Five Key Ingredients to Successful Project Management

Author: Bob Bonkowski 

Bob Bonkowski is a Program/Project Management professional who has spent his entire career working on projects. He began as a Software Developer, then Requirements Engineer, Project Manager, Program Manager, and most recently Program Management Director.  He has a BS Comp Sci, MBA, PMP, and is a certified Professional Scrum Master  (PSM I), with hands on experience in transitioning an organization from waterfall to agile scrum.

Five Key Ingredients to Successful Project Management

There are many books on project management and leadership, some are better than others. From my own experience, I’ve narrowed project management success down to five key ingredients that I feel have helped me the most.

  1. Make it Happen!

This is my mission statement as a project manager.  Companies have vision statements; companies have mission statements. Project managers need a mission statement as well and I think making it happen should be it.  Project managers own the project.  They are the ones leading the team.  They are the ones who are the glue, making sure processes get executed and things don’t fall through the cracks.

It’s all about attitude—don’t make excuses, overcome obstacles (and don’t create them) and keep things moving forward.  It’s easier said than done, but you have to be committed to making it happen in the first place or else it will never get done.

While projects need well-defined processes to move things along as efficiently as possible, projects are complex and processes cannot account for every situation.  If they did, project managers wouldn’t be needed.  Project managers are the glue that keep the project moving forward when there are process disconnects.

  1.  Have a Plan

The second ingredient to success is having a plan.  When I get in my car, I turn on my navigation system and specify where I want to go.  The system lists all the roads I will travel, how long it will take, and when I will reach my final destination.

Project managers need the exact same tool. What are the tasks, durations, dependencies, and resources?  Once that is figured out, you now have a thought-through plan to complete the project.  There is an end date and intermediate dates from which to gauge progress.

When things get hectic and issues arise, I always go back to my plan to see  where I am. Because of the detail in the plan, I am often able to change some intermediate dates to address issues while still maintaining the final end date.  It’s only because I have a detailed plan in the first place that I am able to investigate different scenarios and make granular modifications.

When project managers make changes to a schedule it’s called re-planning.  When I have to drive off the beaten path and my navigation system makes similar changes, it tells me it’s recalculating.  Same difference!

  1. Clear, honest communication

When I was growing up, getting into my teen years and life was becoming a little more complicated, my Dad told me I should always tell him if I had a problem.  He assured me there were no new problems in this world, and all I had to do was identify the problem so that we could address it.

That is surely the case in project management;  no new issues– resource conflicts, ambiguous requirements, personality conflicts,  priority issues, procurement/manufacturing/shipping delays, and software bugs, to name a few.  The key is to quickly identify the problem so the issue can be addressed as soon as possible.  The project manager needs clear, open communication with the project team.  The team members need to feel comfortable coming to her with issues.

If the issues affect business goals or customer expectations, the project manager needs to communicate this to the appropriate stakeholder, whether it be executive management or the customer.  Covering up an issue and hoping it goes away is like leaving a fire to smolder.  It will only get worse.

Identify the problem to the stakeholder, present alternative solutions, and let the stakeholder decide what they want to do.  This way that sponsor is part of the solution and you get instant buy-in.  The key part is for the project manager to present alternative solutions that she can live with!  Don’t just present the problem. Present solutions.  The project manager is in the best position to provide alternatives since she is the closest to the problem.

  1. Enthusiasm

If you are the project manager you need to be enthusiastic about your project.  If you aren’t, certainly the team won’t be.  Remember, you are in a leadership position.  People can tell if you care or not and they will act accordingly.

I like to talk to the team members and make sure they understand how their role is contributing to the overall project success.  Everyone wants to understand their importance in the big picture.  It motivates them. It creates enthusiasm within them.

“Thank folks for a job well done.”  Gratitude goes a long way.  Treat people the way you want to be treated.  All this will happen naturally if you are enthusiastic and enjoy what you are doing.

I had a personal trainer a few years back whose favorite quote was, “enjoy the pain!”  He loved body building and knew  pain was the challenge he needed to endure to get the results he wanted.  He learned to enjoy it.

Resolving project issues is a project manager’s pain.  Learn to enjoy it.  It’s what we do to get the results we want.

  1. Make a decision!

I’ve seen many project managers lose the momentum of a project and the interest of the team because they’ve had to wait for a decision to be made. I’ve always worked in an environment where resources were spread over multiple projects.  If folks were waiting on decisions, they would move on to their other work.  If a decision lingered too long, certain resources were no longer available to come back to the project.  In addition, schedules slipped and costs increased.

Get the right people in a room.  Flush out all the angles.  Be as thorough as possible.  Get everyone’s input.  Then make a decision and keep moving forward.  If, at a later date, circumstances change the dynamics under which the original decision was made, change your decision!

Remember, making no decision is a decision.  And it’s typically not a productive one.

I have about 20 or 25 more of these key ingredients, but if I wrote on all of them, it would be a book not a blog. Actually, every one of these five ingredients in this blog could be expanded into a book.  I welcome any and all feedback.