In his article for Fast Company, Marcus Wermuth from Buffer shares his idea of what’s becoming a manager is like. Not a promotion, he says, but a change of career. Managing projects isn’t all that different. Once your boss tasks you with ensuring project delivery, you realize how different it is from what you’ve been doing until now.
Hold on, you think. Why are we even saying that?
Because in startups, anyone can become a project manager. You’ve got a chance of becoming one, too.
Some people may argue it requires profession-specific skills. That a developer-turned-manager won’t be as skilled as a seasoned professional. It’s true.
Managing projects isn’t something you can learn for a day. In many instances, it makes more sense to hire a professional project manager instead of training one.
The problem is, not all startups have the resources to do so. Small teams work with what they have. Luckily, they’re flexible and not afraid of learning. Your next project manager might be your developer or your salesperson.
Whatever works for you, right?
Either way, every fresh project manager should learn from those more experienced. And that’s exactly what this article is all about.
Today, we reach out to others and hear their project management tips. People from Calendly, TimeDoctor, Content Studio and others share their experience on managing projects. We’ve found their insight extremely helpful. And while you’ll see that communication is the base of all success, you’ll discover managing project from a new angle.
Stay with us to hear what they’ve got to say to you.
Tom Hunt | SaasMarketer.io
At SaaS Marketer we manage all projects through three integrated tools: Google Drive, Trello and Slack.
Slack is used for day to day comms.
Trello is used to track tasks, who is responsible for them and the due date.
Google Drive stores all metrics, documents and training.
Each of these is integrated together so we can see updates from Trello in Slack and can approve access/share Google Documents in Slack
Tom brings up a wonderful point to start with: the right tools make project management so much easier.
As you can see, it doesn’t take tens of tools to control all of your tasks. Saas Marketer’s team works with a minimalistic toolkit that makes the most of a simple principle: communicate, assign and store.
Whether you’re going to roll with Trello or more comprehensive tools such as Taskeo, you’re going to discover that visualisation of your workflow can change everything.
Brett Clanton | Calendly
From an engineering perspective, distributed remote work has always been part of Calendly’s DNA. From day one, Calendly has contracted engineers from Railsware in Eastern Europe, while the business is managed in the US.
My best tip for working with an overseas development team is to put extra effort into thorough decision making and over communication. Every day, the Railsware team starts development on new work that we prescribed the day before. If we don’t think through 90% of edge case scenarios and describe the requests in clear non-ambiguous language, they would get stalled in development with nobody to unblock them. Always deliver 100% of what’s expected of you and your role, then drive another 20% to make sure nothing becomes a blocker.
Managing projects in a remote team is a whole new level of challenge. No wonder Brett stresses how important communication is. Whether your distributed or not, always be detailed about your ideas, expectations or concerns.
Both managers and employees are sometimes reluctant to ask questions about things which are “self-explanatory” or “obvious”. You may think that over communication will make you look silly in front of your team. Or worse – that it will make you appear as someone who doesn’t consider their people intelligent enough to understand some basic ideas.
The good news is, that’s not true. It’s just another communication style your team can learn. Misunderstandings happen, especially when you rely mostly on chat channels. Always recap on your expectations, rephrase your goals and ensure you’re on the same people with your people.
But there’s something else in this quote that strongly resonates with
us – Brett points out how important it is to give the team your best.
In small teams and startups, someone’s input can push the work forward tremendously or completely hinder it. Going an extra mile can save a project one day, so encourage your people to be proactive. If you don’t create a sense of being a part of something bigger, your people won’t be involved enough to give their 100%, let alone to offer 20% more.
Carlo Borja | TimeDoctor
When managing remote team projects, we set quarterly rocks for teams to achieve. Having that quarterly rock means the team would only focus on completing or achieving that goal for the next 3 months. There might be other tasks that come along the way. But, the quarterly rock has to be their priority.
As a project manager, you’ll hear a lot about setting the right goals and sticking to them. But Carlo from TimeDoctor nails it – chop your goals into smaller chunks. Annual goals are good, but quarterly are even better.
They’re easier to manage. Easier to review. Less likely to lose value over time.
However, that’s not where you should stop. Once you set your “quarterly rocks”, make them your priority. So long your goals don’t vanish from sight, you can contribute to them day by day. And you know already that consistency always wins.
Wasiq Naeem | ContentStudio
As far as project management for me is concerned, I like to closely measure and track internal progress. This helps me identify deviations or improvements from the original plan.
Having this knowledge I can make tweaks to get better results.
Setting clear goals
It is absolutely crucial to set clear goals against time which help me visualize my target and what I am working for
Project clarity to the whole team
It is vital for all team members to be on the same page when the scope of the project is concerned. This helps different teams to identify and relate with each other’s work and push in the same direction.
There is always a chance that things will go wrong. The best practice is to know that what can go wrong will go wrong. reducing variables from my plan helps me to achieve my goals.
Depending on the size of your company, you can have one small team or several of them. Wasiq makes an excellent point – coordination between all of the teams is just as important as within a single team.
Support and developers can deliver excellent results if they combine their efforts. Your sales people can increase your revenue if they successfully close deals with people that your marketers directed their way.
Sometimes people work on different tasks. It doesn’t mean they don’t share a mutual goal – be it in the form of the company’s success or a one-time project.
Sam Thomas Davies | Sleeknote
When it comes to managing a team of remote employees, communication is crucial, of course. But what’s matters more is HOW employees communicate with one another. In today’s world of “TL;DR,” instant messaging and emojis, it’s never been easier to get your message across—or for others to misunderstand. To avoid miscommunication, we use Loom to send video messages for matters that don’t require a phone call. Doing so shows the content—and the context—of the message, and ensures instructions are never taken the wrong way.
