At different times and in different roles, I have had the opportunity to observe, work on, plan, and implement projects of various sizes and types. They include construction, computer system, computer software, marketing, web development, book writing, process improvement, and plant expansion projects.
I have also attended workshops and read books on project management. Many of them focused on the checklists, charts, graphs, and planning tools necessary to plan and track project progress and milestone completion. I have used task lists and planning tools that include PERT and Gantt charts. I have worked in Microsoft Project. In short, I have seen the ins and outs of many types of projects and project management tools, and I have worked with many project managers.
The roles, projects, and project managers have varied in size, scope, type, and approach, and one thing has been constant through them all: people did the work.
Regardless of the project management tool, type of project or scope of work, people are always involved. When I reflect on the approaches and styles of the various project managers I have known and worked with, the most significant difference I see between the successful and the unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones understood that people do the work.
Successful project managers get work done on time and within budget because they know how to work with people and not because they know how to create a perfect Gantt chart. They understood how to use project management and tracking tools, and they kept their focus on connecting with the people responsible for the many tasks.
Unsuccessful project managers focus on the tools and checklists and ignore communicating and connecting with people.
The best project manager I had the chance to observe was a master of both the technical requirements and the people needs of leading his projects. He kept track of the timeline. He knew exactly what needed to be done, by when, and by whom. And he had a way of connecting with people that allowed room for input and discussion about how to accomplish the various tasks while still holding people accountable for their commitments. As I watched him lead projects, I noticed that he had the ability to simultaneously remain flexible with people and rigid with timelines.
He was highly effective with planning and tracking tools, and his strongest skill set lay in the way he connected and communicated with people. He did it in a way that people wanted to meet their timelines rather than feeling like they had to meet them.
As a leader (supervisor, manager, parent, or coach), you will likely get the opportunity to lead many types and sizes of projects. When you do, remember the idea of remaining flexible with people and rigid with timelines. Stay open to dialogue, engage people in conversation, listen to their concerns, give them room to solve problems in their own way, and push for adherence to deadlines and quality targets.
Your Now Step: Think about a current project you are leading. Schedule a project update meeting with the people who must do the actual work. Do more than check on the status of their task lists. Listen to their frustrations and struggles. Identify one thing you can do to improve their ability to get their tasks done more quickly and effectively. Do that thing.