What PMPs Won’t Tell You About Getting Stuff Done: The Dark Arts of Project Execution

By Paige Pulaski Jones

dark-arts-of-project-execution-header-image

What PMPs Won’t Tell You About Getting Stuff Done: The Dark Arts of Project Execution

About 2 months ago, I became a newly certified Project Management Professional. I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and optimistic about all the organized, process-oriented approaches I had learned to help manage projects…for exactly 24 hours.

The day after I passed my PMP exam, I had to snap to a harsh reality. I work with our clients to help them use our AchieveIt platform to its maximum efficiency to accomplish their most important initiatives. I was speaking to a client who was facing a productivity roadblock, and that’s when it hit me – the processes and phases of managing projects I had learned were irrelevant if all the logical steps were in place, and things still just weren’t getting done.

Throughout my PMP course and talking to already-certified PMPs, no one ever shared that all these best practices work great in theory, but when you’re down in the trenches, you start to discover gaps in expectations. For those like me who have taken the PMP exam, you understand how different things are in the real world in contrast to the fairy tale that is PMP-land.

What I’m starting to learn now is that the real secret to managing projects is a little bit of fairy dust. The ebb and flow of priorities and resources is as much art as it is science. What makes projects reach completion is less tangible than following “10 Steps to a Perfect Project,” and we may need to rely on a little black magic to get things done.

Use Your Magic: Get the Project Done by Any Means Necessary

The overall goal is to execute the project, rather than manage it, right?

What are the unspoken skills that differentiate between good project managers, and great ones?

Let’s think about the project landscape for a bit.

Many project managers are tasked to work with and build cross-functional teams, as well as manage projects that span the entirety of the organization. We are also often not given any organizational power over the people who we are leading. Many times, individuals work directly with their functional managers, so their priorities and loyalties lie elsewhere, which poses a unique challenge:

How can we get things done, track our progress, stay on budget, deliver a quality product, and keep everyone happy?

It’s tricky.

However, here are 4 unconventional tools to make you a project execution wizard. These are not by-the-book. We’re going to go rogue here, and learn a little about my spell book that has helped get our clients’ projects to the finish line.

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Communication, Communication, Communication!

Truth Lies in the Eye of the Beholder

If the real estate agents’ mantra is “Location, Location, Location,” then the PM’s mantra is “Communication, Communication, Communication!” 90 percent of a project manager’s time is spent communicating.

So, what gets in the way of effective communication? Is it lack of up-to-date information? Is it lack of visibility into the project goals and outcomes? Is it using tools that aren’t built for collaboration or need one thousand hours of training to be used effectively?

The best thing you can do to overcome the communication hurdle is to make sure employees at all levels have access to a single source of truth. There is power in everyone knowing your organization’s goals well enough to easily repeat them.

You can spend years learning to be everywhere all the time and conjure magical powers to send the right information to the right people at the right times. Or you can find a tool to deliver simple, fast, and relevant information to the entire audience.

Manage Change Through Culture First

Through the Looking Glass

While it is abundantly clear that any organizational change that shifts process needs to be managed, we don’t have to play a game of buzzword bingo when talking about it.

Everyone wants to know best practices when it comes to change management. So here are the basics: decreasing the pain of change is best done when you continually focus on the goal and consistently remind people of the vision for the project. Does everyone have visibility into their portion of the project and how it impacts the overall goal or outcome? Do you have a system to drive accountability and leadership buy-in? If the answer is no, fix it.

Cultural change happens when an organization sees that you’re actually focusing on what you say is important. As a leader, this means you have to walk the walk. You can’t make organizational changes a “flavor of the month” and expect them to stick. Do you want to know the priorities of an organization? Check out their project portfolio because the organization may say one thing is their goal, but where they spend their time and attention will shine a light on what’s really happening.

Maintain Perspective to Prioritize Emotional Intelligence

Gaze Into Your Crystal Ball

Effective project managers need to be able to see – at a very high level – all the moving parts of a project plan, as well as all the people involved in the successful execution of the project. Having the insight ahead of time that a critical piece will need support from other people is like looking into your crystal ball.

Having all the soft skills in the world won’t help you if you’re unable to see where to use your relationship management, persuasion skills, and social influence. Once you’ve established this 30,000-foot view, you can identify people that have influence over the project (even if not directly involved) and effectively manage next steps within the context of the moving picture as a whole.

Use Marketing Techniques to Gain Buy-In for Your Project

Mind Control

It is a known fact that people pay attention to things they can see. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, or sometimes known as “recency illusion,” helps explain that as your brain sees or learns something new, it appears everywhere. You can use this to your advantage when “selling” your project.

Here are some things to think about: Do you have an effective way to put your project in front of the team in an easy and digestible format, or is it hidden on your computer, SharePoint, or behind formulas and spreadsheets? Do you look at your project often, or have to blow the dust off it when it crosses your mind?

Toss Your PMP Study Book and Start Writing Your Spell Book

When evaluating tools to use for your project, find something that is easy to learn, easy to use, and can deliver information across all levels. It’s my suspicion that you can spend a few hours learning a tool that will better help you organize your execution efforts, but it can take a lifetime to master the magic that is successful project execution.

What dark forces are at work in your project planning? Have you mastered the unconventional techniques to be a wizard of plan execution? If you’re not yet the project management magician, learn how AchieveIt can help you get the visibility you need to more effectively execute your projects.