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7 things that you should do to be a successful project manager

From Christian Lipp | 08.05.2018

Project management is more than just managing deadlines, budgets and quality control. Follow these seven tips to turn your project resources into results.

1. Understand what project management actually is

Take the time to remember that the phrase “project management” consists of two words. The first word describes the context and the second one describes what happens. In other words, it’s about management in the context of projects. Management is an occupation which focuses on impact. It’s a profession which transforms resources into results and generates a benefit (Malik). And achieving this goal within the context of projects is the role of the project manager.

2. Recognize the differences between project success and project management success

A project can fail and still be managed successfully. For example, if a project is aborted after the planning phase because it is no longer financially viable, it has been managed successfully. This is because the greatest benefit for the company comes from cancelling the project. If the project manager continued with this kind of project, then both the project and the project management would be a failure. The aim of project management success, therefore, is to generate the greatest possible benefit for the company under the given circumstances.

3. Understand the success criteria

Success means something different for everyone. However, many people think that success in project management means keeping to deadlines and budgets, and delivering results to the standard which has been agreed upon. I believe that this paradigm of project management success is insufficient. Let me give an example: suppose you are managing a project. You have one year and a million Swiss francs as your budget. Let’s suppose that you deliver high-quality results within the given time frame and budget. Yet the results do not add any value to the company. What have you actually achieved? You’ve simply spent one million Swiss francs. Now let’s imagine that you complete the same project in 14 months and need CHF 1.3 million. But thanks to the results, you generate an annual recurring profit of CHF 1.5 million. Have you really managed the project badly?

Time, money and quality are the conditions for the project, not success criteria in their own right

Deadlines, budget and quality are the conditions which should be generally adhered to. But they are also usually negotiable. They are non-negotiable if adhering to them is crucial to the value of the project. For example, if the budget absolutely must be followed because the project would otherwise be financially unviable, you won’t make yourself particularly popular if you try to renegotiate the project budget with the customer.

The correct paradigm for project management success is not based on adhering to conditions, but instead focuses on the deeper meaning of the task: transforming resources into results which will provide the company with an appropriate benefit.

The core of successful project management thus lies in mutually beneficial impact.

4. Foster sustainable relationships

If you achieve the aims of the project and get the results you were looking for, but the people involved dislike each other, then you have actually weakened the company. Why? Because the staff will work with each other again on other projects, but will first have to get over their differences instead of delivering results. If, on the other hand, you ensure that sustainable relationships are developed, these relationships will continue to exist even after the end of the project. Future projects will be able to benefit from this. By doing so, you will still have strengthened and generated value for the company, even if the project itself fails.

5. Make reliability and transparency the core values you live by

Make sure that the customer and the management board can uphold their responsibilities. They can do this only if a high degree of reliability and transparent communication are part of your core values, and if you actively live by these values. The customer must be able to count on you keeping to agreements. If these agreements cannot be kept due to specific events, this must be communicated to the customer transparently and proactively, at a time when they can still take action.

6. Ensure efficacy and efficiency

You can read much about success factors in the literature on project management. The problem, however, is that most studies mention success factors but do not define exactly what they understand success to be. Moreover, these success factors mostly lie outside your area of influence.
In general, there are two primary success factors which fall within your area of influence and will lead to the definition of project management success which has just been outlined: efficacy and efficiency. These factors go hand in hand, because efficacy means doing the right things, and you are efficient if you do things the right way. This becomes apparent at the very beginning. If the goal of a project is incorrectly defined and will not generate an appropriate benefit, no appropriate benefit will result even if the goals are achieved.

7. Your area of influence starts where it is the most powerful: with yourself!

Efficacy comes from within and permeates outwards, not the other way around. This means that you have a significant influence on project management success in your role as the project manager. External influences may cause a project to fail, but the responsibility lies with you alone in how you deal with these influences and how you – in spite of, or even because of these influences – generate the greatest possible benefit for the company.