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Laura Frank, PMP Synapse Group, Inc.
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12 Lessons you didn't learn in PM Prep School

Project managers learn theoretical concepts and skills to successfully manage projects. The focus of project management training is on hard skills because they are the foundation of successful project management. However, project management training courses rarely include the lessons that will help you to develop your career performance, and be the exceptional project manager that you are capable of becoming. These are the finer skills that you should master as you improve your skills and go beyond the certification into the realm of Project Management Mastery. 

Here are the lessons that you didn't learn in Project Management Prep School, and which will distinguish you from your peers.

1. Protect your core. Managing projects takes energy. Your energy. You can't bring energy to a project if your "energy-o-meter" is in the RED. Protect your core, so that you have a healthy power to bring to your project and your team. Make sure that you protect your core self from energy-sucking people and activities. Work with your professional coach to identify energy draining and renewal situations so that your core is well fed and kept in good working order. You can't help others if and lead a project successfully when your core energy is drained. Make sure to make space and time to recharge your batteries.

We manage projects from the inside-out. From the core of the project manager through well-organized processes, procedures and principles, to the final project outcome. Your core being influences the final project outcome. Protect and nourish your core, and don't let it become drained from too much work. Do everything you can to keep your energy under your control, your stress level tolerable and remain in control of your life and your projects. Schedule "down-time" for yourself and don't over schedule your work with back-to-back meetings for nine hours every day.

Take note of your self-esteem and learn how to maintain a healthy self-esteem. Self-esteem is the basis of good time management, protecting your core and balanced project management. Find out how you can maintain and build your self-esteem and take actions to apply your knowledge.

2. Master your time. Time mastery still remains an elusive goal for most project mangers, despite the many time management courses available. The key to time mastery is to identify your top deliverables, estimate how long they will take to get done and then schedule time on your calendar to work on them. Work that is not scheduled on your calendar will probably not get done, and is likely to increase your stress when they don't get done. Don't let your time be dictated by other people. Your time is irreplaceable. Your can't make more time. Every minute that someone uses your time, is a minute that is gone forever. The problem is that most people have no concept of the value of time and are willing to waste your time along with wasting their time, if you let them. Educate the people that interact with you that your time is valuable. This sets the example for them to understand the value of their time, while also helping you to keep time dedicated to working on your project and deliverables.

Specifically, take these actions to master your time. Firstly, always estimate how long a task will take you to do. If you have five tasks on your daily to-do list estimate how long will each task take. (Hint, the total number of estimated hours should be less than 8 hours, if you want to get it all done today). Then schedule your tasks into your calendar. If you have more tasks than available time, then decide which tasks are not going to get done and don't worry about them. Secondly, don't do things that don't need to be done. The fastest way to free up time is just to stop doing things that take up time. For example, if people routinely call you into meetings that you don't need to attend, then don't attend. Find ways to do things more efficiently and frequently review your regular activates to see what you can just not do anymore. Then choose to not do them. Thirdly, don't start new projects without first finishing two existing projects and getting them off your plate. Every time you start a new project without bringing an existing personal project to closure, you create more stress for yourself and a longer "to-do one day" list. Make peace with the projects you are going to abandon before starting new projects.

Practice saying "No". People ask you to invest your time in all sorts of things, from searching for mundane answers, to setting up meetings on their behalf to time-robbing bureaucratic activities. Practice saying "No" a few times, and see how it helps you to free up time and set higher personal boundaries.

3. Learn your tools. Every day I hear project managers complain that they get too many emails and irrelevant emails wasted too much of time. You need to learn how to automatically delete, sort and filter emails so that you don't see the emails the repetitively take your time, without providing significant value to you. The best course of action is to cut them off at the source. Ask the sender to stop sending you these emails. Unsubscribe from newsletters and email lists that are not serving you. The next best option is to create filtering rules and sort incoming emails into the appropriate folders without your intervention. Learn how to use your software applications to save you time. Although scanning and deleting a hundred emails every day doesn't take much time, it takes a toll on your energy and interrupts you from doing your tasks and interferes with you having complete mastery over your time. Take the time to learn your tools and you will benefit for years to come.

