Co-founder of Mad Devs
How to tell between important and unimportant and don’t get lost in data smog.
Why does project management fail? In my previous article, I listed the pitfalls I faced in my career as a project manager. Some of them resembled “mild” illnesses like the flu, others had much in common with chronic diseases. The hard ones were icebergs with large parts of them hidden below the waterline. This time I want to discuss one of such issues, how to stay focused on what’s important for your project.
This blog post will be of help to project managers with diverse backgrounds, team leads, and other decision-makers involved in project management.
Once the focus is lost, you start wasting your time, no matter how productive your team is while going in the wrong direction. This is why I pay special attention to staying focused.
Your software developers may lose the focus because they concentrate on coding. Your customer who owns this project might be too busy with money-making. The manager has no right to lose the focus. It’s the PM’s job to keep everyone on the same page regarding the goal and deadlines making sure that all team members are aware of them. This sounds simple and logical. Why then losing the focus is such a common mistake? Why does it happen?
In the real world, we face various difficulties. Let me list those I have run into.
David Shenk came up with the “data smog” concept back in 1997. In his book, he discusses how the constantly doubling information volumes make a positive impact on the progress of human civilization while affecting our productivity and emotions.
In my opinion, this term is applicable to today’s project management.
Below I listed some practices I have found helpful. Many of you might find them helpful, too.
First, you need to define what is important for your project — what is its goal? Any business has a formula for calculation of the KPI to be achieved. The number of orders, monthly revenue, etc…
When you know what you are going to achieve, you need to understand the obstacles. Put down a list of your goals and problems that prevent you from your KPI task completion. For example, broken communication between the business owner and your tech team, broken delivery process, poor quality of the product, and the uninvolved customer.
What are the components forming the project strategy? They are Project Charter, Project OKR, Project Scope and Roadmap, etc. To make them clear and put down their definitions, you may take your stakeholders on a call or meeting, and discuss the following questions:
What is The Eisenhower matrix? (Or Urgent-Important matrix?) It is a technique helping you set priorities for things based on their importance.
The fact is that you are trying to complete all your daily tasks. However, it turned out that you don’t need to complete ALL tasks to get results. It’s enough to get important things done.
Just recall a situation when you create a bunch of to-do lists. They continue to grow day after day. And there isn’t a thing crossed out from there. You never have enough time to get to the tasks listed there. How can we avoid this trap?
Divide a sheet of paper or your whiteboard into four sections.
Quadrant A. If you are great at planning, it should be empty or contain 1–2 tasks. If you fail to complete them, this will trigger critical issues or even prevent you from achieving your goals.
Quadrant B. Here you should keep your key tasks having high priority and helping you get results. You should focus on filling this quadrant.
Quadrant C. Distracting tasks. You can delegate them to other team members.
Quadrant D. Time Killers. These are pleasant but useless tasks having “Don’t do” status.
The way of building your to-do lists can also be changed for the improvement of your prioritization skills. The right way of organizing your to-do for the day might boost your productivity. Google things on this topic and find the right to-do template for yourself.
If you are not good at time management, you won’t be good at organizing people’s work. Don’t even try to organize anyone before you can stay organized yourself.
How not to micromanage people? The PM’s key task is helping the team set the right priorities for themselves, remind people of what they should do first, and accept their work. So it’s vital for a PM to be able to overview all tasks in progress at every moment on time. This is why a PM needs to automate the work process for the entire team. How to do this? Have all the necessary dashboards configured. Get reports & notifications related to your team’s productivity in your inbox. Analyze your routine tasks. Almost all of them can easily be automated with various PM tools, their integrations with other services, plugins, and add-ons.
As soon as you get your hands free from the routine tasks, you will be able to concentrate on the most important things. However, you cannot completely get rid of the routine stuff.
This list is very general. Some parts and pieces of it can be a good fit for some of your projects and teams. Others might find it less helpful.
Does any all-in-one treatment for staying focused on what’s important really exist? Is there a magic pill that can kill all pains in project management?
The truth is that there is no silver bullet. However, there’s good advice on how to achieve your goals. You can take it from J. Hank Rainwater’s book entitled “Herding Cats: A Primer for Programmers Who Lead Programmers”, let me quote it for you:
“Work to preserve your passion — it is the only way you can grow, adapt, overcome, and succeed. It is the part of nourishing the tree from which the flowers of success bloom”.