Projects rule the professional world. You can take up projects at home, the workplace, school, volunteering or as part of a hobby. Here are the ways you can successfully execute a workplace project.
It all begins at the top. Ensuring the support at the highest level is key to the eventual success of your project. So begin there, even as you are saddled with a project responsibility. Periodic communication to all the key stakeholders of the project is essential.
Good communication. Given the potential for communication gaps when multiple disparate teams and individuals are involved, it is better to err on the side of communication more.
“I would place effective communication right at the top of skills required for project management. In my view, project management is a collaborative process where negotiation skills are absolutely necessary; but effective communication is the most essential building block which underlies all other skills,” says R Sriram, Additional Director General with the Central Board of Indirect Taxes & Customs.
Project teams could consist of people who may or may not report to you. Matrix organisations are becoming increasingly commonplace.
These are reporting structures where individuals report to more than one manager and perform multiple functions, sometimes for different verticals. In such a situation, your ability to persuade colleagues becomes more important since “authority” is not going to really help in such situations.
Understand deliverables. Right at the outset, you should ensure there is a clear understanding of goals among all concerned. Along the way, make sure these goals are tracked and updates are shared from time to time.
Sudarshan Rao, Lead, Test as a Service, in the United Kingdom, feels it is important to “instill a sense of ownership amongst the team and give individuals a role and opportunity to grow and thrive.”
He recommends being firm when needed, but always to acknowledge and credit efforts, both at the individual level and as a group.
Manage your timeline. Projects tend to drag on and their scope expands over time. This is often termed as “mission creep” or “project creep”. Finding the balance between timely execution and being open and flexible to expand the scope of the project is important.
Neither extreme is welcome — not being able to see the finish line or the other, where the project becomes a catch-all for the various needs of the organisation.
Prepare for the “after scenario.” The core intention of a project is to usher in something new or change the existing situation for the better by putting in a new system, process or practice. Think about how this change could impact those in the ecosystem and what mental and physical preparation they need including training or resources. This alleviates surprises following the completion of a project and preempts any backlash.
“Besides the management skills, understanding cost and risks is very important,” says Praveen B, an engineering manager, at an automobile technology company.
He adds, “Domain know-how helps a project manager ask the right questions and assess the risks involved.”
However, if you are tasked with managing a project where you lack the full range of knowledge, demonstrate humility, yet be clear who is driving the project. Just because you lack a particular technical competency does not mean that you can hand over the reins of the project and be at the receiving end. If you are the project leader, take everyone along, but be assertive when it comes to project focus and deliverables.
No matter the sector, field or ecosystem you are a part of, projects are here to stay. While you may not possess different technical skills or be a subject matter expert, your ability for project management in itself is a valued competency.
The more you hone it, the more you will thrive in the professional world. And don’t forget that these skills sharpened at the workplace can come in handy in a range of life settings!
(The author is an expert & trainer in the areas of innovation, change & partnership-building)