05 May 6 things I would tell my junior self about project management
by Shane Howard
How do you keep a client happy while moving a project forward and on schedule?
That’s not only a question for my junior self—it’s an everyday challenge, and there are numerous factors that even the most experienced manager must juggle to stay in control of a project.
Changing client priorities, drifting objectives, lack of preparedness, and poor communication all contribute to projects biting the dust. So if there was one thing I’d want my junior self to learn it’s this: Projects that meet the client’s expectations, remain on schedule, and finish within budget don’t happen by chance. We make a plan to succeed.
Through trial and error, I’ve found six proven time-saving project management strategies that keep clients happy and projects moving forward.
1. Anticipate the unknown.
Answering questions can be a stressful part of the project meeting. Why? Because nobody likes being caught unprepared. To navigate those surprise questions, prepare yourself by mentally placing yourself in the client’s shoes and think about what questions you would have. Prepare an agenda and schedule follow-up meetings for things that come up off-topic so that you can meet the current objectives while providing an avenue to provide the best consultative answers for the tangential topics.
Moreover, if you heard your response, what questions would you ask as a follow-up? Prepare for the question that occurs after the question and formulate your responses as if they were coming from someone else. Think about what alternative paths may come depending on the answers you will provide. It’s all about providing the appropriate knowledge and setting the right expectations to arrive at the expected outcomes. When you are unprepared, you may unknowingly lead someone to make assumptions that may not be correct.
Look for someone to whom you can delegate tasks. Then, let them lead. “To elevate your team’s capacity to think for themselves, embed the practice of coaching early in the process,” says Sabina Nawaz. “Instead of providing answers, ask questions.” You should be a support arm rather than a micro-manager.
Sabina added that sharing open-ended questions allow team members “to broaden their lens and consider new angles.” When you reframe from simply assigning the solution, you encourage others to develop critical thinking skills that align with the project scope.
Learn which tasks can easily be delegated. For those that require your attention, organize them by priority.
3. Prioritize tasks.
Did you know that 80 percent of a typical workday is spent doing tasks with little to no value, and only 20 percent of your time is spent doing something important?
When it comes to tasks, there’s urgent and then there’s important. Since this time directly impacts a project’s budget, it’s vital to understand the difference. “An ‘urgent’ task is a deadline-driven to-do, often from an external source. Think of the to-dos in your inbox,” explains Kate Johanns. “An ‘important’ task, such as goal-setting or establishing project timelines, is the sort of task that’s easier to delay but if you just persevere in a proactive manner, it will result in great benefits later.”
Although it’s tempting to react to the clients who complain the most, don’t allow a “putting out fires” strategy to dictate your time.
You control your time.
So, when you have too much on your plate, ask yourself: Is this task going to move the needle today? Otherwise, it can wait until tomorrow. Focus on impact rather than urgency and be able to articulate why you define your priorities this way.
If you spend 10-12 minutes planning your day, you’ll save up to two hours of time that would have otherwise gone to waste.
4. Review and organize daily tasks.
Rather than starting each morning with a huge task list, try dividing tasks into three columns:
- Column One: Daily tasks.
- Column Two: Tasks I’ve completed.
- Column Three: Things I’m waiting for from other people that I need to complete my tasks.
For me, a task management system must be easy to update and browse every morning. Dividing tasks by status saves me time and provides a quick overview of where I need to focus my time and proactively address issues.
5. Practice proactive communication.
Communication remains a constant roadblock for project management. According to a study, over half (52 percent) of businesses surveyed said communication has the biggest impact on project management. Most of my time is indeed spent answering questions and tracking down information, but I also need to be mindful of how much time I spend answering emails from different people.
The easiest way to control things that are happening around me is to harness things happening TO me. I take the initiative to approach people waiting for things from me to let them know when they expect them or what’s going on. This accomplishes two things:
- It helps prepare your client for known issues before they happen.
- Gives your client insight into the project status by introducing potential delays and solutions and easing the distress of a possibly difficult situation.
At Simplus, a big part of our project management process is to be transparent and anticipate questions or concerns expressed by stakeholders. This way, we control our budgeted time instead of squandering valuable time to answer questions for other people during a busy time or at the last minute.
6. Document. Document. Document.
Thoughtful documentation acts as a guide for setting and defining goals and ensures that the team, project manager, stakeholders, etc., share the same expectations on strategy, timelines, budget, and other factors that potentially delay progress.
Documenting conversation talking points, decisions by stakeholders, and project details saves time. When digital transformation projects last months, if not years, it’s common to encounter turnover in the client’s organization. By documenting things as they happen, our team can onboard a new member of the decision-making process with documents laying out the current project scope, status, projections, budget, phone and text conversations, anything that can get new team members up to speed.
Every digital transformation project is unique. But I would tell my junior self that projects run more efficiently with task management strategies with the customer’s focus in mind. By organizing tasks based on importance rather than urgency, delegating when possible, and making sure the client is involved and informed of project updates, any project manager will enjoy quick results and long-term success.
Shane is the VP of Global Operations at Simplus. With his expertise in Professional Services, Operations, PMO, and Software Development and his experiences in partner, C-level, VP, and Director positions in various industries, Shane thrives in operational excellence. He solves complex internal and client-facing problems with scalable solutions.