If you go searching, you will find numerous blogs and web pages devoted to the art of hindsight specialising in “What I wish I could tell my past self” on matters of life, health, love, finance, pyramid schemes, tequila shots….. or almost any topic you want. Some are humorous, some serious, whilst other’s give a sad and strangely overly informative insight into misspent youth and tragic choices. But placing the entertainment and voyeurism to one side, a few truisms find a way to shine through.

  • Time is the most valuable thing you have
  • Make room for failure
  • You can’t do it all alone so stop trying
  • Don’t let the little things get to you

As a project management professional, with ‘enough’ project years to at least argue my credibility to blog on this topic, I believe I have earned the right to indulge in a little hindsight. I also believe that projects by the nature of their personal interactions and communication demands, can and should leverage off any valuable insight into human behaviour that is presented. Therefore what can the four truisms above give to the project world? Or more specifically, what advice for new PM’s can be gained from them?

Time is the most valuable thing you have

As a new PM you are taught that time is one of the ‘triple triangle constraints’ along with scope and budget. What is also often true of new PM’s is that rightly or wrongly you normally have little authority or desire to manipulate the budget or scope, and therefore you will focus your energies on stoutly defending their integrity for most of the project duration. However, one of the underutilised toolsets available to the PM that allows you to directly influence the outcome of the project is the scheduling of the internal tasks. So the message is this.

Embrace the things you have control over (time) and shift some, but not all of your maniacal focus away from those that you do not (budget/scope). Learn you schedule, love your schedule. Learn your critical path and learn any alternatives or contingencies it allows you. Embrace the ability to proactively and reactively adjust it as required. It has secrets to reveal to you if you ask it for help.

Make room for failure

As a new PM you probably fear the prospect of not being able to deliver full scope, on time and on budget as originally agreed, but yet you are still new enough to the game to feel invincible and fully expect to hit all three if you just try hard enough. Sorry to tell you this, but the project world is a complex and dynamic place and you need to re-adjust your rigid view of success and failure.

A university professor of mine taught me to understand the project context of the following statement. “Failure is not falling down. It is refusing to get back up”. So the message is this.

A project is a journey of many parts, and some of those parts will ‘fail’ against the original base line for a multitude of reasons. It is more important how you respond to those difficulties or opportunities and drive the project forward to deliver the end goal than the fact that something ‘failed’. If you ultimately achieve the objective of the project then any events along the way are just part of the journey that you learn from, they are not failures. Live and learn.

You can’t do it all alone so stop trying

As a new PM you are probably still working with projects that mostly cover your field of ‘technical’ expertise, and possibly have resources on the project that you could outperform if you were doing their role. Stop. That is no reason to do the work yourself. It may deliver a more complete or polished result for this project, but it will not help your next one or the ones that follow. As the projects get bigger and more complex, you will be stretched beyond your capabilities to assist at the task level. If you want to be a better PM then focus on the PM role and let the ‘technical’ tasks go. So the message is this.

There are subject matter experts or specialists assigned to this project for a reason. It is their job to deliver the projects sub components. Let them. By all means inspire them, lead them, drive them forward, but do not do the work for them if you do not have to.

Don’t let the little things get to you

As a new PM you can become overwhelmed with the volume of the information flowing and individual events occurring on the project. If you go looking you can find a crisis in anything, and if you stand still long enough any number of crisis will find you. It is the nature of the PM role and you need to give it the respect it is due. However picture this scenario. You are in a forest and you are covered in honey. Sure there are ants bothering you and there are a lot of them, but you tell me if you think the bear eyeing you off as lunch deserves your undivided attention or not.

So the message is this.

Focus on the things that need your attention. It really comes down to accepting that there are only so many minutes in a day, and you have to use them for the best overall value of the project. Learn to know what level of event is worth what % of your effort, and don’t stress the small stuff. There is enough big stuff out there that is worthy of your input.

In conclusion

Whether you are new to the world of projects, or a voyeur on the outside looking in, or like me you are indulgently reflecting on the naive energies of past conquests and possibly some less glamorous results, I hope you can take away some value from the insights of.

  • Learn your schedule
  • Projects are a journey of many parts
  • Let go of the ‘technical’ tasks
  • Focus on the things that need your attention