How to be a good project manager in 3 steps

This is the ultimate list of tips on being a good – no: excellent – project manager.

And here it is:

  1. Prepare yourself with all established certifications.
  2. Experience only successful projects – all in time and budget.
  3. Read every “Top 3 list” on LinkedIn on how to be a good project manager.

Got it?

Now this is just my opinion, but let me dive in on that.

how-to-be-a-good-project-manager.jpg 

Learn from reality

I came from being a standard developer to a somewhat not so standard project manager. I have some certifications, which are connected to project managing. But: I don’t have a degree in PM, never assumed to learn the job by having certificates pinned to my wall.

As a developer I learned from being managed in a good and bad way. I was never the one to shut up and obey, but the one to challenge and accept experience and responsibility. Starting with my first own responsibilities, I adopted and adjusted from that background knowledge. So I learned the “doing” by imitating experience. Not from standardized procedures and step-by-step solutions.

Clearly being good on the theoretical stuff as well doesn’t hurt. Learn metrics and methods. Learn to deal with numbers. Learn buzzwords to speak the same language as your fellow managers.

Though never assume that you learn to react on difficult situations from a book. Never assume that you can solve a crisis in your project by using the correct textbook method.

To know the perfect technique to throw a dart, doesn’t mean that you will hit the bull’s eye without training.

I learned from experienced colleagues and I learned from my own mistakes, which leads me to the next chapter.

Stumble, fall and stand up

I never talked to any good project manager who hasn’t experienced failed projects. And failing here means exceeding budget, missing deadlines or both. I did come across project managers who prefer to report only “green” to top level management, when the project was falling apart – that’s a definition of success, I won’t share.

To be a good project manager, I believe that you need to have critical situations over and over again. Everything else would be far from reality.

I failed. I failed often. But while failing I always had more experienced project managers at hand as sparring partners or to advise me on how to get out of the mess. You shouldn’t start being a project manager without a helping hand. And you shouldn’t stop sharing with others so you keep broaden your experience.

If you fail, if your project is running out of time & budget, you have two opportunities:

  • duck and cover
  • stand up and act

I always stood up and acted. There is always a solution to steer a project back to the road of success. The road may need some adjustment, but there is a way. If there isn’t, then the project isn’t important enough for the stakeholders and shouldn’t have been started at all.

Again, to fail you need someone covering your back. A senior, who supports you. A working atmosphere that allows failures. Don’t be a project manager if you fear to loose your job on a failure.

So learn basics from textbook. If you are a rookie, ask for help. If you are a pro discuss with others and most importantly provide help for less experienced. Find your own style. There isn’t the one and only correct way to handle situations.

By the way: having a developer’s background also helps a lot in understanding problems in software projects. Get a background and not only talk to the stakeholders, but also the developers.

Conclusion

Now having read this, you may ask: “Arne, what makes you think, you are a good project manager?”

Well, I’m trying: I’m learning and I will never stop learning to handle the several pitfalls. But doing so, I’m pretty sure, that I’m doing a good job. I have the right team of coworkers to learn with and from.

The List

If you’re still looking for a list on how to be a good project manager, here you go:

  1. Be the right personality: Project management isn’t for everyone. Be honest with yourself. You need to have passion, empathy, moderation skills, conflict solving mentality. Be prepared getting slapped in the face, to swallow your pride and to go on professionally.

  2. Expect problems, accept problems and discuss solutions: Give informed options to solve problems. Manage and communicate risks.

  3. Have your sparring partners at hand: Communicate your problems openly, exchange war stories, listen to experience, challenge approaches. If you don’t have the experience inhouse, get consultation.

Everything else on methodology, processes, stages and the like comes either from coachings, books or other studies.

Do you agree? What is your experience? Comments are welcome!

About Arne Wiggers

Arne Wiggers is Head of Smart Technologies at the itemis AG. His core interests are around the topics IoT, smart home and mobile development.