As a project manager, I am always learning new lessons about managing projects, sometimes the hard way.  Below are some of my project management lessons.

Project Management Lesson #1 – Projects are Everything

Without projects there is no progress.  The money saving software never gets implemented, the new car doesn’t get launched and the new house doesn’t get built..  My career is a series of projects with some boring, unproductive times in between.  Regardless of your work, there should be project helping your company sell more, reduce cost, improve operations or making your customers happier.

Project Management Lesson #2 – Get a Visible and Engaged Sponsor

All the project management gurus stress the importance of having a project sponsor.  Having a sponsor is necessary, but having a very visible, engaged sponsor is a game changer.  Sometimes the sponsor has only a passing interest in the project, but signs on as sponsor as an obligation of their position.  This type of luke warm support is almost as bad as no sponsor at all.

A sponsor who believes in the project is especially important in big organizations, where multiple projects compete for the attention and time of people in the organization.  Make the sponsor’s job easier by providing them with great information about the project, like why it’s important, the expected results, positive news, milestones met, etc.  Regular status meetings with the sponsor will ensure your project has the right support from management.

Project Management Lesson #3 – Keep Selling

The best project managers never stop selling the value of the project objectives to the stakeholders.  During the project kickoff there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm around the project, but once the going gets tough, the project manager needs to remind everyone to keep on keeping on. When problems arise, people will lose faith and naysayers will criticize.  Keep a positive attitude, win over the fence sitters and ignore the hard core haters.

Project Management Lesson #4 – Create a Message

If you have a big project to implement, it helps to have a simple message that communicates the benefits of the project.  A simple message becomes a kind of the shorthand that helps sell the project.  This might seem like a throw away lesson, but projects with complex implementations get a muddled message.  Determine your message or someone else will.  When I was an automotive project manager, I had the message “on-time, on-budget, quality launch.” Today, I implement logistics software, and my message is “streamline the freight buying process and save 5% on freight costs.” These simple messages constantly reinforce the project objectives and characterize the project in a positive light.

Project Management Lesson #5 – Escalate the right way

Unfortunately, projects run into problems.  When a problem gets big enough, the project sponsor or client has to be notified.  Escalating the problem is absolutely the right thing, but it is trickier than it sounds.

Usually, when an issue needs to be escalated, someone or some group is not able to support the project in the way that was originally planned.  This means somebody could potentially look bad in the eyes of their boss.  The escalation can be upsetting for the affected team member, relationships may suffer and the project becomes even more at risk.

The better way to escalate the problem to the next level is to meet with the person or group that can’t support the project.  Let them explain why they can’t support the project and discuss all potential options.  Empathize with them and make it clear that you are looking for solutions.  This is the time to strengthen a relationship and be a leader.

If the problem still needs to be escalated, have the leader of that area help you escalate the problem.  When you meet with the sponsor, focus on the solution and be sure to thank the team for stepping up to the challenge.  Never escalate a problem to a sponsor without a recommendation.

Project Management Lessons from the Titantic

What is your most important project management lesson?  How did you learn that lesson?