Improving One Project at a Time
If we are dedicated our profession, then we usually desire to grow and gain new experiences. Many professions offer or require continuing education and organizations – and good resource managers in those organizations – often look for growth opportunities for their employees in the form of training and new and challenging assignments.
As project managers, the same is true. We can train for and gain certification, read articles, attending classes and workshops, and travel to conferences that focus on certain technologies or industry concepts.
The key is to be striving for improvement on an ongoing basis. And while some of the things I’ve mentioned above aren’t always available to us and may never be available to some, there are things we can do to improve ourselves professionally as project managers on every project that we manage.
Aside from new training opportunities, expensive conferences, networking events, and webinar after webinar…what ways can we gain improvements just through the projects we are managing on a regular basis? For me, I’ve come up with a list of three key ways we can conduct ourselves and run our projects such that we are educating ourselves and hopefully improving our project performance in a PM role on each new engagement we take on.
1. Ask for customer feedback
If we are concerned about our performance or the performance of our team on a project, then asking for periodic feedback from the customer on an engagement can be painful. But the truth is important and we learn from such feedback. And we improve – at least we do if we care about our profession. Be bold – sit down with your project client at each phase or milestone or key deliverable and ask them how things are going from their perspective. If they’re happy, ask them what is working best for them…if they are dissatisfied, find out why. Good or bad, we’ll learn from what our customer says favorably and negatively about our performance.
2. Conduct lessons learned
Do conduct lesson learned. Sometimes it’s difficult to get everyone together at the end of the project to go over the positives and the negatives, but it’s necessary. What we learn from that discussion is invaluable going forward to our next project assignment. We can improve on every project only if we get good customer feedback on what we did right and what we did that was not so right. Otherwise, we’re likely to make the same mistakes with the next project customer and repeat similar unsuccessful practices and behaviors that caused past customers concerns or left them less than satisfied with the outcome of the project or performance of the team.
3. Have quality perform periodic audits
Finally, if you’re organization is set up such that you can ask someone from quality control to come in and perform an audit of your project, then do so. Have them review the schedule for completeness and satisfaction of all dates and deliverables. It’s easy to get overloaded and miss something. This individual can also meet with the project client and get valuable feedback that the client might otherwise be reluctant to give you directly in a face-to-face setting. All government contracts and projects that I’ve managed have included such audits and I’ve tried to incorporate a modified version into private sector projects as well.
It’s not necessary to incorporate these practices into every project that we manage. But doing so – at least periodically – will help us grow as project managers and hopefully will help to keep us from getting into a rut and repeating the same unsuccessful or bad practices again and again on future projects. I want to know what I may be doing wrong, even if it is sometimes hard to hear. If it makes us better project managers going forward and helps to increase our project success rates, then it’s a very good thing.