Project Management in a Troubled Economy

With the economic changes that have occurred over the past year it’s not surprising that project managers might be asked to tighten their budgets and try to get work done more quickly with fewer resources. It has never been more important in project management to avoid costly delays and cut costs wherever possible.

One thing the project manager will have to decide on is where cuts should be made. Most often these cuts should occur across the board so that no single phase of the project is hit too hard. If everyone shares a little in the burden it’s less likely to have a major impact on operations. Focus on needs and eliminate wants.

It’s also important not to sacrifice quality in the final product for the sake of saving money. Figure out what can be trimmed down without affecting productivity.

The project manager must, during difficult times, run a very tight ship. Deadlines must be met and delays must be avoided. By paying close attention to details, problems can be identified early and dealt with expeditiously thereby avoiding irreparable damage to the project’s bottom line.

Choose projects carefully and only take on what can be handled monetarily. Know when to say no to projects that probably won’t have a good return on investment and focus on projects that have more promise. It might also be a good time to invest in project management training which can help promote better performance when the economy takes a turn for the better.

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The Importance of Listening and Feedback for Project Managers

Much can be said about communication when it comes to project management. Everyone on the team needs to be clear on their assignments and understand the goals of the project. Where some project managers need improvement is in the area of listening and providing feedback.

Being a better listener leads to higher productivity and improves the potential for influencing and persuading others as well as negotiating effectively, all which lead to better project management.

First of all, let the speaker know you are paying attention and hearing what they are saying. A nod of the head doesn’t mean you necessarily agree, but the speaker will know you are listening. Stop what you are doing and use body language such as leaning forward a bit. This will also help you to pay attention and keep your mind from wondering.

Don’t interrupt. Let the person speaking finish and, after a few seconds of silence, respond. At this point what you say is very important. You can either recap what has just been said, ask a clarifying question or make a relevant comment that lets the speaker know you understand the message.

The feedback you give is important. Acknowledge to the speaker that you understand their points even if you don’t agree with them. Just knowing you have listened and taken their position under consideration will earn respect and encourage future sharing of ideas.

Finally, don’t rush to judgment. If what the speaker says makes sense, be open to changing your mind, especially if it will improve the project management process.

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Communication: face-to-face vs. email

Through all phases of project management there must be effective communication taking place. The method of communicating is a question that deserves some attention. With the development of technology more and more project managers are moving toward a reliance on electronic communications which has several benefits.

Email and other electronic communications allow project managers to work around team members’ schedules so they can continue work without having to stop for frequent meetings to handle the details of the project. Email is instant and allows for an efficient exchange of information. In addition, communicating via email gives the sender the chance to research and think about what they will say before they say it.

Consequently, some might argue that email enables team members to “pass the buck” more easily or simply ignore an email to buy time or avoid face-to face communication. In project management this can be detrimental. While email has its place, the most effective and powerful way to interact is in person. You can’t replace looking someone in the eyes to get a handle on how the project is really progressing. Face-to-face communication also builds trust and minimizes the possibility of misunderstandings and misinterpretation.

There is a place for both in project management but it is essential to have a balance of the two. Think of using email to communicate data and exchange project information. However when discussing personnel or when making decisions that might have a substantial impact on the project, face-to-face is most likely the way to go.

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Resource Leveling

One of the most difficult things in project management is making sure that work is allocated equally. The last thing a project manager wants to do is to overload one or more team members while leaving others with too little work to do. The question then is how to make sure each resource has work equivalent to the amount of time available.

First of all, make sure the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is thorough and accurate, listing all resources and activities. Next, identify the most critical tasks and allocate your best resources for that work. By starting with the most important tasks first, the chance for successful project management is more likely. Now it’s time to begin resource leveling.

Check to see how many hours is available per team member for work then determine how many hours have been allocated to each person. If the number of hours allocated is above what is available they are over-allocated. If the opposite is true then there is under-allocation.

Tasks should then be adjusted so that the number of required work hours are equivalent to the number of hours available. Once this has been accomplished the critical project resources have been leveled. Next, do the same with the non-critical tasks.

During project management it is important to closely monitor resource utilization as tasks are completed. It might be necessary to make adjustments in allocations so that the project continues to run efficiently. However, if leveling has been carefully administered, these changes should be minimal.

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The Apollo Syndrome and Project Management

As project manager you do your best to put together a team of highly qualified individuals. After all, in project management you want everything to run smoothly and efficiently, right? A discovery by Dr. Meredith Belbin called the Apollo Syndrome however proves that the project manager should think twice before loading a team with highly analytical minds.

In his studies Belbin found that having too many people with a high mental abilities was, in many instances, detrimental to the teamwork process. The people studied spent much of their time trying to persuade the team to adopt their own views as well as figuring out ways to point out weaknesses in the rest of the team’s ideas. They had difficulty reaching consensus in decisions and team members focused on their own work, paying little attention to what their fellow team members were doing. Occasionally the team would pick up on the fact they were having problems, but would then overcompensate to avoid confrontation. This led to even more problems in making sound decisions.

If, during project management, you see the Apollo Syndrome happening it should be addressed immediately. First of all, ask the group what they agree on. You may not get a concrete answer in which case you should be more assertive and get them to focus on areas of agreement. A helpful project management tool is a flip-chart which can be used to record the things everyone can agree upon. This exercise should help the team realize how unimportant their disagreements are and get them working toward common goals.

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