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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work

8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work

Every project manager has their strengths and weaknesses. Still, to be genuinely productive, you must have a blend of project management skills that are adaptable and ready for any situation.

No project is ever the same, especially when working with different stakeholders, team members, third parties, and new challenges in each moment.

Project managers and workers of all kinds have to learn fast and be adaptable, so it’s crucial you not only have these project management skills, but also that you’re always working on how you can improve them.[1]

Having these essential project management skills allows you to work productively and professionally. They will not only help you personally, but also in improving a team and, ultimately, the project itself.

1. Planning

If you’re not a good planner, then you’re not going to be very productive.

Planning is everything in project management as it encompasses all responsibilities of the project manager, from the project plan, risk management, budget, your time and that of those around you.

You need to be able to perform the right level of planning at the right time and with the right people. A project manager who is always calling the team together to create a new plan is going to quickly lose the faith of the team that wants to get the work done.

A project manager needs to be able to judge when to plan in detail and how far out, versus short-term planning that allows you to adjust the plan incrementally.

Being able to achieve balance between the details of long-term planning and short-term incremental planning is a skill in itself. Once you’re able to get the team into a natural flow of incremental planning, which covers the work required for risk management and dependency management, you’ll be in the right place as a project manager.

When the team enters this flow, they will be at their most productive.

Being a great planner also requires skills in task management because if you’re not productive, the work will stack up.

A project manager who can manage their tasks well has the ability to know what to work on and when. Focusing on what is important rather than what seems urgent brings the highest value to the project.

2. Adaptability

As a project manager, one of the critical skills is the ability to be adaptable[2] to the current situation or environment. During a busy project, no one day is ever the same, so you have to be ready for whatever comes at you.

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That could be a change in the direction of the project, teammates calling in sick, left-field questions about the project from a stakeholder, or being asked to come and present an update at the last minute.

You need to expect something to happen that you didn’t plan for so that when it does happen, you can understand it with a calm mind and then take the appropriate action.

In project management, you’re typically not judged on what has just happened, but what you did next to bring a resolution to that situation.

Also be prepared to adapt how you present and communicate daily. For example, how you talk to a teammate is likely to be very different to how you speak to a CEO, Financial Controller, or the project’s stakeholder.

3. Problem Solving

When you’re a project manager, everyone expects you to have all the answers. It can be quite daunting as you can never know everything or as much as a teammate about their particular task or expertise.

What you’re expected to be able to do is to solve problems for any aspect of the project. This could be a problem like the budget being burnt too fast, team conflicts, demanding clients, or project delays.

To be a great problem solver, you need enough subject matter expertise across the whole project to be able to dig and probe to find out where the problem truly is. You can then use different problem solving techniques to solve these issues, too.

As a project manager, you must always be one step ahead of the problem as you need to be thinking about how it will impact the overall project. This systems thinking approach to problem-solving is a critical skill to develop because you don’t want to fix one problem if it just causes another elsewhere.

4. Communication

You have to be a clear and direct communicator as a project manager, whether that’s verbal or written as you’re working with diverse team roles and stakeholders, all varying in seniority.

The key to being an excellent communicator is to simplify what you’re sharing so the team member, client, or manager can take that information on board and act on it.

The project manager is there to keep the right information flowing to the right people and at the right time.

The right information can also mean the amount of information for the recipient, as a report for a CEO may need to be high-level and brief whether that’s written or verbal as they’re typically time-poor.

An update for your manager, though, may need detail as they’ll need more context so they can help and advise.

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Consistency is also essential when it comes to the communication on your project, as other team members, managers, or clients will then create their communication plans and updates around the information you provide.

The,n having designated days when you communicate certain aspects of your project must be consistent to allow this to happen.

You also need the ability to provide well-written communication, which could be in the form of email, reports, or presentations.

If your writing skills are lacking, then it’s the same issue as not being able to communicate well verbally: the recipients will either not fully understand what you’re sharing, or they will not trust it.

5. Openness to Learning

The best way to learn as a project manager is by doing, or learning on the job as it’s sometimes described. Unfortunately for many of us, learning on the job is tough as we usually learn the most through our mistakes.

Mistakes as a project manager are going to happen, and it’s how you deal with them and learn from them that make you a great project manager.

Retrospection is a big part of self-development and evaluation for you and your project team.

You need to be able to regularly take a step back and look at what worked well, what didn’t, and what you learned from it.

You can do this through individual journaling and team retrospectives. Journaling is a natural way to capture your thoughts, lessons learned, and actions at any time.

Having a journal with you at all times is key, and it can take the form of a note pad or a digital tool. Capture your learning as close to when the situations happen as possible as it’s fresh in the mind. This will allow you to use it again in the future.

