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The saying, “practice makes perfect” couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to project management. Reading and studying is necessary to understand fundamental principles, but nothing beats hands-on experience.
The reason you need experience is that projects aren’t made of stone. They’re prone to change. They shrink or grow. Even when everything is said but not done, the project won’t always go as planned.
In school, they teach you how to create and execute project plans, as well as how to manage risks. Both are necessary and important, but several soft skills are critical to your success as a project manager. And they’re not taught in a classroom.
1. Developing the perfect team
Worst case scenario, you pick your team at random. You hope for the best outcome, but the project fails. Why?
The first problem: Project managers don’t “hope.” They plan. They calculate. They even analyze.
The second problem: Every team member you pick should be based on the requirements for project completion. It should never be randomized.
An optimal way to choose the right team members is to pick the best, the most productive, and brightest people you can find. Break down tasks, resources, expectations, and leadership roles before building your team. Then figure out where each person belongs on your side.
Then the selection process begins, based on your needs.
2. The art of communication and delegation
You can’t do everything yourself. At least, you can’t without risking the quality and success of a project.
As the project manager, you’ll be expected to delegate essential tasks to the right people. That doesn’t mean handing off the assignment and leaving the person to fend for himself. Delegation involves a high level of communication to work.
It’s up to you to explain the task and describe the outcome. You’ll need to communicate your expectations and, if necessary, assist your teammate along the way. But don’t delegate and then complain when the results aren’t what you expected. It’s not productive for yourself, and not helpful for your team.
3. Negotiation is a requirement for project managers, not a luxury
You’ll be negotiating from day one. The budget, the due dates, and resources are negotiable. And it doesn’t stop once everything has been “agreed upon.” Projects are flexible and prone to unexpected changes, after all.
If you accept due dates, budgets, and the number of resources at face value, you may find it impossible to complete the project. No one knows the necessary components for this project better than you, no matter what they say. You’re the one living and breathing every aspect of the project until completion.
Trust yourself and negotiate with stakeholders and team members. It may require several back-and-forth meetings until everyone agrees on the solution.
But for a successful project, negotiation is nonnegotiable.
4. How do you respond to change?
If you respond poorly, you’re going to have a difficult time as a project manager. We’d like to think once the lines are drawn, the dates are agreed upon, and the team members are picked, that everything is set in stone.
Project expectations can change. Dates are either extended or shortened. And team members can become sick or quit. When the unthinkable happens, you need to be ready to shift gears and accommodate.
Unfortunately, the only way to learn this is to experience it firsthand. It’ll be stressful no matter how many times you experience it. But it’s part of the project manager life.