5 Tech Project Management tips that you won’t find in books
Walking into a briefing meeting early in my career of a large multimillion dollar project I was recently assigned, a senior VP warmly welcomed me by saying "I don’t really respect Project Managers, they don’t have any discernible skills" (he had obviously never seen my lawn-mowing skills). The comment didn’t really bother or phase me as I was pretty used to this mindset, especially from techies - in fact it prepared me for the attitude many on my team at that time would have, and that’d I’d have to overcome.
And in all honesty from what you’ll read in the PMI book or searching online, you don’t need any discernible skills to do those things. Building a schedule? Use simple math. See a potential blocker in the distance? Log a risk. Weirdly, the things that can help you standout and succeed are rarely written about in the field of project management. So let’s change that!
In my opinion, soft-skills and quick and critical thinking are 75% of what makes a good project manager, not memorizing the inputs/outputs of the Project Management books. Below are five of the most important attributes I think a Tech Project Manager can possess (that aren’t often mentioned).
1. Know your project inside and out
For most Tech Projects, you’ll have an SME (Subject Matter Expert) on your team - for specific technologies, functions, or industries.
It’s important to remember that you’ll play that role as well - for your project. No matter how long the project, being able to rattle off the major players, current status, risks, high level budget, and schedule from memory should be easy for any project manager. Having this knowledge in your head will project confidence to yourself and your team, allow you to make quick decisions, and save time from constantly looking things up. No SME in the world needs to Google a basic question of their technology or industry so with that in mind - consider yourself a SME!
2. Keep your team happy
Tech Projects can often seem like the most important thing happening at that particular moment - and then there’s the next project, and the next... Executives and leadership can push things to be done faster and faster, risking burnout of the project team.
Thus, keeping staff morale and happiness high is critical to success. Getting to know your colleagues - using humor, small gifts, coffee, lunch breaks etc. all small things that add up over time - and will help garner respect of your project team.
You also need to protect your project team based on the objectives and status of your project. If leadership is consistently asking for long hours, then the team risks burnout, leading to delays and low retention. You should lobby leaders on the benefits of limiting the items deserving of working Saturday’s or doing long hours (hint - it’s not every week). It will keep your team happy, efficient and motivated - and they’ll appreciate you going to bat for them.
3. Have confidence
Even if you don’t. As Emma mentioned in her blog post, "Fake it till you make it" definitely qualifies as a cliche, but in essence it's important to remember. If you can convince yourself that no matter what the project throws at you, you’ll have it in hand - then your project team will follow. Confidence doesn’t mean you have to be and act like Tony Stark - merely remaining calm, pragmatic, and level-headed in times of stress and urgency.
4. Drop your Ego
On the flip-side of the last point, don’t have so much confidence that you end up arrogant. As a Tech Project Manager you’re going to be working with many different roles and personalities - engineers, architects, executives, and commercial resources all have different agendas and things that make them tick. As the go-to for your project, you’ll be having a lot of interaction day to day with a variety of these roles - a stand-up with engineers in the morning, followed by a status meeting with leadership, and closing with the commercial team meeting on future opportunities. Over the course of many months, that’s a lot of opportunities for conflict - and to assert your ego. Try and refrain from that. You don’t need to win arguments over where to eat lunch, which conference room you had booked, and whether a meeting should be in the morning or afternoon.
Reserve your effort and battles for things that really affect the project - it’ll help you garner respect from other individuals and more importantly STAY SANE!
5. Unplug and Rest
I’ve given a lot of advice on being part of a team and looking after your colleagues, but don’t forget to look after yourself.
As the SME and go-to for your project, it can be tempting to be connected at all times - Slack, email, calls etc. However it’s important to have consistent times to be "checked-out." In today’s corporate environment that may sound antithetical to go-getters, but "Stress + Rest" is a formula for growth that’s helped some of the most successful companies and high performing athletes. During a normal working week there’s no reason to be checking in at night, or during the weekend. Clearing your brain and mental state with non-work activities is critical to coming back and crushing work during the week.
Common literature and community may try to convince that Project Management is a strict science that can be followed in steps, but it’s not. Fundamentals of scope, budget and timelines are of course important, but being able to navigate the softer side of things - compounded by hard-work and dedication are what will lead to project and personal success.