“So, what do you actually do?” I often get that question when I tell people that I’m a Project Manager at AWH. I suppose the concise answer is that I provide organization and leadership for teams moving through project lifecycle phases to deliver a client’s vision. With all the different clients and types of projects that I’m fortunate to be a part of, there’s obviously a lot more to it. My days are rarely the same and I’m often jumping from one project to another, but that’s also what I relish most about Project Management.
Why did I choose Project Management? I guess you could say Project Management chose me. I came from a Product Owner background with a larger corporation. Having been in that role for over 15 years, I was hesitant to switch job titles. However, the more I researched Project Management, I discovered that the responsibilities I excelled at and enjoyed most in my previous role translated well; working with stakeholders, providing leadership, organization, and planning. As a result, I looked at ways to enhance my skills, such as obtaining Scrum Master certification. After joining AWH in early 2019, I can truly say that I love my job and my company.
Becoming a successful Project Manager requires a wide variety of skills and talents. For example: stress management, patience, negotiation, and critical thinking. However, the following are what I consider the three most essential skills:
In my mind, the biggest key to success for a Project Manager is communication, both to your project team and your client. Most of my day is spent addressing client concerns/issues, talking with team members, and conducting meetings. With the project team, I’m constantly checking in on their status, helping to resolve roadblocks and working together to establish milestones and deadlines. With clients, I’m keeping them informed of progress, providing education and guidance for decision making and planning out the next set of tasks. Facilitating project kickoffs, sprint planning sessions and status meetings all require effective communication between client and project teams.
A successful Project Manager is full of compassion and understanding. Deadlines will be missed, last minute defects will be discovered, risks will be realized, and clients will become unhappy. It’s the nature of the business. But how you deal with and communicate these will help determine your success.
For clients, these projects are their ‘babies’. Whether they’re looking for an assessment of their existing product or looking for us to turn their vision into reality, it represents more than just a project to them. Being proactive and highly responsive from the start goes a long way in establishing and building a relationship. If a problem arises, work quickly to identify potential solutions with your team and provide them to the client. It’s ok if you don’t have an answer right away. Inform the client that you’re working on a resolution, then keep them posted on your progress. Clients will respect and appreciate you being engaged with them and actively working to resolve the issue on their behalf, rather than dumping an issue on them and looking for them to provide direction. A quick recipe for poor client satisfaction is lack of communication, so communicate early and often.
When I first started at AWH, I noticed that each Project Manager handled similar tasks in slightly different ways- different tools, different templates, different routines. Coming from a very structured and organized corporate background, I quickly realized that there was an opportunity to improve upon our consistency. Since that time, our Project Management team has been dedicated to discussion of best practices, establishing repeatable processes and thorough documentation. These processes not only help ensure consistency but assist us in staying organized. AWH clients will have a similar experience regardless of who their Project Manager is, and Project Managers are able to better support each other if needed.
As a company, AWH has adopted Entrepreneurial Operating Systems (EOS); concepts and tools which has helped our leadership team improve our vision, traction, and ability to execute efficiently. Specific to our Project Management group, adopting EOS ensures that issues/potential risks/client concerns are identified, tracked, discussed, communicated, and resolved in an effective manner. Reviewing individual project risks and issues in a larger group setting helps each Project Manager avoid similar risks in their own projects.
Will a $5,000 product assessment be managed differently than a $500,000 product build? Of course, but being able to adjust and adapt to different projects is a key skill for Project Managers. At AWH, we constantly juggle multiple projects of varying sizes, so it is essential that you stay organized. Everyone has their own method of organization and planning, but at AWH, we’re continuously researching and evaluating new tools. As important as it is to be a planner, you also must be flexible as surprises are bound to pop up throughout the day. At the start of each day, I prioritize all my tasks. Using a simple tool such as OneNote (my current preference) or Trello allows me to add and reprioritize new tasks accordingly as they arise. Keeping this running global list of action items across projects allows me to accomplish the most pressing items without letting anything fall through the cracks.
At the end of the day, it’s the Project Manager who ‘owns’ the project. In most cases, you’re serving as the face of the project as clients may not interact with all of the different team members. As experts in our field, we are looked upon to provide leadership and guidance needed to deliver the end product. In every day decision making, clients look to us to act in their best interests. Owning the project also involves tracking, obtaining and documenting client sign off on requirements and change requests in a timely manner.
As working remote has become more common, it is imperative that leadership is provided and demonstrated within your teams. Although I’m constantly bouncing between projects at AWH, I must display to team members (and clients) that I have the necessary knowledge on each project’s activities to provide direction on a daily basis. Providing that direction and having insight into all the smaller details has become a bigger challenge when you’re unable to drop by someone’s desk or pop your head into a conference room. In order to get a pulse on things, I like to conduct frequent check ins, not only regarding the project, but also on a personal basis. I’ve found that the more I get to know team members personally, establish that relationship and recognize them for their accomplishments, the more connected they feel. Feeling valued can go a long way in improving work efficiency and quality.
Project Managers at AWH also own the client relationship. Once we receive the project handoff from the Sales team, building rapport with the client begins. This starts by welcoming them to AWH and providing an overview of our processes and procedures while we begin all the required project setup activities behind the scenes. Maintaining that relationship throughout the lifecycle of the project must remain a Project Manager’s focus. Continued engagements often depend on the relationship and comfort level clients have with you, so it’s of upmost importance to maintain that positive interaction.
As you can see, a successful Project Manager needs to balance priorities, risks, decisions, and resources across a number of different projects. It’s not always easy. There are stressful days that can test your patience. Without possessing and mastering a wide variety of skills, Project Managers, and as a result- projects, will quickly fail. On the other hand, choosing a company with elite Project Managers ensures a successful project and enjoyable experience.
Project Management can be a roller coaster of a ride, but nothing is more satisfying than providing value to clients and witnessing their appreciation for all the hard work we do at AWH!
-Keith Stanley, Project Manager at AWH.