PMs are the most creative pros in the world; we have to figure out everything that could go wrong, before it does – Fredrik Haren
Project managing is like directing traffic in the middle of a busy intersection on Black Friday. Without a PM, projects are likely to stall, derail, clutter, combust, and team members and clients may trample each other. As the lead project manager at Shovel Creative, I juggle several clients’ needs throughout the day, along with team agendas, project budgets, and overall peace of mind. Learning through living is rough some days, but how else would we do it?! Here are three tips on managing projects effectively and efficiently.
1. I Keep My Own Calendar (in addition to the project calendar)
PM’s are doers. We want to get things done. We want to check those boxes off the list. We fancy the words “efficiency” and “quality”. Although I pride myself on my superior organization skills and constantly joke I have 8 arms, it is plenty easy for me to get off track. And if I’m off track, then who is keeping the rest of the team on-track?
We are only human. Take for instance, my average morning: 25 new emails, content to download, add new revisions to three project to-do lists, review the calendar and check-in with the team, reply to that email with “URGENT” in the subject line, send a project estimate along to a prospective client… All it takes is that one moment for my boss to say “oh, and remember to do this!” or that one client who calls just to make one “teeny tiny” extra request, and POOF! My mid-morning flow has been altered.
It’s okay. This happens. As a PM, I prioritize and jive on, but not without making sure everything is accounted for along the way. Too often small requests add up and something is bound to get lost in the abyss if I don’t have a security net to catch it all.
What works: I keep my own calendar. Of course, I’m a doer and am always updating project calendars, but where do I keep those crazy little notes that only I know how to decrypt? Are they all in my head, along with my grocery list and holiday wish-list? I keep daily notes-to-self all in one place, so at the end of the day it’s easy to go back and make sure I did return that prospect client who called just before lunch, and I did send that PDF that was taking forever to upload. Calendars are your friends, embrace them!
2. I ALWAYS Double Check
One time I wore boots on the wrong feet for half a day. It was one of those mornings—late to rise to my 6th snoozed-alarm, bad hair day and no creamer in the fridge. I had just bought some fabulous new booties, but wow, not very comfortable. Oh the things I do to be fashionable. I scramble to work. I finally pause to examine my feet around noon and think to myself: “dumb boots, these are The World’s Worst… Oh no, this couldn’t be…I would never…Oh jeeze…oh gawwwwwd!” Yes, I had the right on the left and the left on the right. No wonder why these boots felt like Lady Gaga’s 2010 Grammy Awards heels (Google it). Should have double-checked even the most obvious of possibilities.
Double-checking is the essence of my day. Project files have the potential to get disheveled, team members have the potential to think I said “work on v2” instead of “v3 re-do”. The smallest missed edit can cost us precious design time (and hence eat into the budget). It’s much better to take the time to double check that all needs have been met, than to let the client report inconsistencies themselves.
What Works: It never, ever, hurts to double, heck, triple check outgoing files. Some say “Do it right the first time!”, but I say: “When you work with a team of humans, and you are indeed a human yourself, it’s always safe to assume something, somehow, could have been misconstrued.” Its the nature of the beast. I am the last line of defense before our company’s hard work is presented to our client— I need to make sure my boots are on the right feet.
3. I Keep the Peace
Its 8am. The steam from my coffee is tickling my nose. The birds are chirping, and our developer has a funny cat video to show me. With a click of a button, my computer flickers on, and my Gmail account is going DING DING DING and the phone is going RING RING RING. “My website isn’t displaying correctly!” anonymous client A says.
My developer is looking at me like I just said his baby was ugly, and my client is stressed out of his mind. Now what?!
What Works: I keep calm and remember that I am directing traffic. I am not able to control that erratic driver that honks at me, but I can control how I react. Similarly, I am able to control the conversation, offering solution-based instructions such as “direct to me to the section(s) of your site that are broken” and “have you emptied your cache lately?”. And finally, before letting their stress or anxiety take over my brain, I take a deep breath, and remember that my goal is to fulfill our contract and my client’s needs. I relay the issues to my team and, as Shovel Creative’s CEO Tara Brouwer always says in regards to conflict and stress, “Take the emotion out of it”.
Each project I manage offers different challenges. Tightening my PM tool belt before each project ensures I am ready for any unforeseen traffic jams. In the end, I always find that keeping to these three rules keeps my team, my clients, and my inner zen, balanced.