Jack of All Trades: 5 Essential Skills for the New World of Project Management

March 28, 2018 Heather Hurst

By Heather Hurst

The demand for project managers is expected to grow dramatically over the next decade, soaring 33% through 2027. PMI estimates that roughly 22 million new PM jobs will be created in the next 10 years, with employers clamoring for talent to fill nearly 88 million jobs in project management-oriented roles.

That’s great news for future prospects, who will no doubt flock to training and certification programs to be ready for the surge in demand.

See "10 Project Management Knowledge Areas: What You Need to Know" for more tips on improving your project management skills.

But anyone working in the PM business today knows that the profession is in the midst of a transformation, and that all of the training in the world on agile methodologies, PM software, and other typical “tools of the trade” is only half the battle.

The reality is that the project manager’s role has expanded greatly, from just managing projects to also managing a host of other processes, nuances, and situations. Being prepared to handle these new demands can be a strategic advantage for anyone who’s looking to start their PM career or simply do a better job in the role they have right now.

Whether you’re a PMP in training, a seasoned pro, or a happenstance project manager who sort of fell into the job, here are five new dimensions of the PM role and tips for how to master these nuances to become the kickass project manager every employer is looking for.

1. Communication

Being an effective communicator is perhaps the number-one criteria for the PM job. According to one PMI study, ineffective communication contributes to one-third of project failures, which means the risk to your company’s success—and your career—is pretty high without communication mastery.

Of course, contributing to the problem is the fact that today’s communication landscape is ridiculously diverse, with email, texting, chat groups, web conferencing, phone calls, and more. Ironically, it seems the more channels we have, the more difficult work becomes.

Excessive emails now get in the way of work for over 50% of workers, and, combined with other distractions, leave us with only 44% of our workweek for actual job duties.

To master communication, start by devising a communication plan for every project and touch base with your team regularly to gauge its effectiveness throughout the process.

Minimize wasteful meetings and emails wherever possible by consolidating project communication within a single, shared platform—an operational system of record—where everyone can see and participate in the conversation in real-time.

Maintain transparency and openness to maintain trust and engagement, and don’t withhold information as a means to wield power over your team.

“An exceptional project manager maximizes transparency and doesn’t use information as a means of control,” says William Bauer, managing director at Royce Leather. “They communicate clearly, completely, and concisely, all while giving others real information without fear of what they’ll do with it.”

2. Technology

As a project manager, you’d probably expect to use some sort of project management software, right? But in reality, it’s not quite that simple. Most PMs are using a plethora of tools, for better or for worse.

More than 70% of knowledge workers—many of who have taken on “accidental PM” roles—use some combination of email, spreadsheets, shared documents, and/or shared networks/folders to manage projects, while only 27% use an actual PM software. Much of that variety stems from the fact that those are the tools that their team uses on a daily basis, so it’s easier to assimilate with their preferences.

The problem that creates is that it tends to fragment and silo communication, task management, and resources. With so much information scattered across multiple platforms, managing the technology alone can become a full-time job.

In order to be effective, PMs must learn to use technology wisely and appropriately, where it can do the most good, and avoid letting technology make things worse. Look for integration opportunities that eliminate redundancies and manual data entry and instead streamline processes and save time and effort.

Automation solutions can make a huge impact on productivity—nearly 70% of workers say it would make them more productive and give them more time to do their jobs.

By handling repeated processes for you—with things like templates for new project requests, task creation and task assignments, real-time project/task status tracking, and report generation—automation can save a tremendous amount of time and effort and help tame the technology turmoil.

At FOCUS Brands, automation through a work management solution has improved team efficiency by roughly 20% by virtually eliminating paper-based routing and administrative overhead. Teams can now make all requests directly to creative teams through Workfront, reducing emails and improving overall team efficiency and productivity.

“Workfront is a massive improvement,” says Katie George, creative services traffic manager.

"Creative proofs and information are not lost in email chains or sitting on people’s desks. Everything is right there. The biggest game changer for all of our teams has been the addition of digital proofing."

This is another instance where implementing an operational system of record can help—by eliminating multiple tools and consolidating all of the same functionality onto one platform, PMs and their teams can reduce confusion, improve efficiency, and work smarter instead of harder.

3. Data

You probably wouldn’t expect a PM to also be a data analyst, but with the right tools, it’s a skill that can offer a tremendous advantage and leverage.

Without the ability to accurately track project status, timelines, and success at every step along the way, PMs are left in the dark when it comes to budgeting and forecasting timelines for the next project. It’s also hard to get a read on resource allocation and utilization when you can’t see exactly who’s doing what at any given time.

With a work management platform that provides visibility into historical performance, timelines, individual work loads, and tasks in the queue, PMs can review and learn from every project. They can devise ways to work smarter and more efficiently to continuously improve on every single project.

This insight can also provide data to justify timelines when stakeholders demand a quicker turnaround, or the need to add new team members.

“We recently used data from Workfront to justify a new position,” explains one energy company’s global marketing manager.

"Using capacity planner, we showed management the amount of work that we were doing, and that exercise revealed that we were down by two or three employees. We were then able to open a temporary position."

4. People

This goes hand-in-hand with communication, but a large part of the PM’s job is to build relationships and trust among team members. Without a cohesive, collaborative atmosphere, even the best laid plans can fall apart as team members operate in isolation, resist pitching in on tasks that they don’t have ownership over, and perhaps even blame one another for delays.

One of the best ways to improve people-management skills is to show gratitude and offer praise and feedback at every opportunity.

Millennials especially crave feedback: according to recent data, almost 75% say they feel “in the dark” about their performance, and 85% want more frequent and specific input from their managers on how they’re performing.

“Many people feel they have thankless jobs, and compliments can make a person feel really good,” said Thomas Woolridge of Relamark.com. “Go out of your way and thank them. Leave a positive review on their LinkedIn profile. Tell their boss what a great job they did.”

Using a platform that enables feedback and praise directly in the context of work can offer a powerful incentive for employees to do their best. Not only do they get instant gratification for a job well done, but their peers can also see this praise, providing added motivation and a sense of pride.

5. Change

Perhaps one of the toughest areas to master, change management is notoriously difficult, but when done correctly, it can be a thing of beauty. One of the reasons change management is so tough is because it typically requires mastery of all four of the aforementioned areas.

And, of course, because change is constant in the business world, it feels like the work here is never done. For a PM, the change might be a scope of work adjustment or a timeline shuffle, or it could be a new platform to adopt or new team members to onboard.

Whatever the change, a few strategies can make it smoother for all involved. First, explain the goal of the change and map the benefits directly to the individuals involved. Most people will want to know “what’s in it for me,” so present the change in those terms to get everyone on board.

Set clear expectations for how the change will be adopted and what the end result should be. And be sure to involve everyone in the process, so that they can feel invested from the very beginning, giving any change project a 75% greater chance of success.

“Organizations that make their people feel like a valued asset and partner in any change they create are the most successful,” says change management expert Kayla Lamoreaux.

As demand for the project management professional grows, understanding exactly what’s expected in the modern PMP role can help both aspiring professionals and those who are already in the trenches hone their skills to become an invaluable asset to any employer.

By mastering these five areas, PMs can be the jack of all trades that helps their team, and their company, succeed in the new era of business agility and constant digital transformation.

Download our free ebook Get Over Your Commitment Issues: 3 Tips for More Confident Project Management for more advice on managing your next project.

About the Author

Heather Hurst

Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.

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