4. Daily leadership. Project managers are often in leadership roles. Take courses and read books on leadership. You are often called on to take a decision or lead a task force in order to resolve an issue on your project. In order to communicate your project plan to a large project team, and keep ahead of the curve, you need to apply leadership skills every day. Learn how to lead projects by volunteering at your Rotary club or Toastmasters club.

You can't do it all yourself. Learn how to delegate effectively to benefit yourself and your project. Delegating project management tasks and project tasks allows other people to learn your profession and contribute to the team in ways that they normally would not contribute. This also frees up time for you to focus on longer term solutions to chronic problems that plague your projects or project planning. Do not build the project and the management of the project around yourself, otherwise you will not be able to take a vacation without impacting the project. Work smarter, and learn to delegate.

5. Learn discipline and faith. The difference between freshly minted project managers, and seasoned project managers, is the belief and faith that applying project management principles now will pay off later. Seasoned project managers insist that you the project stays organized, that project plans are created and kept up to date and work is estimated correctly. Freshly minted project managers focus on the work at hand and do not plan for the future which results in fire-fighting tactics later on. Learn to keep your project plan up to date and apply project management disciplines, believing that your planning will pay off in a better managed project.

6. Learn how to tell the truth. You will have to deliver bad and ugly news as a project manager. Team members don't deliver work as promised. Projects go south and you need to tell your sponsors. The best way to deliver bad news is to do it on the foundation of a professional relationship. Build a relationship with your stakeholders by meeting with them regularly so that they get to know you delivering good news, status and bad news. Then you have a trusting relationship on which to deliver the bad news candidly. Obviously, always provide possible solutions and options to resolve the issues, along with the bad news.

7. Train your people. Do not assume that your project stakeholders, project team members and your manager know what is expected of them as they work with you on your projects. You invested many hours to learn the profession of project management. Your stakeholders and team members may not have invested this time. They don't know what you expect of them. It is up to you to train them on what you expect, when you expect it and how you want it presented to you.

8. Be specific. I see many project managers confuse activity for progress. I also used to do this. Never ask a team member "How are things going?" Your team member is likely to say "we are making progress". Your team member is not going to say "we are three days behind schedule". Believe me, they won't. The way to measure progress is by having specific tasks and measurements. The better way to measure progress is to say to your team member "Task # 48 is due on Tuesday - what is the percent complete, and will it be done on Tuesday?" Of course, it goes without saying that you can only ask these questions if you have a current project plan with realistic estimated effort and duration. Never confuse activity with progress because team members can be very active and not make progress. You measure progress against specific goals.

9. Plan, then replan. Your project plan is not perfect. It will require updates. It may require daily updates. This is normal. Your plan is merely a tool to document the envisioned tasks, estimated duration, expected sequence and estimated effort to bring you to a desired goal. Your plan is a documented prediction of the future. Do not expect it to be perfect. The only task that should be set in stone is "Frequently update project plan". Expect to revise and update your project plan frequently. Never allow your project to move forward without a plan or say "there is no point in planning, because the plan will change".

10. Build relationships. Learn how to build professional relationships within your organization. Read the book and make sure that you "never eat alone". Become involved in cross-departmental initiatives. Lead projects outside of your regular project team.

11. Take care of your career. Find a mentor. Keep on developing your skills, after you have completed your academic training. Keep on growing your leadership skills. Engage a professional coach to keep you moving forward and continually enhance your project management skills so that you can always be ready for the next promotion.

12. Show up, do your best, then go home. This is the ultimate advice to help you protect your core being and keep life in perspective. You can't solve every problem. Some bureaucratic procedures won't be changed in your lifetime. Some projects will be cancelled despite your long nights and weekend work. This is life. Show up, do your best on your projects, then go home.

These are the twelve lessons that you did not learn in PM prep school. However, these are essential lessons for project management success in the real-world. Learn your lessons and you will stand out from your peers who stopped learning after leaving the PM Prep school.

Copyright 2018 Wayne Botha Email Wayne Cell: 860.214.4897