to manage communication and file sharing with our customers. This enables me to easily track the emails back and forth to a particular client. This is especially useful when evaluating project scope creep. Basecamp is a great tool for this, but in lieu of Basecamp, one could simply organize customer emails and notes from verbal conversations by project.

Take responsibility for communication. In all of my meetings, I recognize that it is my responsibility to ensure that internally and externally we communicate clearly as to not be misunderstood. Although I don’t always completely understand the technical jargon being discussed between project team members and customers, I pay close attention to verbal and non-verbal cues of misunderstanding. I ask clarifying questions to help solidify understanding. Finally, in all meetings, I keep track of and review at the end, the action items coming out of the meeting and the next steps in the project.

Be responsive. As much as possible, I respond to all communications as quickly as possible. Even if I don’t have the answer to a question or solution to a problem immediately, I let the customer know that they have been heard and we are working to address the item.

Treat individuals as individuals. There’s an old adage, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” While this lesson has its place, I think the more appropriate version for a project manager would be, “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” All of my customers and project team members are different (and different than me). As such, I find that things go better if I focus on interacting with others the way they like to be interacted with. For example, one of my team members works better with only one assignment at a time, so I manage the queue of work for him and do my best to deliver one assignment at a time. I have a customer who doesn’t want to set up a weekly follow-up meeting, but instead wants to receive constant updating as soon as I have new information on the project.

These simple tools and simple principles have been helpful to me. I’ve been able to adequately stay on top of multiple projects and help maintain a mostly drama-free productive work environment. But, hey, everybody is different. So take what you think might work well for you.

Jake Betzold

Positive attitudes this big and this reliable could take over the world. Or at least rock the Maestro world. Talk about a force for good!…

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