One step forward, two steps ahead in schedule — Part 2
This is the second part in a three-part series on problematic project management and steps that could be done to create a healthier and more productive team environment. In the first article, I gave some real-life examples with challenging project managers. This second article explores methods that can help foster project leadership that can benefit an organization as well as individual team members.
Work-life balance has been a long sought goal but recently it has become more of a rally cry. When priorities were re-evaluated during the pandemic and the human collective realized that life is more than working long hours and being mistreated, a genuine push towards healthier work schedules began to take shape.
The difficulty in fully enacting work-life balance lies in part to long entrenched attitudes of work and organizations that haven’t understood that work is half of the whole towards a balanced life.
How project management plays into and is a part of work-life balance is the very essence of the design process.
Step 1, or how to begin:
There isn’t a single solution that works for every project type (more on that later). But there is one item that exists at the start of all projects and that is to create an inital plan of action. Similar in product design, it’s the time spent to discover what needs to be done, research what information to gather, and design an actionable plan centered around target deliverables while being mindful of team members contributing to the project.
It sounds simple and straightforward but a project won’t have a strong start if a project manager doesn’t identify the overall goals of the project. By understanding and/or anticipating what their team would need, including any possible roadblocks ahead, the start of a strategy takes shape to keep the project moving towards completion.
Step 2, Lead with a humanist strategy
The project manager is a defender, not the gatekeeper of a project. When a project manager doesn’t understand their responsibilities or the project scope, but is determined to be the one and only voice on a project, there is a lack of diversity in the design thinking process. The project isn’t being supported effectively and team members end up defending design choices that might not be the best approach.
One important role of project managers is to defend the defined project scope (see Step1) and also team members. There are many pieces to coordinate and keep in order and having a strategy in place will strengthen the direction of the project and support the efforts of the team. This section suggests a humanist approach because a project manager is not just managing a project but the planning and coordination involves the participation of a team of people.
A few beginning steps to take towards a strategy include:
- Be flexible throughout the duration of the project. This will help address incoming changes as they occur, allowing time to adjust the project plan, and keep the team moving forward.
- Communicate with your team. Provide a scope of work and continue with informing all necessary changes that affect their work in a timely manner.
- Communicate with your client and stakeholders, and establish clear expectations and guidelines relating to deliverables and what the team will be doing.
- Document the progress to review with the team during project completion. This allows a review of what took place and allows feedback on what went well and what could be improved.
- Celebrate milestones that the team reaches to acknowledge contributions and offer encouragement.
Step 3, Creating what you start:
After identifying and defining project goals (Step 1) and establishing a strategy (Step 2), it’s time to have a workplan on what team members will be doing. This can be as simple as recognizing the skill set of each person and assigning responsibilities accordingly. If the project is more complex, mapping out the project milestones can help identify necessary paths and forsee potential areas that need attention.
It’s also an opportunity to delegate some of the managing duties to those who are more senior level to help create a collaborative support structure for the project.
Step 4: Have a future mindset towards sustainablity
Sustainable practices involves identifying the connections of each contributing area. In furniture design, it’s about the life cycle of a product from intial concept to material sourcing, production, delivery, and reuse. For project management, it is the human coordination through the journey of the process and how it impacts design innovation, economics, client/user needs, business, and available technologies.
- Going local — recognize who is on your team and the skills/resources they can provide.
- Conserve energy — ideate a workflow chart or draft a timeline to achieve project milestones through efficient and appropriate use of everyone’s time
- Longevity — have a flexible design process that can be adapted during the course of the same project
- Zero waste — in project management, zero waste could be aiming for less occurence of repeated corrections to assignments and less multiple versions/corrections of the same assignment. (Refer to Step 1)
In an ideal situation, everything will carry on as it should. In reality, that doesn’t happen — and with an increased necessity to be more flexible in a world of uncertainty, approaching project management with a sustainable approach supports design innovation and could help create a path towards work-life balance.
In Part 3 of this series, I will address harmful practices that occur in workplaces and discuss how project managers can offer inclusive work-life balance for team members.