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Last Updated on August 4, 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!

More Tips on Project Management

Featured photo credit: NESA by Makers via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ben Willmott

Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track Why You Can’t Focus And How To Fix It 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 October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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