One of the most influential books in my life has to be Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Almost any aspiring business person worth their salt, and with an obsession with self-improvement, is familiar with these habits. I would highly encourage you to get the book and read it if you haven’t already.
Yet, how do these tested practices translate specifically to project management? Hopefully, Covey won’t mind us taking his amazing life wisdom and applying it specifically to the project management niche. So, here are the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers.
1) Be A Proactive Project Manager
If you’ve been granted a front-row ticket to observe the project management field for very long, you’ve probably identified three main types of project managers.
1) The “accidental” project manager is someone who has come up through the ranks and may have been picked to lead a project due to their vast technical experience, but not their people management expertise. For example, a strong network technician may be asked to head up the network upgrade because he understands the system better than anyone else. These people may fall into the role with a lot of specific project knowledge, but they may struggle with branching into the team-building, management category of the work.
2) The “good” project manager is someone who handles both the knowledge and management portions of the business well, but they tend to be more reactive than proactive in their approach. They do what is expected, but no more. They follow the rules, but don’t create new innovative venues to do things better.
3) However, a “proactive” project manager has plans in place to deal with issues before they occur, instead of reacting to them. They are one step ahead of the client’s needs. They have set up ways to communicate with everyone involved and hold each member accountable for their part of the total picture. Proactive project managers do all that they can to ensure that no time is lost in miscommunications, lack of understanding of expectations, or putting productive energies into the wrong venues.
2) Begin with the End in Mind
In project management, as with anything, it is easy to go into analysis paralysis. When multiple people take a project, and break it down into pieces of their own real estate, it sometimes can get difficult to stay focused on the final picture. Everyone’s work must come together in the end. Egos must be set aside for the greater congruency of the overall picture. It is much easier to work together when everyone is focused on the final team outcome, not on stealing the spotlight and looking like a rock star.
3) Put First Things First
Covey says to always do your big rocks – your most impactful, important things – first. This means, you don’t allow little distractions and rabbit trails to take away your focus from the main areas in your project.
For example, if you have very important items to complete during the day, you should reduce distractions until you’ve completed your most important tasks. This may mean turning off your email notifications and text pings for the morning so that you can knock out your most pressing project assignments. You can still get to other less urgent items later, after you’ve finished your biggest daily goals.
4) Think Win / Win
Working with people together on a project is a great way to improve your team-building skills. It may mean compromising certain strategies for the greater good of all. If you win, and everyone else doesn’t, you don’t have a team but a dictatorship. In order to create the best possible outcome for your co-workers, clients, and superiors, you have to think about how your actions will impact the “wins” of others as well as yourself.
It is often more challenging to find a win / win scenario. It takes more creativity, more consideration, and more communication than some people want to invest. However, when you put forth the effort to come away with a solution that benefits everyone, you open further doorways into increased productivity, team trust, and overall project synergy.
5) Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone is talking, but no one is listening? Nothing gets accomplished this way. In some of the more frustrating meetings that I sat through, it got so bad that we had to employ the talking stick. This was basically a rule that you could only talk when you had the stick for a timed period. If you didn’t have the talking stick, you couldn’t talk. This sounds silly, but if we didn’t employ this method, no one could even get a word in. There was so much passion and a driving need to be understood, that people would just talk over everyone; which ultimately just wasted time.
This concept follows the old adage that you have two ears and only one mouth; so you should listen twice as much as you speak. Listening is a lost art. Even when people are silent, that doesn’t mean they are really listening. To actively seek to understand something from another viewpoint means not only means hearing, but processing this information, asking clarifying questions, and then repeating the idea back to the person speaking in your own words to make sure you have it correct and let them know that you have heard them.
Once someone realizes that you are honestly engaged in trying to understand them, they will usually give you the same courtesy. There also may be someone who is less outgoing with great ideas, but who is too shy to bulldoze their way into a conversational battle. Introverts often have amazing perceptions, because they think and process information inwardly instead of talking outwardly. They often won’t voice their opinions unless they are asked. It is to the best interest of the team to give everyone equal understanding.
If you take the time to acknowledge everyone in the group, no matter what their personality type or communication style, you will glean much more useful information than you would just listening to those who like to hear themselves talk.
Synergy simply means that you can do more as a team than you can as an individual. It means that 1+1=3 or more. It is achieved in an environment of open-mindedness, acceptance, and the idea that two heads are better than one.
Some people may fear synergy at first. However, no project manager can shy away from the valuable fact that a team will produce a better outcome over the individual, no matter how impressive or knowledgeable. Sure, egos must be relinquished for the greater good; but a truly synergistic team working in total harmony will bring more success to each of its members than any one person could ever achieve.
Synergy is the hallmark of maturation. Think about a child as it grows. In infancy, it is very dependent on others. Then, the teenage years bring about the period where the child pushes away from the parents to do things alone. And, finally, as an adult, the relationship takes a new turn when the child is mature enough to recognize their limitations and ask the parents for advice.
It’s the same concept in business. When you are first hired, you are dependent on your trainer. Then, you become more independent as you learn your work. And, finally, you relinquish your pride to recognize the need to achieve even more than you are capable of independently, and embrace the importance of working syntactically with others.
7) Sharpen the Saw
Covey tells an insightful story about two men who went out to cut trees in a forest. They both needed to get as many trees as possible during the daylight hours available to them. Both started at the same time. However, the first man stopped often to sharpen his saw as it became dull against the wood. The second man didn’t feel he had enough time for that nonsense, and went on cutting trees. However, an interesting thing happened. The man who stopped when his saw got dull and resharpened it began cutting his trees at a faster rate with less energy expended. The man who didn’t think that he could afford the time to sharpen his saw, began to fall behind despite investing more effort as his dull instrument cut slower and slower.
Of course, this can apply to everyday life in addition to project management. When we neglect things like sleep, stress management, social and relationship strength, or health because we think we don’t have time, we pay for it later with decreased productivity. Practicing self renewal prevents individual and team burnout.
Some great saw-sharpening concepts more specifically geared to project management are taking the time to ensure everyone on the team understands their specific piece of the work, how it integrates with others, and that all parties are clear on expectations. It could mean creating a project timeline and framework so everyone stays updated on the work and communicates effortlessly. It may mean sending people to take additional training to ensure they are more familiar with their project or ways to do their work more efficiently. You may also need to make sure everyone is familiar with the guidelines, budgets, and rules of a project to avoid costly mistakes.
This all takes time… but it is that ounce of prevention that saves a pound of untold hours in reversing errors or fixing poor decisions down the road. While you may not build up your tree logs as fast initially by taking the time to set up a stronger foundation, by the end of the day you will be the clear winner if you take the time to focus on keeping your team sharp.
If you incorporate these seven habits in your life, you will certainly improve your overall journey. And, if you translate them specifically to your project management process, you will see great benefits in the final end product, gain more respect from your peers, and enjoy the adventure of reaching your greatest success surrounded by a cohesive team.
It may take 21 days to fully embrace a new habit, but that shouldn’t stop you from implementing these seven gems immediately into your next project. Once these concepts are integrated into your daily habits, they will serve you throughout your entire career.
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