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Help! I’m an Unofficial Project Manager

John Barber, our UK solution consultant, looks at what those who fall into project management can do to hone their skills without a professional qualification.

Who is a Project Manager Anyway?

As Chelsi spoke about the other week in her post here, project management is something for everyone, not just those officially called Project Managers. Anyone in a management role within any organisation will have responsibility for ensuring their teams get a project done successfully. And by project I mean any piece of activity or work that has more than one stage–for instance my colleague Marie manages our regular email updates to customers and prospects, she doesn’t necessarily think of this as a “project” more just a regular task, but it is.

What then do us un-official project managers need to bear in mind, given most of us have never received formal project management training?

1. Get organised and know your project inside out

Make sure you have identified all the deliverables of a project and understand what is needed to reach a successful conclusion. A plan with timings should be drawn up and communicated to your team clearly. Ideally, everyone should be able to refer to it at any time. This will increase visibility of priorities and help others to see how their contribution fits into the bigger picture. Having a clear understanding of what needs to be done will help you assign tasks to team members according to their strengths as well.

2. Make time for creative thinking

As a manager, officially project or otherwise, you’re probably familiar with your boss or client asking you to develop a creative idea to solve a particular problem or reach a specific audience. Sometimes a good idea will strike like lightening but more often than not you need to make time for creativity. In my experience, creative genius doesn’t often strike at the tail end of a twelve-hour day of number crunching and reporting.

Try setting aside an hour every fortnight, or whatever’s appropriate for you particular role, to get some head space. Browse around online, get outside, try new experience and think creatively. By regularly exercising your creative muscles, you can get them performing on demand. It’s even one of the points in our Work Inspired Manifesto. Every successful and innovative project starts with a well thought and insightful creative idea.

3. Become a people person, if you’re not already

Without good communication things can fall apart very quickly. Teams should make it a priority to meet regularly and communicate feedback often. Using tools such as Mindjet can help with remote communication, facilitating an environment for feedback which everyone can feed into regardless of time or location.

Good leadership is very important too. A good leader should motivate and coach team members, inspiring confidence in their management of the project. People need to feel the dynamics of the team they are in are positive too so managing various staff is also vital. This can mean making sure people know what to do, acknowledging when they accomplish something good and instilling a sense of purpose in their actions as part of the project lifecycle.

Often, the reason projects fail is because several dependencies were just not made clear and the consequences were not identified in the early stages of the project–I cannot emphasise enough how important clear communication is.

A team leader may be working with a predetermined team, or have the ability and responsibility of assembling a team. In either scenario, team leaders must understand the talents, the strengths, and the weaknesses of each of their individual team members. Assigning the right task to the best team member is critical for project success. You can imagine what happens when leaders make incorrect pairings. Even the best of teams can run aground if the team leader fails to match up the tasks according to teammate’s strengths. We’ve actually designed an infographic here which can help you identify your colleagues working personalities and styles, and how best to collaborate together.

John Barber is the Pre-sales Manager at Mindjet, and is responsible for supporting the UK region sales team in identifying and delivering the appropriate solutions for customers.