Facilitating retrospectives is the first step for learning as a team, but then the project manager must support and act on these improvements post-retrospective. This helps build team morale, as well as confidence in you as a project manager as you’re helping the team develop.

6. Risk Awareness

Being risk aware[3] means that you need to be thinking about what could go wrong on a project, not in a worried and stressful state but a focused and controlled state.

You need to be regularly thinking about how a particular task or workstream will look like in a few weeks and how you can make sure the team is as productive as possible. You should also be aware of what could stop them from working with a task, client, tool, or other team member.

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Risk management, like general project planning, requires you to be able to get the right balance between short and long term risks.

A risk that might hit the project in 6 months doesn’t need the whole team to down tools and work on how to mitigate it today. However, it is important to plan for a risk that is likely to impact the team in a week or two.

Risk management isn’t just for the project manager; it’s a team thing. A project manager isn’t going to be able to think of every risk or how to mitigate it. The team needs to support this in order to increase productivity across the board.

The project manager can probe and facilitate planning conversations or in status meetings with questions like:

  • Is that an assumption?
  • Is there anything that could stop you from completing that task?
  • Is there something I can do to make sure you have everything you need to complete the task?

These types of questions, when asked regularly, not only help manage risks, but, over time, the team starts to provide the answers without being asked.

7. Commercial Awareness

You need to understand the commercial aspects of your project, as well as how the budget works within the broader context of your business.

Having a detailed understanding of the commerciality allows you to speed up or avoid creating complicated conversations when it comes to a potential change in the budget.

Knowing what can and can’t do with the budget saves you, your team, and your financial controller time in the long run.

Consider the following example.

The team requests a new testing kit as it’s more advanced than the one you currently have in place. You understand the benefits of it, but you know exactly how much money the project can spend on external equipment, plus the reasons why this budget has been set.

Rather than extending the conversation or speaking to your financial controller, you’re able to explain to your team the reasons why they can’t purchase it and give them other options.

It’s easy to get stuck in the day to day of a project and not pay enough attention to the management of the budget. The budget is a critical component of a project due to the fact that if you don’t make a profit or maintain profitability, then it may not be deemed a success.

A project manager has to be able to balance driving the plan but at the same time managing the budget. Having an understanding of the budget allows you to then make decisions faster and with confidence when speaking with your manager and stakeholders.

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8. Facilitation

Being good at facilitating can be the difference between having a productive and enjoyable meeting and leaving the meeting with everyone frustrated with a lack of progress.

Facilitation skills allow you to get the best ideas out of a team as an engaged team member will more than likely speak up.

Excellent facilitation also helps with teasing out why problems occur through collaborative discussions.

Having excellent facilitation skills is one thing you need when running a project, but understanding your team is another. You need to be able to manage the relationships within the project team and, in some cases, deal with conflicts.

A project manager has to be good with people to be able to understand and spot their concerns, strengths, and weaknesses.

With all of this, you need to be able to facilitate not only the team dynamics but also the various types of team meetings, like planning workshops and project reviews.

Facilitation isn’t just about how you manage a workshop and deal with conflicts; as a project manager, you also need to show empathy and have a calmness about you, especially in stressful situations.

Every team member has a different story, so showing an understanding of their situation allows the you to manage the project, not by just numbers and tasks, but also by personality type.

The Bottom Line

Continuously refining, adapting, and improving these project management skills is the key to be becoming not only a great project manager but also a productive one.

If you lack in any of these skills, the impact can be that multiple issues start to occur on your project, and although small issues seem manageable in the moment, over time they begin to compound into something far harder to resolve.

Regularly review your project management skills through not only self-reflection but gathering feedback from peers and clients.

Productivity is all about how you maximize the skills you have and applying successful approaches you take. The more you repeat success, the quicker you’ll improve, and the speed to deliver them will also increase. Get started today!

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Featured photo credit: NESA by Makers via unsplash.com

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Ben Willmott

Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track Why You Can’t Focus? 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It 8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work 5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving How to Break a Bad Habit in 21 Days (Or Less)

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

3. Create a System

Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

5. Use a Ratings Scale

Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

7. Offer Feedback Forms

Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

8. Track Cost Effectiveness

This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

9. Use Self-Evaluations

Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

10. Monitor Time Management

This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

    The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

    While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

    We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

    Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

    For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

    Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

    Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

    From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

    12. Utilize Peer Feedback

    This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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    Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

    Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

    It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

    13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

    When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

    Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

    Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

    14. Use an External Evaluator

    Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

    They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

    While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

    The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

    The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

    More Productivity Tips

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

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