A system overload.
That may seem like your latest landing page update or product release, but it’s not.
I’m talking about something bigger.
Back in 2013, there was a major failure on a national scale.
It wasn’t a tragedy of unforeseen events; in fact, it was almost predictable.
The U.S. government was rolling out their new site for healthcare.gov. Under new legislation, lots of people would have to sign up in a short period of time–all on one website.
Politics aside, their website launch failed. Users received error messages, the site couldn’t handle the traffic and the drop-down options were a mess.
A report from Harvard Business School listed three root causes:
- Lack of relevant experience
- Lack of leadership
- Schedule pressure
The most glaring are number one and two: it seems like the federal government is always touting their experience and leadership skills…so how did this fail?
A successful project manager must have more than good leadership and experience.
The government supposedly has that in spades.
And I’m fairly certain they had loads of official project managers on staff that were supposed to look out for the well-being of this project and tie everything together in the end. But no dice.
What are some of the other project management skills that could have helped them in this situation?
Here are 8 overlooked project management skills that are necessary for projects to succeed–that go beyond any textbook.
Team communication is a topic that’s discussed ad nauseum, but there’s a reason for that–it’s super important. And communication has to be constant or another breakdown is right around the corner. This is especially true for a project manager when you feel like a tough conversation is warranted. In the case of the Healthcare.gov rollout, it’s difficult for a project manager to confront the many layers of bureaucracy and ultimately report to a member of the President’s cabinet that the website is not going to work. But in fact, tough conversations in team communication are hard to have at any level. Instead, many people allow the problems to go from a simmer to a boil, as the problems grow larger and larger.
Going hand in hand with communication is team collaboration. Working together requires a certain level of trust, for sure. And sometimes there will be failures and breakdowns. But as a project manager, you ultimately have to trust your team to get the work done. And most project managers don’t have the skills that their team does–so it’s your job to empower and work with your team to find a way forward. Some might call this “leadership” but collaboration gives your growing team a sense of ownership over the project.
If you’re a project manager and working with a team, you have a lot of responsibility. Keeping the tasks, sprints and updates straight. Managing the risk, budget and stakeholder expectations. Your main job is organization. This is a soft skill that many in your role don’t study for. It comes naturally to many project managers, but even then, you don’t want an ad-hoc system that only you understand. If only you get it, then that’s not team organization, that’s domination. Instead, you’ll want to keep all of your files, notes, specs and requirements nicely organized in one place.
A project management tool and productivity platform like ClickUp resolves that problem. With ClickUp, you can set up a specific hierarchy for different teams, workspaces, projects and lists. These customized workspaces help you manage each section of the project.
For instance, if you’re using agile development and need to use sprints, lists in ClickUp can give you custom statuses, storypoints and more so that you can closely monitor the progress. With mentions and comments, you can provide feedback directly to the right team members without resorting to other tools like email. Tags and task dependencies also help you link tasks and projects together for a more complete picture of the work being done.
The technical project management word for this is probably “risk management” but often, that’s just a technical capability rather than the real skill. The real skill for project managers is to be flexible when the risks happen. How will you respond? What will you change? Scope? Specs? Time estimates? Balancing that triangle of constraint is a big part of a project manager’s job. What it boils down to is being flexible among a lot of competing interests and priorities.
Flexibility has huge benefits. You can adapt to the situation posed by your team, while still keeping the client or stakeholders’ interest at the forefront. It’s important to walk into projects with a flexible mindset and an adaptable project plan to conquer any risks that are thrown your way.
5. Time Management
Balancing budget, time and scope is the triple threat constraint for project managers. The skill that’s most important and also under your control is time management. You know how the old quote goes: “How you spend your hours is how you spend your days which impacts if your projects are delayed.” Yep, that’s it verbatim.
The small chunks of time matter. And as the project manager, you should optimize your team’s time for maximum effort in the amount of time allotted. If you heed the advice in point number three about organization, you can also use ClickUp to help you do this.
Your developers, designers, technical writers, QA analysts, your operations (or whomever you work with!) can track their time directly in ClickUp or with one of our partner integrations such as Harvest, Toggl and TimeDoctor.
How does a time tracking tool help you manage time? With this, you can see how long the initial tasks take. This will help you estimate future tasks, how long a sprint may take and then give you a clear picture of when you can deliver the final project. New reports in ClickUp will also show cycle time, such as how long a task took to complete, the time estimated and the time remaining on a task. With specific information about the length of time for task and project completion, you’ll be more prepared when creating project plans and assigning work to team members.
Here’s a look at how time reports work in ClickUp:
What is the most important task? What needs to be done first before the next task can start? How do you even begin to prioritize your work?
Taking the elements from your project plan and making them a reality is also a skill. You’ve got to assign each team member a part of the job to work on, and then combine it into a holistic finished work. You have to analyze and prioritize each part of the job so that it builds upon one another.
Think of it like this: the project has to move forward, but your team has their feet planted in the same place. One team starts work, then another, then another and yet another team blends it all together. Everyone must work to move the pieces along and it can only get to the end point with another team’s help.
The project manager’s skill is to know what piece to send to each first. You’re the one feeding the pieces in, knowing how they’ll crisscross and move across to form one solid whole. You have to prioritize.
To help you do this within your project management software, you can create a space for a particular project in ClickUp, and then create lists for different parts of it.
Within the list, your tasks and subtasks (if needed) will give your team the specific piece to work on first. You can set a priority flag for a certain task, set a start date so your team member knows when to start; create a due date and then make that task dependent on another to see how it all connects.
7. Quality Control
Eat your own dog food. That’s the mantra of most development teams, creators and makers. Is what you created actually a good thing that does what it says? Your quality assurance team and/or customer service shapes this quite a bit but so does the project manager.
Let’s go back to the Healthcare.gov example. How many people actually used the site before launching? Was there any quality control involved? Any testing? If not, then the project manager is at fault.
But this goes beyond just testing to make sure it works. There has to be functionality and quality at each step of the way. How do you guarantee high-quality, high-performing work each step of the way? And if there’s not, then what?
For product development, nothing has to perfect before it ships, but you still need a worthy MVP that you can release and then iterate on.
Part of achieving this goes back to accurate communication. A segment of that is using custom status updates so everyone knows where a task stands and if it’s ready to move on. In ClickUp, you can set your own statuses, such as in progress, in production, completed, QA, update required and more. You can name them in whatever ways fits your team best.
8. Meeting Control
Meetings: are they worth it? The worst is having way more meetings than you need to. It takes valuable time to get one group of people in a room, to talk and discuss and then get back to work. And there are multiple distractions along the way: stopping to get a drink, snacks in the meeting, unrelated conversations. All of that can be important for teambuilding, you just have to think about if the time cost is worth it. Sometimes it will be, sometimes it won’t. That’s what the project managers have to decide. Once the meeting starts, how many people are paying attention? How many are checking emails or Slack? How many are playing a quick game on their phone?
Each meeting should be valuable. At the end of the, what are the next steps? What was decided? Having clear action steps so each team member knows what to do next is essential to moving the work forward. It’s up to the project manager to skillfully orchestrate this time balance and make meetings worthwhile for everyone.
If the healthcare.gov website had paid attention to some of these seemingly small attributes of their project process, then maybe the roll-out would have been more successful. It’s difficult for some project managers to capture these skills, because they don’t all appear in a project plan or a textbook.
It takes a mix of intuition and common sense to know how to motivate your team or give them a jolt to move the project forward. Thinking about these skills along with your official plan will make it more successful.
Imagine how much more your skills will shine with a solid organization in ClickUp. Try it!