8 Practices of a Successful Project Manager
“What makes a project manager successful?”
When I was asked to answer this question, I had to really stop and think . . . and think some more. Because I just do it–like breathing or walking, I had to dig deep to articulate the practices I have honed that create the satisfied and repeat clients Elevatus Architecture enjoys. As I reflected, I realized there are several practices that are crucial for success on any project that go beyond the foundational skills of planning and time management.
Be a Self-Starter
In the hierarchy of a typical project, there is no one looking over the project manager’s shoulder to make sure it gets started. Once the project is handed off from the project executive, you have to be ready to just GO.
We immediately contact the client to set up the first meeting where we will work to understand the client’s vision, their needs, and how Elevatus will provide solutions for those needs. Over the course of the project, we communicate with the client regularly to ensure the client’s goals are being met.
Determine Success Criteria
During that initial meeting, understanding what excellence looks like for the client is key because that drives the decision making from that point on. That vision becomes the lens through which all future decisions will be made, including the makeup of the internal and external teams that can best accomplish the desired outcome.
Create the Best Teams
Selecting the most effective teams for the job means that you have an understanding of the strengths and challenges of potential team members both internally and externally. It’s not just thinking about the walls of the building. We have to think about how all of the architects, engineers, designers, and other consultants on the project will fit together to accomplish the client’s goals.
Communicate the Client’s Vision
After assembling the right teams, it’s then our job to clearly communicate the client’s vision and expectations to each team member. Then, over the course of the project, we make sure the internal and external teams understand what success means and make sure everyone is on task to achieve that goal. We have to be both proactive in monitoring the different moving parts of the project and reactive to challenges that will inevitably arise.
Move Beyond Management
My role is to move beyond just managing a project. I’m always mindful that all teams are made up of human beings with personal and professional strengths and challenges that impact the execution of any plan, so I strive to make sure they are moving toward achieving excellence for the client.
To optimize the productivity of the teams, we have to understand their interpersonal dynamics. Because we are working with so many different personalities, the challenge for a project manager becomes ensuring that everyone is working together efficiently and effectively over the duration of a project.
In a perfect scenario, no one is ever removed from a project because of personality conflicts or personal limitations. To create the conditions for success, I believe the project manager’s ability to be diplomatic is critical. That means we are equipped and willing to have conversations others may deem difficult to make sure all of the people we’re working with can work with each other.
Also important to the success of the project is my own approachability. I have learned that my own self-awareness about how others perceive me and my willingness to grow in that awareness adds to the success of each new project. I want to make sure all team members feel comfortable coming to me with any issues or problems.
Learn Something New on Every Project
To effectively facilitate the work on any project, a project manager is constantly learning. We have to stay well-versed on new information like current codes, the best and newest studies, and new material testing.
I’m always learning something new in relation to the project. For example, I’m currently involved in my first microbrewery project. I learned new terms and concepts in conversation with the owner and then took the opportunity to tour a similar facility and discuss the process with a family member who is a chemical engineer. It seems like with every project, I learn something new and there will never be a time when I’ve learned it all. This stance as a lifelong learner helps keep things fresh and interesting for me as I work to bring the client’s vision to fruition.
The goal is to not only meet the client’s expectations but to also encourage teams and individuals to push beyond perceived limits and to be creative and innovative with each new project.
The challenge I have felt most often has been encouraging others to learn a new skill or concept. Overcoming that challenge happens when I can help them break the tendency to rest in the comfort of “the way I know how” or “how I’ve always done it.”
Always Think Big Picture
In any kind of building project, an effective project manager recognizes the macro and micro challenges involved. To make sure I’m always thinking of the big picture, I have found that one of the most powerful responses I can give to questions from anyone working on the project is “Why?” For example, if someone asks me a question about how they should do something, my response is something like, “Let’s talk about why you’re asking that question.” Asking “Why?” helps me and the team member get to the center of the problem or challenge while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Usually, there is a challenge beyond that original question that needs to be addressed. If you don’t fully understand what the deeper issue is, you aren’t likely to provide the best solution.
There is certainly more to project management than these eight practices, but I have come to realize the importance of each one more with every new project. Within the projects I am fortunate enough to manage, there is too much on the line to be anything less than exceptional for our clients. These nuanced practices ensure that I serve all involved in the project, including clients, colleagues, and consultants, so clients are beyond satisfied and keep coming back to Elevatus Architecture.