The Next-Gen Project Manager

Next-gen project managers are essential for modern businesses. A report published by the Project Management Institute titled “The High Cost of Low Performance” found that projects that aren’t managed well result in a $120,000 loss for every $1 million spent. It also found that more projects failed to meet original goals, missed deadlines, and resulted in monetary losses.

The ideal project manager defies statistics and current rules for project management. They go above and beyond to deliver quality work on time and within budget. Their engagement and turnover rate is fantastic — they possess the skills and know-how to get any team successfully to the finish line.

We’re in a digital era that encapsulates the “do more with less” mentality. Timelines, mapping, and tracking are all pivotal to project success, especially in the IT and software world. Managing diverse teams is no easy feat, especially for projects with many moving parts. Leadership, communication, and a personable disposition are just as important the ability to utilize modern online project management software and stay up-to-date on management trends. These qualities make it possible to create predictable and repeatable results, project after project.

Traits of Project Managers In The Modern World

Next-gen project managers aren’t box-checkers. They understand their role is multifaceted and has a direct impact on long-term success. Here are a few traits of project managers in the modern world:

Leader: Project managers know how to lead. They consistently have to interact with and influence stakeholders and members of their teams. There is a significant difference in being a leader and being a boss.
Adapter: Project managers of the modern world know that software tools pop up left and right. They’re familiar with the terminology of different methodologies. They know how to navigate low-learning curve tools like ClickUp and the more complicated software programs like JIRA. Many PMs balance several management tools at once, but modern PMs keep project management as streamlined and automated as possible. They read the latest blogs and industry publications to ensure their methods are top-of-the-line.
Listener: Being a project manager isn’t a one-sided gig. The best PMs are receptive to feedback and understand project management is a joint effort. This means listening to the opinions of stakeholders and team members alike.
Motivational: A huge part of management is ensuring a smooth and enjoyable journey to the finish line. Whether you provide positive reinforcement or words of encouragement at your weekly status meetings, motivation plays a key role in encouraging team members to work smarter.
Observer: The ability to monitor progress and foresee bumps down the road is crucial. Being observant goes hand in hand with communicating with your team members and ensuring that tasks are still on track. Nothing gets past the PM.
Optimist: There’s no challenge the modern PM won’t take on with a steadfast attitude. Awesome project managers ooze optimism, are excited to get to work, and transfer that enthusiasm to other members of the team. No excuses.

Like other disciplines, project management expertise strengthens with practice and experience. With each project, you learn more about leading a team from point A to B. Becoming a pro requires exercising the aforementioned traits on a day-to-day basis, and constantly testing and tweaking your management methods for optimum results. Early in your PM career, taking initiative is equally as important as doing independent research. If possible, consult a mentor to help professional growth.

Modern Methodologies

Project managers need to have a thorough understanding of different task-progression methodologies so they can determine the most efficient way to reach their end goal. Each method presents a different approach to the project lifecycle. It’s up to the PM to make sure each team member is equally familiar with the methodology of choice.

Why is being familiar with different methods so important? Because the method you use needs to correlate with the type of project you’re working on. An unfit methodology can be chaotic.

Some of the more popular management methodologies include:

Waterfall Project Management: This is the traditional approach to project management, where tasks are handled sequentially from planning to development to quality assurance. Project requirements are clearly defined during the early stages and there are no deviations from the plan unless necessary. The Waterfall methodology is most beneficial when working on a large-scale project that follows a stringent progressional path and leaves little room for unpredictability.

Agile Project Management: The agile methodology focuses on smaller projects within a project that all contribute to the same goal simultaneously (Scrum and Kanban project management fall under the agile umbrella). Agile is adaptable, fluid, and leaves room for regular feedback. It works best for smaller teams that need consistent communication or for projects with accelerated development schedules. Studies have shown the agile approach leads to an increase in cost savings and timelines. IT, financial, telecom, and software industries are most likely to use agile management.

Critical Path Project Management: The critical path project method focuses more on solving resource problems, whereas waterfall and agile methodologies put more emphasis on tasks and schedules. This management method is essentially a string of dependent tasks within a project, based on the concept that some tasks that cannot be completed unless another is finished first.

Critical Chain Project Management: With critical chain project management, each project consists of several sets of core elements that have a minimum timeline. This methodology devotes resources to each chain and works on them concurrently, but leaves enough buffers to be able to pull resources from one project and move fluidly to the next.

Your project methodology acts a GPS. It guides you, preparing passengers for a smooth, seamless ride. On the same token, project management software acts as a vehicle geared to follow the route mapped by that GPS.

Planning

Project managers need to present clear, articulate goals and resource allocation. Organization is key here, and it manifests itself in a variety of ways, from prioritizing tasks to staying focused on the bigger picture. Keeping communication lines open is especially pertinent during the planning phase, which can be broken down into three key stages:

Cementing Project Details

Before you begin a project, the details need be in order.

