What Successful Project Managers Do

Workers arriving late, customers changing their orders and the bankruptcy of a key vendor are examples of events that might occur almost on a daily basis. The key challenge of every successful project manager is coping with the above frequent and unexpected events.

A study employing more than 150 successful project managers from more than 20 organizations revealed that the success of a project manager today is based on combining the traditional approach, which emphasizes that the success of any project requires stability, and the agile approach, which emphasizes that the success of any project requires massive flexibility during the project’s life.

A recent research indicated that, Develop collaboration, Integrate planning and review with learning, Prevent major disruptions and Maintaining forward momentum are the main four roles that would help successful project managers cope with unexpected events.

First, developing collaboration is essential for both: the early detection of difficulties and the quick development and smooth implementation of solutions. The level of collaboration amongst team members is the primary factor that can distinguish the successful mission from the failed missions. Second, Integrate planning and review with learning. Successful project managers tend to develop detailed short-term plans and tentative long-term plans once they realise that their organisation’s commitments cannot be met. They do not limit the learning process to the learning phase only but also use it during the project review phase. Third, prevent major disruptions. Even in calm situations, project managers never stop expecting unpleasant surprises hence; they are always anticipating disruptions and retaining the flexibility to react positively and immediately since it is easier to tackle a threat before it expands. Forth, maintain forward momentum. When unexpected events hit a specific task, all other tasks that are dependent will instantly get impacted.

Another research was conducted with a group of 20 project managers that focused on “how best to cope with unexpected events”. It was observed that most of the managers retained three complementary practices: “hand-on engagement, frequent face-to-face communication and frequent moving about”.

Projects with traditional management approach are intention-driven, while projects with agile management approach are event-driven. Nowadays, successful project managers must be both intention-driven and event-driven. They should be “people-oriented” when developing collaboration, “information-oriented” when integrating planning, “action-oriented” when preventing major disruption and at last, they should adopt all the three above mentioned orientations when maintain forward momentum.

In today’s dynamic environment, unexpected events will eventually occur at anytime during the life of the project however; a successful project manager has to be flexible and work toward minimizing the frequency and negative impact of such events. The project manager needs to respond quickly and effectively as soon as the problem has been acknowledge.

The article highlighted four of the most important roles that a successful manager must practice and implement while dealing with these events. I believe that the importance of the above roles varies from one project to another depending on the nature of the project as well as the capability of its team members.


6 thoughts on “What Successful Project Managers Do

  1. Thank you for your post! I think the most important characteristics of an effective project manager are: good communication, good decision making, project manager should has problem solving skills (as you mentioned), also it is very important for the project manager to be cool under pressure.

  2. Interesting topic! In my opinion, mangers’ main role is problem solving. Successful managers usually are able to recognize the problem, identify the reasons, and put into action a plan to solve it. During different stages of a project, many deviations may take place so the role to reduce those deviation and solve the problems.

  3. I agree with you, I believe that you covered key elements that can lead to project success or failure. Successful managers should be aware of all possible hindrances in the project life and must be prepared to realign projects path quickly, Starting from the initial stages where managers should set performance standards and act accordingly of what to retain and what to eliminate, ending with project closers where errors should be observed and diminish in order to develop and progress in performance next time.

  4. I agree. Developing collaboration amongst team members is essential for the success of the project. But in my opinion, even more important is the team’s ‘buy in’ and belief that the objective of the project is right. In my career I have seen some great projects fail simply because the team members didn’t collaborate, didn’t like each other and the Project Manager failed to spark teamwork and enforce cooperation. However, I have seen even more projects failing miserably because of the team members didn’t believe in the outcome of the project.

  5. I agree with your assertion that successful project managers are starting to incorporate more agile techniques to compliment the traditional project management style. For example, the PMBOK’s technique for submitting charge requests and all of the subsequent process it effects can be very burdensome. In technology industries, traditional project management can fail to manage an ever changing scope, leading to project delays and increased costs. I think that PMI has realized this trend as well which is why they introduced an agile project management certification.

  6. This post outlines nicely the qualities of a good project manager. What I also realized is that those same qualities are needed in having an effective manager in any area whether it be for a temporary project or leading a department. We are currently going through a transition in my company and the new director lacks a few of these people-person skills. She has a degree from a prestigious Chicagoland school and has many years of experience in the field but she is having a hard time connecting with people in the department mainly because she does not communicate. She likes to delegate work and be kept out of the loop. It will be interesting to see what her rapport is with the group in the next couple of months.

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