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Management Tips

Being a Proactive Project Manager

by Susan Fennema Beyond the Chaos

A proactive project manager is always perceived as “on top of it”. She has the ability to make things happen. She has the reputation of getting things done. So, why are there project managers who go through the motions, but don’t have the same results? Being a proactive project manager makes all the difference.

Have you ever shown up to a status meeting, asked the team about the group email on a specific topic and heard, “I haven’t heard back from them yet?” Well, if it has been more than about 24 hours, you aren’t going to hear back!¬†Proactive project manager to the rescue!

Getting the Answer 

Or, Clear, Concise Communications with Consequences

Here’s the bottom line: Asking the question isn’t enough. You need to get the answer. If you aren’t following up, asking again, and setting consequences if you don’t hear back, you are not being a proactive project manager. And, it all starts with asking good questions. Think of the difference between these two questions:

“Can I get the color of your logo to use in our template?”

vs.

“Will you please provide me with the PMS number of the colors in your logo by Friday so that we can create your template by Tuesday’s deadline?

The proactive project manager, not receiving a response, subsequently has the option to follow up on Friday with a soft warning. Additionally, she can give the heads up that it might delay things if it is not received on time. Following that, on Monday, she has set the stage to communicate that if it isn’t received by a specific time that the template will not be ready tomorrow.

Facilitating the Action

If you connect two people to discuss a project, it’s your job to make sure they actually meet as a result. Again with the email introduction and the “I didn’t hear back!” <sigh>

Firstly, you cannot just send emails into space, cross your fingers and hope. Secondly, if you need two people to have a sidebar conversation, and you haven’t heard that they set up a time, assume they have not. Additionally, a proactive project manager will confirm that the meeting was set. And, then, follow up afterward to discuss the outcome.

Proactive Project Management

A proactive project manager is asking the following three questions daily of an active team:

  • What is complete?
  • What is next?
  • What’s a blocker?

(That’s WIC-WIN-WAB if you were at my FileMaker DevCon session in 2019.)

If you are not constantly thinking about the next steps and how the status of the current ones affect them, you are just reacting. Being reactive is not part of being a proactive project manager.

And, as a heads up, these tips aren’t just for project management. You can apply them to sales or any other area of business that requires follow up.

The Tools

Now, you might ask, how on earth can you remember all that? The answer has everything to do with using a tool — or tools — to remind you. No matter how good of a proactive project manager you are, if you don’t have solid tools to help you remember, you become reactive pretty quickly.

I’ve worked with many project management tools from fully customized and overarching to very, very basic. The process surrounding those tools is equally as important as their functionality. But, the bottom line is that the tool should minimally have these abilities:

  • assigning a task to a responsible party with a due date, to build a schedule and track the work
  • ability to communicate through the tool via email, to prevent constant copying/pasting
  • ability to pull up a task list by each individual, so you know your assignments

As an aside, you can accomplish all this work with papers and folders. And, there are old-school systems to follow to make it work. And you can even involve whiteboards and sticky notes. (Gasp! One of my most hated office supplies!) Yes, you can do it in Excel. A great proactive project manager can do it that way too, even though it will take quite a bit more time. Set your team up for success, though, and use a quality tool.

See our Management Courses for more great tools and resources!

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