  • Clearly define expectations and interests from stakeholders
  • Thoroughly understand how stakeholders will determine project success
  • Outline project scope which includes roles and responsibilities for each team member
  • Determine tTrackable and measurable success criteria

Project & Team Requirements

With a thorough understanding of stakeholder expectations, you can begin identifying and relaying project requirements to your team.

  • Align various skills, talents, and personalities with project needs
  • Arrange and allocate available resources
  • Organize work with a work breakdown structure (WBS)
  • Define and outline project steps
  • Communicate the end goal and determine how success will be tracked and measured

Leading The Project

You manage tasks but lead people. Being a project leader is one of the key roles of a PM. You need to cultivate positive team dynamics and provide structured guidance.

  • Collect input from major stakeholders and your project team
  • Motivate your team to work towards milestones
  • Conduct one-on-one and team meetings to discuss progress
  • Protect your team from escalating objectives and scope creep

Communication

Let’s face it: project management is complicated. For any given project, PMs are expected to communicate with team members, stakeholders, human resources, the finance department, and external customers. There are various requirements, task layers, details, and decisions necessary for success. If project management software is the vehicle and the methodology is the GPS, it’s fair to say communication is the steering wheel. And because there are cases where the project manager doesn’t directly interact with all team members, communication is critical to the overall success of the project.

Modern project managers understand that business moves at a quicker pace than ever, and job roles and responsibilities are shifting. More team members are working remotely and many startup companies allow their staff members to work from home. On the same token, remote working requires the same level of excellent communication skills. A modern project manager is able to effectively:

  • Articulate project goals for the entire team (and individual members)
  • Set solid expectations on how those goals will be met
  • Formulate and thoroughly explain how a process works and ensure all team members understand how to use necessary tools
  • Build a strong team bond (even among remote workers)
  • Communicate potential risks and issues, and be ready to work together to solve them

Communication doesn’t just benefit the project itself, but the relationship between everyone on the team. A great project manager understands the benefits of communicating project goals and being personable. There’s nothing wrong with showing your team who you are, and discussing interests beyond project management. Cultivating a happy work life is just as important as the work itself.

Initiation

All the planning in the world means nothing if you aren’t able to motivate your team to get going — and keep going. Motivating an entire team isn’t just about checking off items on the task list. It’s about keeping them engaged and in ready-set-go mode. Keep your team informed about why the work they are doing is important.

One way to motivate your team is to share your productivity tips with them. Your expertise and basic project management tips could help increase their personal workflow. An effective way to do this is to include them in your project task estimations. Understanding how they break down tasks and structure their own work will help you gauge their capabilities and show you where improvement can be made. From there, you can demonstrate how you break down tasks and come up with time estimates, which can be valuable information to a non-PM. It also creates more of a comfort zone between individual team members and the project manager. Eventually, your team will begin to utilize your advice and you’ll reap the benefits of including them in your project management. Another way to enforce initiation is to set up a few small checkpoints for tasks that are close to deadline. This will motivate your team to share feedback in advance and make your final product stronger.

Motivating your team is always a balancing act: pushing them too hard can cause adverse results. The last thing a project manager wants to do is come off too pushy. The next-gen project manager understands the value of a compliment. Always show appreciation for the effort your team members have put in; it goes a long way and makes all the difference. Research has shown that positive reinforcement leads to an increase in desirable behavior. A simple personal email for a job well done will show your team member that their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

Monitoring

Project status is crucial throughout the duration of the project. As a project manager, monitoring project progress ensures that nothing slips through the cracks and that the team is operating functionally. Modern project managers can differentiate between monitoring project progress and micromanaging.

Meetings and status reports are one way to monitor progress. Creating accountability is necessary to delegate ownership in high autonomy teams. Each team member should have creative control over a certain area. This holds them accountable for their contribution and helps project managers pinpoint key players and those who need additional assistance.

Modern project managers are up-to-date on the best ways to make monitoring project progress as automated as possible. Otherwise, putting reports together can be another time-consuming task on your to-do list. Software like ClickUp and Asana feature integration options that make it simple to automate various reports conducive to the project.

Closing

The hardest part of any project is wrapping up loose ends. Closing a project is a crucial part of the project management process, and helps you ensure that project stakeholders are satisfied with deliverables. It also gives you the opportunity to step back and take a closer look at the final result and work at what could have been improved on both the quality and management forefront.

Each of the traits modern project managers possess are in full force during the closing process. You’ll have to be receptive to project feedback and be prepared for a potential list of items that need to be fixed before final acceptance; you’ll need to compare completed work against project timelines and milestones to address reasons for discrepancies; you’ll need to diligently archive the project; and most importantly, congratulate your team for a job well done.

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