Sam from Sleeknote underlines the importance of communication as well. But not only the message itself. There’s also a whole context that you need to remember.
If you can enhance your communication with software, then do it. Pictures and videos, conference software, chat rooms, online whiteboards… The tools are plenty. If they allow you to convey your message better and clearer, then why not give it a go?
At the same time, remember what Sam says about miscommunication – anything sent online is extremely easy to misinterpret. That’s why is crucial to navigate the nuances of online communication without mistakes – starting with task instructions to the tone of your written messages.
Leonora Valvo | Swoogo
Swoogo is a 100% virtual company with team members in several timezones, making collaboration and culture building more challenging than in traditional bricks and mortar companies. We have found holding very frequent meetings within each team (marketing, sales, customer success, product) as well as a weekly all hands video meeting help to keep everyone engaged and connected. Slack and Hangouts Meet are at the core of our team communications. We also hold bi-annual company-wide ‘offsite’ during which we live, work, cook and play together for a week in different locations around the world.
As you can learn from Leonora, meetings and calls are vital when it comes to managing projects. If your team is 100% remote, you can’t skip regular hearing from them.
In an office, you can hop in for a quick update by your employee’s desk. In the world of remote work, it’s not so easy.
If the idea of frequent meetings terrifies you, it’s time to get over it. It could be that you’re not handling them right. As a result, they’re frustrating and feel like a waste of time.
At least once a week, you should go through what has been done, what you work on now and what needs doing in the upcoming days. Recap on the outcome, analyse difficulties and make plans. Follow a logical order of discussion. If you’re afraid it will turn into an hours-long session, limit your the time your meeting should last.
Alex Mauzon | Pomodone App
1. Get the best from the tools you’re using rather than try to find the silver bullet to handle everything in one place. A combination of great dedicated tools (with integration) is better than one tool that theoretically can serve everything.
2. Stay mindful about what you’re doing. Your time and attention are the most valuable assets, so avoid multitasking and organize your workflow the way when there is no interruption while you’re getting things done.
3. Breaks are important. It helps you to re-wire your brain, to approach the tasks from different angles and to prevent burnout.
4. Ship it, you can always polish it later. Of course it would be great to deliver a flawless, perfect product, however, for many cases, it’s important to get ship and feedback earlier than waste time on something no one needs.
Manage your projects the smart way, but don’t forget to manage your work as well. Alex from Pomodone app reminds you about the importance of good productivity habits. “Done is better than perfect”, they say, and there’s truth to that. Perfection isn’t always necessary so don’t waste your energy on an endless polishing process.
Coach good productivity habits among your team members to maximize the results. Understand that not everybody works the way you do and different doesn’t mean wrong. Create a working space that boosts productivity and – what’s most important – be an example of getting things done fast, smart and effective way.
Adam Hempenstall | BetterProposals.io
“Ditch the deadlines. Getting projects done on time is one thing but getting them done right is another. Remove the deadline entirely, keep the task as small as it needs to be then just let great people do what great people do. Work.
There’s an obsession with getting things done “on time” but what’s the cost of not doing it right in the first place? Or ruining morale because you’re using your skilled workers as a factory instead of an artists studio.
Great ideas come to us naturally under no pressure when we’re in the shower or taking a walk, yet everyone else is expected to work under extreme pressure. Ditch the deadlines, make your team more like artists and less like factory workers.”
Adam shares a unique view on managing your projects by simply giving up on deadlines – and that kind of thinking outside of the box is something we love. Of course, complete lack of deadlines won’t work for all teams and companies. But if you’ve got the chance and setting to experiment with this approach, why not give it a try?
Fiona Adler | HR Partner
“The key to getting big projects done is to keep moving them forward. Often things get stuck because people are not sure of the next step, or it seems big and difficult. If you can help team members break these down into the tiniest next action, it makes a huge difference. Maybe that’s just a phone call they need to make, or a draft design, or setting up a meeting, or creating a list of possible options, or whatever. The key is to keep it moving. Keep kicking the ball forward and you’ll eventually get there. Frequent accountability on these actions and transparency across the team helps enormously as well.”
We also recommended Fiona’s approach in our articles about tight deadline management and setting up GTD method in Taskeo. Small steps do matter! Showing your people the exact way to your goals makes things so much easier. It simply prevents your colleagues from wasting time on wondering “what do I do next?”.
Max Musing | BaseDash
“The most important part of project management is understanding the requirements well enough to know exactly what is needed and what is not. It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking that every little feature is necessary to be successful, but the truth is that delivering a minimal solution on time is always better than delivering a bloated solution late”.
Keeping your priorities right is indeed the key to success. Deadlines or not, you’ve got to understand what’s your real goal that you want to achieve. Know you customers, know their expectations and their problems. Understand what solution they’re looking for in order to deliver just the thing they need. Don’t make them wait until you’re done working on problems they don’t have in the first place.
Bonus Tips From Taskeo
Did you really think we’d let you go without sharing our experiences with project management? 🙂
No way. Here are some of our favorite tips:
- Reverse engineer your projects into small, actionable steps (and create a task for each in Taskeo, of course!)
- Decide what metrics you will focus on in a given month
- Track time spent on tasks to be able to accurately predict task completion
- Use automation to save time doing things that software can do for you
- Use templates and samples for tasks and documents
- Don’t leave a meeting without a plan for the upcoming days that you disclose before others
Your Time To Shine While Managing Projects
And there you have it – best practices for managing projects from nine successful companies. We’ve found their tips helpful and insightful. It’s your turn to make good use of them as well.
But before you jump into improving your project management process, remember that your team will need time to learn all new rules and form new habits. Give yourselves time. And most of all – don’t be afraid when things don’t work out in the beginning.