As more people work from home, more people are beginning to recognize that old ways of working just won’t cut it. As our work lives encroach more and more on our personal lives, employees are coming to realize that if we’re to survive, our personal lives are going to have to encroach on our work lives as well. And while work-life balance and Zoom happy hours are part of that, it has to go further. We need to build our humanity into the fundamental fabric of how we approach work. And for project-based businesses, this starts at the project management level.
It’s not just about making people feel comfortable. When both your project teams and your client teams feel that you are putting their humanity first in your role as project manager, they are more likely to stick with you when the project gets difficult, give you the benefit of the doubt, and want to work with you in the future. It won’t just make people like you, it will improve your bottom line.
If you’re looking for ways to bring a sense of humanity to your project teams, here are our top seven tips.
1. Get to know your people
In fast-paced strategic projects, it’s tempting to jump straight into the work. But in order to execute an agile plan with efficiency and ease, you have to build trust within your team. Project management is about understanding each other’s communication styles, how you’re going to work together, share information, where to access things, etc. It can feel like a waste of time, but knowing your team as individuals will help you reach peak performance. Getting to know your client on a personal level as well will help you understand their needs, fears, and priorities. Start by asking for practical details, such as preferred communication methods and project operations. Then you can segue to more personal details as appropriate.
2. Communicate the vision
A list of tasks has never inspired anyone to come together around a shared goal. What does inspire is vision. On a practical level, the vision for the project encompasses the client’s core goals and business requirements. But emotionally, it’s more than that. The vision is the why of the project. It’s a shared definition of success, and the steps you’re going to take to get there. As a project manager, it’s your job to advocate for this vision. Doing so will help manage scope creep, and lead to compelling storytelling.
3. Lay the groundwork
When setting your teams up for success, the only rule you need to know is KISS — “keep it simple, stupid.” The more complex a system is, the harder it is to maintain. Instead of trying to set up a comprehensive system of project tasks and workflows, set up only what you need to get started and keep your team together. Use tools that are relevant to the size, structure, and mission of your team. What you lack in structure, you can make up for (and more) with communication. The most effective teams communicate constantly, especially if they are distributed teams. Hold regular coordination meetings to keep everyone on the same page and keep from doing overlapping work.
4. Manage, don’t control
It’s easy to want to control every step of your teams’ actions, especially when things start going wrong. But successful project managers know that they are a member of the team, not in charge of it. And while you may have the most influence in logistical discussions, you rarely have control. Don’t try to solve your teams’ problems on your own. Your teammates will often suggest solutions you can’t see for yourself. Bringing together your collective expertise around problem solving leads to the most creative and effective solutions. And when you can’t agree, steering committees can be useful in establishing a forum for real showstopper-level issues.
5. Mind the money
Most people find talking about money uncomfortable. But when it comes to making projects profitable, it’s best to keep everyone on the same page. If you open the lines of communication early, and discuss it often, you can build trust and defuse awkwardness. And if you end up having to ask for more budget, do so confidently and with your client’s point of view in mind. They may not be happy about it, but it will keep them from feeling like you’re just trying to squeeze money out of them, but instead have the success of the project at heart.
6. Embrace conflict
No project is perfect. The best-laid plans always leave room for some difficulty. And difficulty can breed conflict among team members. When conflict arises, the best way to disarm tension is to acknowledge everyone’s humanity. Verbalize that things are uncomfortable. Bring everyone together around the shared goal of resolving the conflict. In many situations, it’s best to begin resolving the conflict privately, with only those involved. But consider concluding the resolution publicly, to show the rest of the team that everyone is back on the same page.
7. Reflect and celebrate
Projects start and end, but our lives go on. The success of your organization isn’t just about one project—it’s about the health of your team dynamic and each member’s belief in the work. In the busy world of project management, it’s easy to jump from one project to the next without taking the time to reflect. But doing a final project retrospective gives you the opportunity to celebrate the wins, both big and small. It leaves teams with a sense of positivity, even if there were aspects of the project that failed. And that sense is what will keep you project teams working well together long into the future.
Your project teams may be the secret sauce of your business, but the project managers are the chefs. Getting that right combination of personalities, skills, and working styles, and getting all of those flavors to gel can be a tricky recipe. But using these tips, your teams can be ready to move with speed and humanity. If your teams could use some expert project management guidance to push your next initiative over the finish line, we’d love to chat about how ThoughtForm can help. Reach out to [email protected] to get the ball rolling.