Our Project Manager Håkan shares his insights and personal best practices to succeed with project management. Learn more in the blog
We have been trained for this and have both the processes, methodology and experience in our toolbox to use in our assignments. But there is also another important aspect and success factor that I want to highlight - to have a business approach in project management, regardless of type of project.
In project manager assignments and in pre-studies, it is an advantage to have a business approach, as the changes you are leading and implementing almost always have improvement and efficiency as the goal.
A company's goal is, in principle, always growth and increased profitability. Good IT and operational support are prerequisites and means to achieve this. Keeping this in mind will help you understand the customer's priorities.
As a project manager, it is usually a must to familiarize yourself with the customer's business, both to understand how the assignment or project you are assigned to implement contributes to the company's goals, and to enter the customer's world and gain an understanding of the management's and employees' goals and aspirations.
In this article I will go through different parts of the project manager assignment and share my personal best practices
In my experience, the best way to familiarize yourself with a company's operations is to read about, ask about and have explained how the customer's business works, what operational and strategic goals the company has, what is produced, how it is marketed and sold, etc. With that knowledge, you can better keep up in discussions and understand what is happening within the company and in the market in which the customer operates.
You will also get an insight into how the results to be produced in the assignment will contribute to the company's goals, and can thereby make sure to deliver the right "product" and ensure the solutions proposed are in line with the company’s goals. During presentations and in dialogues, you can then show your knowledge, show that you have gained insight and want to contribute to improvements, and that is popular.
So, familiarize yourself with the customer's processes, how the business works, how information flows, how budget and follow-up, sales, marketing, production, delivery and support work. This is important information about the company that you will benefit from in your assignment, and that will help you understand the company’s needs.
Most companies have a documented "customer journey" which is good to familiarize yourself with. That knowledge is important to use in dialogues in the assignment, it creates trust and shows that you are interested and familiar with the business.
It is also important to understand what the company offers its end customers or dealers, and how the customer meeting works. Familiarizing yourself with the customer's market is just as important. What are the trends in the market, what challenges exist, who are the competitors and how does the customer compare.
Make sure you understand the company's operations, market and customers, and the mechanisms that affect profitability, performance and well-being. By communicating the "right way" and with the "right language", you can translate your knowledge into benefit and value for the customer.
Feel free to do a little extra in your delivery, but not too much. The customer should get what they pay for, but it’s a good idea to show that you have more to offer. This can hopefully lead to an expansion or extension of the assignment, or that colleagues can enter assignments with the customer.
Try to find key values that can be followed up and can point to successful achievements in your assignment. It’s important to highlight the value-creating activities and initiatives that support the company's goals and vision.
Don’t go bragging about other assignments that you had, be humble and formulate your experiences as having "worked with similar issues in previous assignments". Even if you have encountered exactly the same problem before, the solution may not be the same, as the circumstances, the company and the people are different and may have different goals and priorities.
In general, it is important to adapt the customer’s routines to the assignment and project making life easier for the customer, this is appreciated. But don’t hesitate to suggest improvements to routines if they can be easily implemented, this might be a good merit for you.
Make sure you manage follow-up, planning and budgeting for your project or assignment yourself. This makes it easier for the customer and you get control over your area of responsibility. After all, you are the one with the best information and knowledge in your assignment or project.
Understanding the customer's financial processes is also important, and ensuring that the project's routines for follow-up, budgeting and outcome follow the processes.
Preferably ask open questions when interviewing the customer's employees and other persons. You will surely get the important answers you need when you are new and in need of information. Most people like to talk, to teach and to show their knowledge. Ask for details towards the end and summarize to check you understood correctly. Be an active listener, give thanks for the information and make sure to have the opportunity to come back with more questions if needed.
Make sure to use the good thoughts, ideas and suggestions that come from the customer's employees. Those who work operationally in the business often have good ideas and suggestions for improvement, but their ideas don't always reach management, so you can support here.
Utilize the employee’s improvement suggestions and present them to the management at the right time. Don’t make the suggestions out to be your own, instead be open with who came up with the suggestions, so the customer understands they have good knowledge and abilities internally to care for. Always leave feedback on the suggestions to those who made them, it is appreciated and builds trust.
Be open and take the time to talk to everyone at the customers company, employees, managers, and company management. Make sure you stay informed about what's going on, how the company is doing, what's happening, staff changes, etc. By showing interest, you build trust, gain knowledge about the business and the staff, get to know moods and other important insights for your assignment.
Have a risk-based mindset in the dialogue with customers and clients. It’s good to point out opportunities, but also remember to mention the risks associated with them. Make the customer aware of the risks, but don’t exaggerate them, and remember to emphasize the potential for improvement.
Make sure always to create fact based decision documents for decisions to be made. Documents should include proposal, alternatives, impact of implementation, consequences of referring and a financial calculation.
Perform regular follow-ups, retros, of what has been carried out in the project to evaluate the benefit. Involve customer's staff and decision-makers in evaluations and report the outcome in the steering group.
Show your experience and your methods knowledge, but beware of coming across as a “know-it-all”. Having managed a similar project or assignment for another customer does not mean you are an expert. Conditions, personnel, management, and company's priorities are always unique with each new assignment.
Be sure to join in and embrace the culture of the customer. Attend meetings, lunches, coffee, etc. and talk to the staff, it means a lot. Think about clothing, style, working hours and how you want to be perceived by the customer.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with the project methodology and working methods used. For customers who do not have a specific methodology, you need to figure out which methodology would work best and suggest it, or some alternative way of working. It is your task to contribute to good order.
In my experience, a situational leadership is what works best when you come to a new customer and have to lead people you don't know. You must first "get to know" the people and the company before choosing how the activities should be managed so you don't end up in a clinch or is perceived as doing noting.
Thanks to good communication skills and collaborative way of working, you build trust with others. This, in combination with a prestige-free and pragmatic approach, provide the keys to succeed as a project manager.
Communicating a lot is important, as is providing the right information to the various stakeholders at the customers company and to external stakeholders. It’s very important to spend time on communication, internally and externally to demonstrate the benefits that will be achieved by your work.
The approach and way of working described has been working well for me and, most of it will most likely work well for you too. It has contributed to succeeding in my assignments and projects, and my efforts as a project manager being appreciated by customers and project members during the years.
Håkan is an IPMA C-certified Project Manager, a Certified Scrum Master and a Certified Leading SAFe Agilist.
Do you want to know more about project management? You are most welcome to contact me!
Håkan Johnsson is a Lead Project Manager who has been working in the IT area since 1982. He has a long and wide experience of both smaller and larger complex projects and programs. Håkan’ s focus covers both business and technology and the important collaboration between the two needed for achieving maximum business value in projects within IT and Business. Håkan is also engaged in competence development and education, he has worked with procurement and project- and safety audits. He is also trained in mentoring and is a mentor for younger project managers within Tietoevry.