As a Project Manager (PM), you're often asked to juggle multiple projects with competing deadlines and priorities as well as their numerous stakeholders who are all demanding your undivided attention. Whether you're a new PM or a seasoned veteran, the role can feel overwhelming -- and there's only so much that coffee can do to help. But we're here to help.

At ImageX, we design and develop Drupal-based solutions for higher education clients and other verticals. Our day-to-day tasks may be different than yours, but the principles of project management are the same whether you're overseeing a website, a new product, or a skyscraper and we can all learn how to manage them more effectively.

The project management team at ImageX shared what they each believed were the most effective habits of a PM. There was a lot of overlap on most of the basics, but everyone had some of their own ideas to share -- things that they may have thought were common, but that other's hadn't necessarily added to their own toolkit.

Drawing from my own (almost) ten years of experience as a PM, I have combined the lists and distilled them down to what I believe are the 12 most important. And in the true spirit of open source, here they are for you to share!

1. Invest in client relationships

A recent study of Fortune 500 companies identified the number one predictor of a project manager’s effectiveness as stakeholder partnership. Securing the buy in of a project’s stakeholders helps build its foundations, and nurturing those relationships throughout the project’s lifecycle can be the most powerful asset in your toolkit. However, deftly maneuvering these multiple personalities on top of your project’s budget, scope, and timelines can be a challenge at the best of times.

  • Establish yourself as the single point of contact and ensure that your client identifies theirs too;
  • Research your clients to know and understand their stakeholders, business, industry, etc.;
  • Create personal and professional connections with your clients;
  • Be enthusiastic about their ideas, even if you disagree, and show empathy by understanding the source of them;
  • Don’t assume anything!  Ask for clarity if you don’t understand something; and,
  • Keep written communication professional -- remember, they might be shared.

2. Manage expectations

  • Ensure the client understands their responsibilities (feedback and deliverables) and their potential impact on the timeline and/or budget;
  • Manage the client as a resource by holding them accountable and sending them reminders when they have deliverables;
  • Don't be afraid to push back if you think a decision may negatively impact their business;
  • Consult with your clients on the best practices and trends in their industry; and,
  • Always follow through on what you say!

Working with the Project Management team at ImageX has always been an easy and productive process. When we've had complicated projects, unexpected needs or near-impossible deadlines, they've been able to help keep things running smoothly and make sure our objectives get met. 

Bruce Stewart, Producer at Management Innovation eXchange

3. Give Your Projects Structure

  • Establish clear milestones -- short-term goals that keep long-term projects on track;
  • Schedule your work into weekly or bi-weekly sprints;
  • Assign tasks clearly, including who, what, and when;
  • Formalize releases -- establish when a client gets to test and work toward incremental delivery; and,
  • QA throughout with clearly defined acceptance criteria and ongoing testing.

4. Stay up to date On Your Project

  • Monitor both your timelines and your budget daily to ensure that both are on track;
  • Bring your team together for a quick check-in every morning where every member shares what they did yesterday, what they're doing today, and if there are any blocks that are impeding their progress; and,
  • Similarly, schedule weekly check-ins with your client to discuss the project's progress and any upcoming deliverables from either side.

5. Involve your team

  • Include each of your team leads when planning your projects -- ultimately, they're accountable for their team members, so they should be contributing estimates, etc. on their behalf;
  • Similarly, involve each of your team leads in your sprint planning;
  • Ensure that your team understands and accepts their estimates and commits to them;
  • Check with your team to see if they have any pressing questions or concerns before you meet with your client;
  • Ensure your team has the tools, resources, and equipment they need to complete their tasks without any impediments; and,
  • Don’t forget to report back -- filter and share any client feedback with your team.

6. Document All meetings and decisions

  • Take excellent client meeting minutes to ensure you capture critical decisions, statements, and any action items;
  • Ensure that your documentation would be comprehensive enough to cover you if there were ever to be a legal dispute;
  • Schedule gaps between meetings (no back-to-back) to give time to digest the previous meeting's outcomes;
  • Circulate the meeting minutes and solicit client feedback, but assume acceptance;
  • Post the minutes to the common forum where all the communications are housed, ideally within the day;
  • Establish clear action items, track them, and follow-up on them; and,
  • Don’t forget to document relevant internal meeting minutes, not just client meetings.

7. Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

Speaking of meetings, we've all been in a room where everyone is talking but no one is listening. "Talk less and listen more" is good life advice in general, but it's particularly salient for a PM. 

  • Listen actively -- that means asking probing questions, clarify, and repeat ideas back to who presented them in your own words to ensure your understanding;
  • Include everyone in the conversation, especially when it means asking questions of people who may be more introverted;
  • Remember that no one has a monopoly on a good idea, and they sometimes come from the unlikeliest of places; and,
  • People communicate differently, so try to incorporate both verbal and visual communications in your meetings.

8. Report!

  • Provide a weekly project progress report to the client;
  • Review project progress at client check-ins;
  • Keep your capacity planning tool updated to ensure everyone is fully utilized and maximizing your team's productivity;
  • Keep your project brief updated with the latest document versions on any updated contracts, etc.; and,
  • Provide weekly reports to your supervisor to keep them informed.

9. Manage and Mitigate change

  • Communicate early and often to ensure there are no surprises;
  • Analyze the impact of any changes and update the project's deliverables, schedule, and budget as necessary;
  • Protect your project's scope and document any changes with change orders;
  • Don’t be afraid to change your project's plan when there are opportunities to improve; and,
  • Continually adjust your project's schedule and priorities to minimize any downtime and under-utilized resources.

10. Be Proactive

  • A PM is at their most effective when they anticipate project risks before they occur;
  • Once anticipated, develop a risk mitigation plan that covers the various potential scenarios and their outcomes; and,
  • Communicate any potential risks with your team and the client as early as possible so that you can collaborate on possible solutions.

A truly proactive PM will do all that they can to minimize any time lost in miscommunications, lack of understanding of expectations, or putting productive energies into the wrong venues.

11. Keep improving

  • Learn how to use the technologies you champion, such as creating your own blog post using the Drupal admin, so that you can share your client's experiences and mitigate any potential pain points;
  • Have regular process meetings with your project management team;
  • Solidify estimation tools and techniques;
  • Perform retrospective/post-mortem/lessons learned meetings following all projects;
  • Measure budget successes and failures for better estimation going forward; and,
  • Proceed with side projects and process development in your spare time.

12. Stay Informed

While it might not always be possible or practical to regularly attend conferences in person, staying abreast of industry trends, thought leaders, news, and events is as easy as following the right Twitter accounts and websites. Here are some of the leading ones that we recommend:

@PMInstitute – The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world’s leading not-for-profit professional membership association for the project, program, and portfolio management profession. Representing more than 2.9 million project management professionals, the PMI promotes advocacy, education, research, and helps advance the discipline through its globally recognized standards, certifications, publications, and professional development courses.  Their Twitter account is highly active, sharing links to reports, resources, and engaging its followers in conversation every few hours.

@ProjectTips – From the makers of the project management software, ProjectManager.com, this account shares advice, tips, and strategy from management and leadership thought leaders. Many of their tweets link back to their blog, which updates regularly with posts on project management, productivity, and leadership.

@pm4girls – Elizabeth Harrin began her website, the Girl’s Guide to Project Management, when she “realized that there weren’t enough women writing and speaking about project management, although there were plenty working very hard at it.” The project manager and author is a social media powerhouse, sharing articles, resources, and tips throughout the day.

@corneliusficht – Cornelius Fichtner is a project manager, Project Management Professional (PMP) certification trainer, public speaker, and the host of The PM Podcast. His podcast provides invaluable information on a variety of topics of interest to any project manager, and with over 350 episodes in its archives, there’s a wealth of information available. But his Twitter feed adds additional value, with links to helpful resources for students working towards their PMP certification.

@pmhutThe Project Management Hut bills themselves as the largest database of categorized articles on project management on the internet. Since 2007, the group of project managers has pooled their resources together and made their vast experience available to anyone free of charge, and their Twitter feed shares new content daily. No matter your need, there is a resource on The Project Management Hut that can help.

Wrapping Up

How do you keep on top of your game as a PM? Share one of your highly effective habits that you practice as a PM. Or share something that you think a PM should always take into consideration when managing a web project.

Gavin Graham

Web Content Specialist